Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of English Literature and Drama


On 21st September, 1894, Ethel Turner received her first bound copy of Seven Little Australians, "I think it was the very happiest minute of my life" she wrote in her diary. This first novel by a young author went on to become a famous and.important work of Australian literature. On its publication, Ethel Turner became a national figure and Seven Little Australians, although meant for children, was read by everybody - from the Governor of New South Wales and the author Mark Twain - to girls and boys who later, as adults, wrote of the novel's impact on their perception of Australia.

Seven Little Australians marks the beginning of the family story in Australia, and provides a focus for my study of the genre. Variously known as domestic fiction, or by the blanket term "girls' literature", family stories originated in England in the 1850's as fiction meant specifically for girls. It is this continuing anticipation by writers and publishers of a mostly feminine readership that shapes my examination of Australian family stories from 1894 to 1982.

This thesis aims to construct an historical framework for the Australian family story and, from this, to trace interconnections between novels written over a span of almost one hundred years. The thesis is divided into two major sections; the "Turner era" 1894 to 1942, and the "moderns" 1943 to 1982. In Chapter One, I look back to the origin of the girls' family story in England and America, and examine the major features of the genre. In the second half of this Chapter, I look briefly at Australian children's fiction published prior to 1894 and conclude with a survey of contemporary critical responses to Australian girls' fiction. As the dominant genre in Australian children's fiction, many authors have written family stories. In this thesis I closely examine only eight authors who, as distinguished writers, have in some way influenced the nature of the family story in Australia. In Chapters Two to Six, the principal writers of the Turner era: Ethel Turner, Louise Mack, Lilian Turner and Mary Grant Bruce, are considered against a background of a developing national consciousness and the growth of a national literature. Overseas paradigms outlined in Chapter One, are compared to Australian literary portraits of girls, to distinguish the Australian family story from foreign forebears, but also to understand how our writers viewed the prospects for girls and women in a new society.

Chapter Seven is a bridge between the two major historical periods, examining the years that saw the decline in popularity of the Turner era writers, and the rise of a group of writers who gave new impetus to the genre. In Chapter Eight, novels by Eleanor Spence, Joan Phipson, and Mavis Thorpe Clark are considered as evidence of changes in the pattern of the Australian family story that distinguishes the Turner era from the modern period. In Chapter Nine, I look at modern attempts to use an older style of heroine in novels by Spence, Clark and Hesba Brinsmead. Chapter Ten links the patterns of Phipson's and Spence's long careers as children's writers to the critical reception of children's fiction, as well as emphasising these two authors' continuing preoccupations and their effect onthe nature of the family story. Throughout the thesis I test my contention that the predominant pattern of family stories emanates from an author's desire to confront and question the changes expected from girls as they pass from adolescence to womanhood - a desire that lends complexity to a genre of children's fiction that has been sometimes undervalued because it is often misunderstood.