Monday musings on Australian literature: Some Australian adventurers (1)

Hands up who likes to travel? And keep your hands up if you like to read travel writing! This post is especially for you. I’ve numbered it (1), because I’m drawing primarily from a book, which I think could warrant a few posts.

Edith Moodie Heddle ed., Some Australian adventurers

1957 edition

The book I’m using is another of those that I retrieved from my aunt’s house when Mr Gums and I were clearing. The book is titled, yes, Some Australian adventurers, and was edited by someone called Enid Moodie Heddle, so let’s start with her. Wikipedia says she was an “Australian poet and writer for children”, but she did more than that. Wikipedia says that she joined Longmans publishing house in 1935 where she worked as an educational adviser until 1946, at which time she was appointed Education Manager. In this job, to 1960, she “oversaw the publication of textbooks for schools and universities.” Some Australian adventurers was published by Longmans, Green and Co. in 1944.

Heddle wrote the brief introduction to Some Australian adventurers. She says its aim is “to catch something of the spirit of adventure and joy in discovery which seem to us to be not only characteristic of the majority of the writers here represented, but also of Australians as a race”. Hmm … Australians are known to like travelling, but is it a racial characteristic? She goes on to say that

Wide Brown Land sculpture

Wide Brown Land (National Arboretum)

From our British ancestry we have inherited qualities which, no doubt, make us turn eagerly to far horizons, and even our own wide brown land* is not enough for most of us. Like the writers of these extracts, we would walk “the wind-wide ways”* of the world and see strange sights and meet strange people, from the Northern Lights to Antarctic snows. If this is impossible for us, the next best thing is to read of action by others. Here, then, are some accounts of real and imaginary adventures from the legendary wanderings of the aboriginal, at home in the land of the Southern Cross long before the white man came, to modern tales of land, sea and air.

The first thing to say is that these sentiments are very much of their time, so I’m not going to comment on ideas like the “qualities” Aussies “inherited” from “our British ancestry”. As readers, though, we would still agree with the idea that if you can’t travel “the next best thing” is to read other people’s travel writing. And, it is interesting, given the era, that she references Indigenous Australian stories, about which more below.

The last thing I’ll share from her introduction is her discussion of her chosen extracts, from which she says

we may learn, if we wish, something of what goes to build up tradition, of what makes for riches in experience, of what stuff is life.

I love this language, and her aspirations for the book. She emphasises that it comprises fragments from larger wholes, and is thus a “prelude to adventure”. To help further adventuring, she provides bibliographical details for the works excerpted, plus additional reading suggestions.

The book is then divided into thematic sections:

  • In the land of Mirrabooka: from K. Langloh Parker
  • The white intruders: from Eleanor Dark, Elizabeth Bussell, William Hatfield, Ion L. Idriess
  • Animals and men: from Frank Dalby Davison, Vance Palmer, Hedley Herbert Finalyson
  • Further afield: from Jack Gordon Hides, Sir Douglas Mawson, Sir George Hubert Wilkins, C.E. Kingsford-Smith, Alan J. Villiers, Wilfred G. Burchett
  • Strange encounters: from Jack McLaren, Frederic Wood Jones, Walter Murdoch
  • Story and character: from Henry Lawson (twice)

The thing that struck me about the table of contents is that it contains many writers I don’t know. Further investigation explained it, however. Most, though not all, of those I don’t know wrote non-fiction, such as Hedley Herbert Finalyson, Jack Gordon Hides and Jack McLaren. My guess is that non-fiction writers disappear from view faster than fiction ones? Anyhow, some of these new people are interesting, as are the familiar ones. I look forward to sharing some of them in future Monday Musings.

K. Langloh Parker

K Langloh Parker, More Australian Legendary Tales

First published 1898

I’m going to conclude with K. Langloh Parker because she has the opening section of the book to herself! She was, in fact, Catherine Eliza Somerville Stow (1856-1940). She was born (and died) in South Australia but spent time in the nineteenth century in New South Wales where she recorded the stories or legends of the local Ualarai people. Introducing Parker, Heddle writes that

The first adventurers of whom we know in Australia, the land of Mirrabooka, the Southern Cross, were the Australian Aboriginals. Even now we have much to learn of their customs and culture.

She continues that Parker has done a great service “by collecting their legends and retelling them in English in a way as near as possible to the original”. Wikipedia, writing in our time, says that “her testimony is one of the best accounts of the beliefs and stories of an Aboriginal people in north-west New South Wales at that time. However, her accounts reflect European attitudes of the time.” Not surprisingly.

The interesting thing to me, though, is that Heddle recognised the importance and relevance of Indigenous Australian stories to her book. It’s also interesting though that she presumably didn’t have access to Indigenous versions of these stories. Her further reading suggestions are also all by non-Indigenous writers. She says that the book from which her extract “Beereeun the mirage maker” comes was illustrated (uncredited I believe) by an Indigenous artist. Wikipedia says that the Indigenous artist Tommy McRae illustrated the first volume, Australian legendary tales, but doesn’t mention his illustrating the second. It’s likely though that he did, as the same people were involved in producing both.

Australian legendary tales, but not More Australian legendary tales, is available at Project Gutenberg Australia.

* Aussies will recognise “wide brown land” as alluding to Dorothea Mackellar’s poem “My country”. Fewer of us, I think, including me, would recognise “wind-wide ways”, which she encloses in quote marks. It comes from a poem called “The bush” by Bernard O’Dowd, who has been mentioned here a couple of times, first in my Monday Musings about most popular poets and novelists in 1927.

14 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Some Australian adventurers (1)

  1. Dear WG

    It seems every time I respond to your posts over the past few weeks (things scrambled by my travels? – including to South Australia,) my Password/s are rejected – if my comment here below has actually slipped through after about seven or eight attempts I will be surprised – though that is what I seem to be being told.

    In any event I am adding it here too! Please delete if already properly in to your responses “tray”! Or add it yourself?


    My hand is well and truly UP, WG! For liking travel. Just back home from a week to Canberra (Nat Library and 1968 Exhibition, finding the maquette (large enough) of The Angel of the North – lakeside at the rear of the NGA, and catching best political cartoons of 2017 – in the Museum of Democracy – seeing a mate from District 6 in Cape Town long resident in Australia – and elderly uncle – and other friends (with whom I stayed); being in Hall on the morning of its 136th birthday at “Daughters” café; stopping briefly in Yass – then to have a couple of days with relatives outside Tumbarumba – and from there to The Rock – more kinfolk to visit – two cups of coffees – and finally to Leeton (Henry Lawson spent time here) – which encompassed attending a choir practice (for ANZAC Day ceremony practice) in neighbouring Narrandera (Patrick HARTIGAN/aka John O’Brien territory: “We’ll all be rooned…said Hanrahan…” – driving back and forth through Yanco where my paternal grand-father was briefly a Soldier Settler during the early 1920s – until it quickly went belly-up.

    But thanks for the behind-the-scenes leads on K. Langloh Parker – and her Yularaay country background – I grew up east of that in the Gamilaraay (sometimes rendered Gomeroi) associated country of Tamworth and surrounds. Dorothea Mackellar of course from just slightly/sort of in-between – in the region centred on Gunnedah. And “Tommy McRae from the Albury/Corowa region – not too far from my recent circuit of travels.


    • Well, it got through Jim, but this is very weird. I wonder if it is happening to others. Have you tried emptying your cache? It sounds like something has got tangled.

      But, ha ha, yes I know you love travel. I particularly love road trips. We are hoping for a short one to Tumut area in the next week. I do know the Angel of the North at the NGA, as I love that sculpture garden. The statue appears in the opening credits of a TV show doesn’t it – VERA I think. I hear the 1968 Exhib ition is great. Will try to get to it soon.

      Oh and I hadn’t realised that Hanrahan was from the Narrandera area.

  2. I always expect travel writing to be boring but when I actually try it I am rarely bored. In fact, I am usually enticed. There is something about older travel writing. It is often particularly charming. I do not think that I ever read an anthology like thus that was dedicated to travel writing.

    • That was me too Brian. Took me a long time to warm to the idea but after reading some I discovered how wonderful good travel writing can be. However, I probably still don’t SEEK it out but only read on recommendation.

  3. Hi Sue, My hand is up and and I am off to Japan next week. This willl be my third visit, and this time I am going with my Japanese friend. That’s my excuse for not reading any travel writing about Japan. Though I have read a few Japanese novels. In regard to Australian travel writing, I was surprised to see Frank Clune, and Bruce Chatwin weren’t mentioned. I did enjoy Bill Bryson’s book Down Under.

    • Haha yes, I know YOU are Meg. Where are you going this trip? We are planning our fourth trip there next year, probably around this time. Re travel writing in Japan, I’ve read a little, but snippets so far rather than completing the books – from Isabella Bird (free for the Kindle I think) and Alex Kerr (Lost in Japan). I will keep working at them.

      Interesting point re Clune. It may be that he was only just becoming well known by then though he was active in the 1930s and 40s. Chatwin is too late though as this book was published in 1944. Bryson’s Down Under was certainly entertaining!

  4. My hand is sort of up – seeing as I travel for a living, though only within Australia. Speaking as ‘the Australian Legend’, Australians have always been fascinated by the possibility of travel as evidenced by their consumption of writers like Clune, Idriess, Ernestine Hill and of course Bryson. Their reputation as travellers comes though, I think, from the relatively large distances between our towns and our willingness to move compared to the large proportion of Britons – up until the 60s – who spent their lives in one locality.

    This book looks as though it has a really well chosen spread of writers, though I’d be interested to see what Elizabeth Bussell says about the Wardandi whose land her family appropriated.

    • Thanks Bill. I’ll probably do Elizabeth Bussell next time I write on this book – which may not be immediately. her contribution is from a letter I think so it will be interesting to see.

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