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Why I read Seven Little Australians
I ran across Seven Little Australians some time ago in 1001 Children’s Books you must read before you grow up. It got my attention because you don’t see that many books from Australia outside of Australia, and particularly one this old, or should I say “vintage”.
Australia is notorious for clinging to its British roots when it comes to literature, and my friends who are approximately my age from Down Under tell me that they really didn’t study much, if any, Australian literature in school. They studied British.
Even now, it’s hard to find Australian literature outside of Australia and New Zealand simply because Oceania is so far away…from almost everything, but especially North America. Even now, with digital materials widely available, I’ve found Australian offerings disappointing, but I suppose that the authors and books aren’t known in North America, so they don’t sell, so they aren’t offered. Does that make sense?
Anyway, my background as an International Baccalaureate English teacher made me aware of the importance of reading literature in a given language from as many countries as possible who produce it, so I’m still in the habit of keeping an eye out for books that might be good options.
Also, Seven Little Australians is in the public domain, so copies are not only easily available, but FREE online!
Why you should read Seven Little Australians
Seven Little Australians is a quick, enjoyable read. Kindle says it takes between 2 and 3 hours, and that’s about right.
The funny thing is, I’m not sure it’s really that appropriate for kids, especially young kids. When the children in the family get into trouble, they get into some fairly serious scrapes. One of them runs away from boarding school, and another one has a tendency to lie. The father deals with the kids by giving them whippings that would be considered abusive today. Oh, and much is made of the fact that the stepmother in the family is twenty…while the oldest child, a girl, is 16.
Yup, a little bit skeevy and not something you probably want to read with your younger children.
Sadly, most of the book does not seem especially Australian to me except that it does explain that Australians do tend to start dating and get married much younger than their British cousins. The young stepmother generally seems to handle the family just fine for the most part, and of course the ages of the children allow the older ones to help significantly as well, which I do appreciated.
In the last quarter of the book, in which the family visits the outback, there is description that makes you feel as though you are really in Australia.
There is also an ending that comes almost out of left field and was a little upsetting, even for me, as an adult reader. When I think about it, the ending fits the theme of the book. On the surface, life is in fact much like England…until it is not. The reader sees that Australia is still a frontier and dangerous in unexpected ways.
I was a bit put out because family stories…which I like…are not supposed to go in this direction, but I suppose that’s also the point.
They don’t usually feature teenaged stepmothers either…the youngest of the seven is the child of the stepmother and half sibling to the other six. Now that I think of it, blended families almost never appear in these books although they were definitely common in real life although perhaps less so in England than in Australia by the time this book was written.
So for an adult reader looking for a quick read that is enjoyable, this is a good pick, and it’s an excellent pick for an older teenager or adult who is still learning English…keeping in mind that some of the vocabulary is a bit anachronistic. I think interest in the material would pull the reader through. Since e-book versions of the book are widely and freely available, I would recommend reading this one on a Kindle for the dictionary.
It’s also a great chance to give any readers, teenage or adult, a chance to quickly learn something about the “land down under.”
Do you have more information about Australia?
Most of this book is set near Sydney, pictured above in 1900. To learn more about the history of Australia, try H.E. Marshall’s Our Empire Story, which has a very Anglo-centric history of Australian settlement.
Open version online: Our Empire Story with no log in required.
Here is an Australian produced documentary to present an alternate point of view:
Who was Ethel Turner?
Ethel Turner was a British born Australian who emigrated to Australia with her mother and two sisters after her mother had survived 2 husbands and had been left with 9 children: 2 from her first marriage, her second husband’s six children from his first marriage, and 1 child of her own from that marriage. She had another with her third husband in Australia.
So it seems Turner would have been an expert on blended families.
Turner published Seven Little Australians, her first and most enduring of many novels, when she was only twenty one, so between her mother and herself, she seems to have a lot in common with the young stepmother…and the oldest sister…in the novel.
If you can find the 100th anniversary edition of this book, which I was not able to conclusively identify even by searching Australian Amazon, there is a tall tale featuring Australian aboriginal people that has been omitted from all editions since the first 1894 edition.
There are also numerous filmed versions, including an Australian mini series, if you can find it. A clip is below.
You can find free versions Seven Little Australians, its sequel The House at Misrule, and a few more titles by Turner here, at Project Gutenberg.
Of Turner’s many books, Punch and Judy and Little Mother Meg follow the family from Seven Little Australians.
Turner also wrote an autobiographical novel called Three Little Maids (1900) that recounts the story of coming to Australia.