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Plaque for Ethel Turner on wall at Killara home
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Ethel Turner

Author (1870–1958)

About Ethel Turner

Ethel Turner is one of Australia’s most celebrated authors. Woodlands is the house where she wrote the children’s book Seven Little Australians, a classic coming-of-age story of wilful, rebellious siblings under the care of a rigid father.

Location

  • Street address:Woodlands 1 Werona Ave, Killara, 2071

Accessibility

  • Wheelchair accessible

Category

  • Author and illustration

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Detailed information

Black and white picture of two storey house with colonial balcony.
Inglewood, now Woodlands circa. 1892. Ethel Turner is on the verandah (right) with sister Lilian (left); their stepfather Charles Cope is below and astride a horse.

Ethel Turner is one of Australia’s most celebrated authors. Woodlands is the house where she wrote the children’s book Seven Little Australians, a classic coming-of-age story of wilful, rebellious siblings under the care of a rigid father. With its portrayal of Australian family life at the turn of a new century, Seven Little Australians continues to endure in literary folklore. It is the only Australian children’s book to have remained continuously in print since its publication in 1894.

Ethel Turner was born in Balby, Doncaster, Yorkshire in 1870, and migrated to Australia with her mother and sister in 1879. In September 1891, her family moved from inner-city Sydney to the suburb known today as Killara.

Filled with dreams of becoming a novelist from an early age, Ethel found creative solace in her new surroundings after the bustle of town life. The isolation of Killara, she wrote in her diaries, had an effect “like adding half a dozen hours or so to days that, since leaving school, had been filled to the very brim”.

She wrote further of her inspiration, “red, lonely roads running up hill and down dale; silent bushland everywhere, filled with towering gums and wattles and the songs and flittings of birds; sunrises and sunsets uninterrupted by houses. Of course one wrote a book!”

After leaving school, Ethel and her sister Lilian co-founded Parthenon, a sixpenny monthly magazine, to which she contributed children’s and romance stories. It sold 1,500 copies a month and made about 50 pounds a year for its editors.

She began writing Seven Little Australians on her birthday on 24 January 1893. It recounts the adventures of the clever, naughty Woolcot children – running amok to the chagrin of their father, Captain Woolcot (a fictionalised version of Ethel’s stepfather).

Old paper with handwriting on it chapter 1 Seven Little Australians
Manuscript for Chapter 1 of Seven Little Australians. Image Courtesy of Stale Library of New South Wales and Peter Poole

In its story of an Australian rather than a British family, both the novel, and its sequel, The Family at Misrule, reversed many of the literary conventions of similar British and American children's stories.

The domestic and natural setting of Woodlands offered inspiration. The property, formerly known as Inglewood, had been built in the 1880s for Edward Aleyn Braham, then leased to Charles Cope, Ethel’s stepfather.

Ethel wrote inside the house, both in the drawing room and the bedroom she shared with Rose. She applied the finishing touches while sitting on a low-hanging branch of an apple tree in the garden.

One of Australia’s few unquestioned children’s classics, Seven Little Australians has sold several million copies in English. It has been translated into at least 13 languages and adapted for film, television and stage. In 2019 the manuscript, held in the State Library of NSW, was placed on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.

During her life, Ethel Turner wrote more than 30 volumes of fiction, two of verse, a travel book and five collections of short stories.

Her contribution to Australian literature is immeasurable and her legacy continues to this day.

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