Title: Seven Little Australians
Author: Ethel Turner
Genre: Historical Fiction/Children’s literature
Published: 1st October 2003 (1894 originally)
Synopsis: ‘Without doubt Judy was the worst of the seven, probably because she was the cleverest.’Her father, Captain Woolcot, found his vivacious, cheeky daughter impossible – but seven children were really too much for him and most of the time they ran wild at their rambling riverside home, Misrule.Step inside and meet them all – dreamy Meg, and Pip, daring Judy, naughty Bunty, Nell, Baby and the youngest, ‘the General’. Come and share in their lives, their laughter and their tears.
Amongst Australian literature, and especially children’s literature, women were amongst the first to publish it. Charlotte Waring Atkinson, great-great-great-great grandmother to my favourite author, Kate Forsyth, wrote the first children’s book published in Australia in 1841 – “A Mother’s Offering to Her Children” by a Lady Long Resident in New South Wales. And fifty-three years later, one of the best-loved children’s books to come out of Australia was published – Seven Little Australiansby Ethel Turner, published in 1894. The first time we meet the Woolcot children – seven of them – at nursery tea whilst their father, and step-mother feast downstairs with guests on food the children would never see in their wildest dreams. The children – Meg, Pip, Judy, Nell, Bunty, Baby and the General – are not quite what one would expect of Victorian children, and as the author says, they are not the paragons of good that their English cousins appear to be. Rather, they are filled with mischief and delighting in disrupting their father. Of the seven, Judy is the naughtiest and the cleverest – she is the one who comes up with the plans and whose clever actions are met with anger and astonishment. Their home is aptly called Misrule, for nobody – not the household staff, not their stepmother, Esther (and mother to the youngest, The General), nor their father, can tame the seven and their wild, and frantic ways. It is Meg, the eldest, who displays the most decorum but still cannot corral her younger siblings and falls under the influence of what other girls her age deem as proper.
Each of them will laugh and cry, and learn harsh, life lessons that will stay with them long after the final page turns. Even as Judy is forced off to boarding school near Katoomba, the rest of the children do not relent in their mischief, and indeed, drive their parents spare with concern, worry and exasperation – but the story is not about the parents, it is about the children, and an idea of what a nineteenth century Australian child growing up on an estate would have, or might have, been like.
It is a uniquely Australian story about the life and lives of the pre-federation days of the New South Wales colony. They are lives filled with ups and downs, with tragedy and with love. It is a book that will warm your heart, and shatter it to pieces, and will stay with you long after turning the final page.