Monday musings on Australian literature: Memorable homes in Aussie novels

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” is a novel opener that many of us will recognise, I’m sure. It comes, of course, from Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. For some reason it popped into my head recently, and it got me thinking, not about first lines, but about famous fictional houses – and whether we have any in Australia. I’m meaning houses that are (somewhat universally) known by their name – and/or by their strong presence – in the novel. There are many, in fact, throughout literature, and some are listed on a Wikipedia page for Fictional houses, like 221B Baker Street, Bag End, Howards End, and Thornfield Hall. One of the big ones for me is, you won’t be surprised, Pemberley in Pride and prejudice. It was when she saw Pemberley, Elizabeth Bennet cheekily tells sister Jane, that she started to change her mind about Mr. Darcy.

However, when I started thinking about memorable houses (or homes) in Australian fiction I came a bit unstuck. I’ve been pondering this – on and off – for a few weeks but, although I came up with all sorts of memorable places or locations, I’ve only come up with three identifiable homes (so you know what I’m going to ask you at the end of this post, don’t you!?) I’m listing them in chronological order of publication.

Misrule

Ethel Turner, Seven Little AustraliansFrom Ethel Turner’s Seven little Australians (1894). It was inspired by her family’s home in Sydney’s Killara and its then bushland setting.

Misrule is introduced in Chapter 1:

Indeed at Misrule—that is the name their house always went by, though I believe there was a different one painted above the balcony—

The name, of course, reflects the unruly nature of the family life that happens within and around it. As the novel ends, and after the tragedy that my Aussie reading friends will remember, stepmother Esther wishes

there might be some chance, then, of Misrule resuming its baptismal and unexciting name of The River House.

But, oddly enough, no one echoed the wish.

Thank goodness for that … Ethel Turner’s sequel was, in fact, titled The family at Misrule, reassuring us that life for the Woolcot family will, again, not be “unexciting” in this follow-up story!

Appleyard College

Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging RockFrom Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967). OK, so not a house exactly, but as the boarding school in Joan Lindsay’s gothic-influenced novel it was the school-year home for the novel’s girls, and featured its formidable (eponymous) principal, Mrs Appleyard. The Victorian-era formality of the school and the strict controls placed on its female students are set against the sense of freedom offered by picnic fun and the mysterious, alluring Hanging Rock. Unfortunately, though, I don’t have the book so can’t share any quotes or descriptions.

Cloudstreet 

Tim Winton, CloudstreetFrom Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet (1991). This is, perhaps, Australia’s most famous fictional house, being the home, from the 1940s to the 1960s, of Tim Winton’s two families, the Pickles and the Lambs. There are many lovely descriptions of the house, but here is Rose Pickles just after they’ve moved into the big empty house left in a will to her father Sam:

Well, she thought, the old man had a win. Cloud Street. It had a good sound to it. Well, depending on how you looked at it. And right now she preferred to think of the big win and not the losses she knew would probably come. (p. 38)

The wins and losses, in other words, that big family homes, like Misrule for example, know all about. After this follows a physical description of the house as the family moves in, cleans it up, and explores its many nooks and crannies. How on earth, they wonder, will they fill up “this great continent of a house.” And then, along come the Lambs and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, a short – and I hope – fun post this week after last week’s bunch of rather long, earnest ones.

And now, I’d love to hear of your favourite fictional homes – Australian or otherwise – but if you are one of my Australian readers, I’d really like to hear your Australian ones. I bet you’ll come up with some that make me say, “Of course!”

 

49 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Memorable homes in Aussie novels

  1. I might come back, but I want to be first to mention Maldon PO., Laura’s home in HHR, The Getting of Wisdom. (I wonder, having written, if she uses a fictional town name).

  2. A couple more: Another Winton, Eyrie, takes place in a block of flats he calls the Mirador which is actually Johnston Ct in Fremantle. Miles Franklin uses her maternal grandmother’s station at Talbingo, NSW as the setting for a number of novels, mostly under the name Bool Bool (I can’t remember what name she uses in My Brilliant Career).

    • Thanks again, Bill, I had My brilliant career as my fourth but then removed it because I really couldn’t remember the name of her grandma’s place.

      I haven’t read Eyrie, though it on the pile!

  3. Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman, a wonderful read, traces the lives through interconnected tales, of the occupants of a Massachusetts house over a period of two hundred years. Loved it, still remember it’s magic.

      • This is probably one of her most literary novels, she’s quite a prolific author, I haven’t read anything else of hers that matched this though. Some call them short stories, but for me it was unputdownable, each one leading onto the other, a bit like Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge, stories where the occasional threads run through.

        • Yes, I thought she was more in the general rather than literary fiction line. I do like interconnected short stories. You’ve remind d me if a Rohinton Mistry collection, Tales from the Firozsha Baag… Connected short stories about people living in the same apartment complex. Another named home!

  4. Hi Sue, good fun. I immediately thought of Cloudstreet and Tara (Gone With the Wind). Another home without a name but connects characters to a home is Thursday’s Child by Sonya Hartnett,One of the characters is a young boy Tin, who lives under the house. The Spare room by Helen Garnet; I know that house. All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato, where Philadelphia Gordon,the paddle steamer PS Philadelphia, is her home.

  5. This is such an interesting subject. Fictional homes can have such a big effect on a book. Thanks for this list. I never read Picnic at Hanging Rock but I love the film. Your post has reminded me that I must read the book soon.

  6. And was there an actual house in the Harp in the South Trilogy? I do have a sense of the suburb of Surry Hills, but not an actual house. I agree with Meg about Helen Garner’s books- her houses have a strong presence. I don’t know if there IS an actual house in the Children’s Bach, but friends of mine used to live in a house in Clifton Hill that exactly fits the location.

    • I struggled with Harp in the South Janine, because I really wanted to include it – and felt it should work – but I decided, as you say, it’s the suburb that we know and remember, not the house.

      There is a house in The children’s Bach – I think the novel opens with a photograph on the fridge in the kitchen – but I don’t really see the house as a memorable thing. Clifton Hill? I’ve only just discovered Clifton Hill recently. Had never heard of it until then, but the last two times we’ve been to Melbourne that’s where we’ve stayed. Nice suburb.

      I love that you are thinking about this – it’s an intriguing question isn’t it?

  7. Cairo, by Chris Womersley. Cairo is the name of a real block of flats in Nicholson St Fitzroy which were designed by Australian modernist architect Best Overend..

    • Oh, thanks Lisa … what a shame it’s not well known to Aussies! I was hoping for the places that would either jump immediately into people’s minds, or that would make them say, “oh, yes, of course.” It seems that we don’t have many in Australia, do we?

  8. Xanadu, Miss Hare’s home in White’s ‘Riders in the Chariot’. The thought of her scrabbling through the bush gives me goosebumps. Perhaps not a favourite home but one I will always remember and sometimes I think I am a bit like her. The genius that was Patrick White!!

    There is also Helen Garner’s ‘The Spare Room’. I would love to have stayed in that room which the narrator so lovingly prepared for her much loved guest.

    • Oh thanks Nawnim. I wracked my brain for a White home but while I’ve read several of his books, “named” houses didn’t come to me though the descriptions of houses did (such as the one in The solid mandala). I haven’t read Riders in the chariot, but I love that the home there is called Xanadu! (Now I’ll have to read it to get a take on you!! Haha.)

      A few have mentioned The spare room. I agree that the house, and the guest room in particular, play a strong role in the book.

    • Thanks Emma. Yes, that was high up for me too, and I nearly had it in my list but in the end decided that it didn’t quite hit the criteria. It’s an important part of her life in the book though isn’t it?

    • I think I have this right: MF came from Brindabella to Stillwater in the locality of Thornford and her maternal grandmother’s place was Old Talbingo. Sybylla came from Bruggabrong to Possum Gully (and I’m still not sure if that’s the locality or the farm or both) and went to school at Tiger Swamp; and her grandmother’s place was Caddagat – and her suitor Harold Beecham owned the neigbouring Five-Bob Downs. That’s My Brilliant Career, what names MF gives the same localities in My Career Goes Bung (or in Cockatoos) I don’t remember.

      I think Possum Gully and Caddagat, and possibly Five Bob Downs should be iconic names in Oz.Lit in the sense that you are discussing. In passing, I remember the even more iconic Snake Gully as Dad and Dave’s home in the radio serial, but whether that was the name used by Steele Rudd in his ‘On Our Selection’ stories I’m not sure.

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