Australia does not have a fantastic record when it comes to preserving the homes of famous writers. One example is the D.H. Lawrence house in Thirroul, now falling to ruin. When Patrick White’s Centennial Park home came up for sale, the government was NOT interested in buying it for the nation. So, it has been heartening and wonderful to recently discover a case where the opposite has occurred.
A few years ago, ‘Woodlands’, the Killara house that was once home to Ethel Turner, and where she wrote her classic novel Seven Little Australians, came up for sale. It was bought by a couple who had never heard of the author nor the book. Albert Lim was from Malaysia, his wife Eva from China. It would not have been surprising if these ‘new Australians’ had taken little notice of the literary heritage of their new home.
However, the reverse has happened. Albert and Eva have beautifully restored rooms in their home to the way they’d have looked when Ethel lived there. Ethel was born in England, so they have planted a small English-style cottage garden to commemorate the land of her birth. She was only a small child when she came to Australia and rapidly became proudly and resolutely Australian, so at ‘Woodlands’ there is an Australian garden as well, with 7 trees planted to represent the 7 children of the story. When her publishers wanted her to spend time in England to gain some ‘English polish’, Ethel refused.
Seven Little Australians broke new ground in so many ways – amongst the first Australian novels to feature a girl as the major character, the first by a white woman to include an Aboriginal legend and sympathetic comments about the plight of the Aboriginal people, and one of the first books to give a realistic picture of the city life of Aussie kids. Published in 1894, in 1994 it was the only book by an Australian writer to have remained continuously in print for 100 years. Quite an achievement for the 23-year-old girl whose first novel it was!
I was just thrilled to be invited to ‘Woodlands’ recently to meet with Albert and Eva and to hear their plans. They are eager to share their home’s literary heritage with school children, members of literary societies, teachers and librarians. They hope to host events and parties at the house, introducing a new generation to the riches of Ethel’s novel. Ethel’s great-grandchildren will be involved. She wrote about 40 books, but it is Seven Little Australians which has remained the favourite.
Along with Albert and Eva, and my fabulous assistant Cheryl, I am establishing a new literary group – ‘The Friends of Ethel Turner’. We hope to publish a newsletter (probably twice a year), inform you about ‘Woodlands’ and forthcoming events, and let you know about Ethel’s legacy. The State Library of New South Wales holds the original manuscript, donated by Ethel’s granddaughter, plus many of her other papers, so there will be information about the treasures preserved there. If you would like to join this new group, please visit this page and sign up. You will only be contacted when the newsletter comes out, or a new event is planned. There is no fee to pay. You would simply be helping to support an important part of Australia’s literary heritage. Albert and Eva are to be congratulated on their desire to embrace the unique history of their home and to generously share it with others.
In an era when fiction was supposed to be about ‘good’ children, Ethel Turner dared to make her seven Aussie children naughty, getting into constant scrapes and sometimes getting away with them. I’ll be giving a talk on Zoom all about Ethel Turner and Seven Little Australians on Sunday 16th May. Discover why it is such a beloved classic.
There are limited seats available to join my Tea with a Book Addict group on Zoom for a 60 minute talk, followed by a group chat about the author and the book.
Susannah Fullerton: Friends of Ethel Turner
Susannah Fullerton: Seven Little Australians video talk
Susannah Fullerton: Seven Little Australians Join the Zoom talk on Sunday 16th May 2021
Killara: Woodlands new owners Albert and Eva Lim to “share” Ethel Turner’s former home
Lawrence of Thirroul: Creating Kangaroo at ‘Wyewurk’
From the Archives, 1990: Patrick White, author and stirrer, dies at 78