Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Diaries of Ethel Turner & Seven Little Australians

Ethel Turner has charmed generations of readers with her delightful children's books, including Seven Little Australians, Miss Bobbie and Family at Misrule.

For 62 years she also kept a diary and in this book her granddaughter, Philippa Poole, has selected the most interesting passages which, together with her commentary on each chapter and the inclusion of wonderful photographs of the time give a fascinating peek into the life of an Edwardian young woman.

Ethel's diary entries which begin in 1889 when she is 17 are really only a simple record of each day ......of shopping, tennis and picnics, garden parties and balls....

"This morning I made myself a black lace hat. Idled in  afternoon. At night went to Articled Clerks dance and wore my white liberty again, this time with crimson flowers and snowdrops. M.Backhouse asked me for a dance and then did not account for it. I shall never notice him again. He was a bit intoxicated last night, I think, it is pity, he might be a very nice boy. I'm awfully sorry for him."

If the endless round of social gaiety was enough for most girls Ethel and her sister Lilian had other ideas. Having gained experience editing their school magazine, in 1889 they launched their own monthly publication called the Parthenon which would have considerable success during the next three years. Her love of literature and writing becomes more noticeable in the diary entries as she records the books she buys and reads...

" I read the loveliest book or part of it after 11pm last night Not All In Vain by Ada Cambridge - I think I like better than any book I have read.'

 She began writing stories, poems and articles for a Sydney newspaper,  recognising that she had a talent that could earn her money and help her gain independence.

In 1894 Seven Little Australians was accepted for publication.

'Here is the Miss Louisa Alcott of Australia - here is one of the strongest, simplest, sweetest, sanest and most beautiful child-stories that I have read for years.'

Set in Sydney in the 1880's it tells the story of the seven children of a very authoritarian father and a flighty stepmother. By informing her young readers at the beginning that they are about to hear the tale of 'very naughty children' Ethel Turner immediately grasps their interest. 
She was also ahead of her time with her writing by capturing a warm relationship between parents and children and by going against the 'happy ever after' ending. This is a story of fun, adventure and and a tear-jerking tragedy and it was this that most probably prompted the Louisa Alcott comment.

Despite warnings that marriage would mean the end of her writing career , in 1896 Ethel married her long-time suitor Herbert Curlewis and bore two children, Jean and Adrian early in the new century.
She continued to write prolifically - more than 40 novels, short stories and poems for children.

In 1928 her beloved daughter was diagnosed with tuberculosis and after a prolonged illness died in 1930. Ethel was heartbroken and never wrote again.

Ethel Turner died in 1958.

The diary entries were a delightful piece of history and I loved rereading the Seven Little Australians.


  1. I just loved reading your review! Such interesting insights into a very interesting woman. Thanks so much for introducing me to a new author.

    1. I loved reading the diary and the old photographs were wonderful. Something different than the usual reading.

  2. Thanks for this review. My 9 yr old read The Seven Little Australians recently & it's always interesting to find out more about the author's background.

    1. Amazing that the book has never been out of print since it was published. A true Aussie classic.

  3. I've loved Seven Little Australians, ever since I was a little Australian myself!
    It was lovely to learn more about Ethel Turner - thanks :-)

    1. She was a very interesting young woman - like her writing ahead of her time I think.