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Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian literary dynasties

August 24, 2020

Some years ago I wrote a Monday Musings post on Australia’s literary couples. However, it recently occurred to me that we also have some literary dynasties, which could be fun to explore. This post, like many of its ilk, is a bit of a fishing exercise. I will share a few that came to me, and would love you to share ones that come to you.

By dynasty, I mean two or more generations of one family (that is, in the same line of descent.) My focus is fiction but I’m allowing some deviations from this where writing reputations are strong. So, here’s my list – in chronological order by birthyear of the oldest family member.

Charlotte Barton (1796-1867) and Louisa Atkinson (1834-1872)

Charlotte Barton and daughter Louisa Atkinson are probably the least well-known of the writers I list here, even though Charlotte is credited as having written Australia’s earliest known children’s book, A mother’s offering to her children, and Louisa as the first Australian-born woman to publish a novel in Australia, Gertrude the emigrant.

However, Atkinson had a bigger bow to her name, botany. As I wrote in Wikipedia and here, she was well-known for her fiction during her life-time, but her long-term significance rests on her botanical work. She’s regarded as a ground-breaker for Australian women in journalism and natural science, and is significant in her time for her sympathetic references to Australian Aborigines in her writings and for her encouragement of conservation.

Louisa (1848-1920) and Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

Book coverBy all accounts, Louisa Lawson was quite a force. A poet, writer and publisher, as well as a suffragist and feminist, she was fully engaged in the country’s literary and political life, but is most remembered now for the latter, particularly her feminist causes.

Louisa’s relationship with her poet-short story writer son, Henry, was fraught. However, together they edited the radical pro-federation newspaper The Republican, and, later she published his poems and stories in her own newspaper, The Dawn. She used this press to publish his first book, Short stories in prose and verse. It is Henry, then, who is most remembered for his writing. His most famous story is “The drover’s wife”, which many Aussies do (or did) at school, and his best-known collection is While the billy boils. Lawson is probably still Australia’s best known short story writer.

Bill (The Australian Legend) quotes Bertha, Henry Lawson’s wife, as saying

“If there is anything in heredity, Harry’s literary talents undoubtedly came from his mother …”

Ruth Park (1917-2010), D’Arcy Niland (1917-1967), and Deborah (b. 1950) and Kilmeny Niland (1950-2009)

Novelists (and writers of all forms) Ruth Park and D’Arcy Niland created quite a literary family, with two of their five children, twin daughters Deborah and Kilmeny, becoming successful children’s book writers and (primarily) illustrators. I have written about Ruth Park before, and need to review Niland on my blog, but when I was the mother of young children, I became very aware of Deborah and Kilmeny who collaborated on thirteen children’s books. Their best known book is an illustrated version of Banjo Paterson’s poem, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle. First published in 1973, it has never been out of print. Unfortunately, Kilmeny died in 2009.

Olga (1919-1986) and Chris  (b. 1948) Masters

Book coverBoth Olga and her son Chris Masters were journralists. Chris still is. Olga commenced work as a journalist when she was only 15 years old, but through her relatively short career, she also wrote novels, short stories and drama. Her career as a published writer of fiction was very brief, with The home girls short story collection being published in 1982 and Loving daughters, her wonderful first novel, published in 1984. It is Australian literature’s loss that she died just as her fiction career was taking off.

Son Chris is, primarily, a journalist, but he is at the top of his profession with multiple Walkley Awards to his name, and his controversial biography of a controversial radio personality, Jonestown: The power and the myth of Alan Jones, won a Queensland Premier’s Literary Award. I wonder if he’s ever thought of writing a novel?

Dorothy Hewett (1923-2002), Merv Lilley (1919-2016), Kate (b. 1960) and Rozanna Lilley (b. 1960)

Multi-awarded poet, novelist and playwright Hewett led a colourful and controversial life – some of which has come out posthumously in poet daughter Kate’s collection Tilt and daughter Rozanna’s memoir, Do oysters get bored? I don’t really want to explore that here because it’s a whole other subject, but you can read a little about it on the ABC and in my post on a Canberra Writers Festival conversation with Rozanna.

Meanwhile, and regardless, they do comprise another dynasty of writers, with, between them, a significant oeuvre.

Ann Deveson (1930-2016) and Georgia Blain (1964-2016)

Ann Deveson was well-known to Australians of my generation, because of her high profile as a social commentator and filmmaker, not to mention her role as the “Omo” lady in a famous serious of television commercials for Omo laundry detergent! She was, you’d have to say, versatile, also having been chair of the South Australian Film Corporation and Executive Director of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Her most famous book is, probably, her memoir-biography about her son’s schizophrenia, Tell me I’m here.

Deveson’s daughter, Georgia Blain, was also a writer, but, unlike her mother she had a substantial body of fiction to her name, as well as non-fiction. Blain won or was short or longlisted for many of Australia’s literary awards, with her most successful novel being her 8th and last, Between a wolf and a dog. Deveson and Blain tragically died within days of each other, which I wrote about at the time.

Thomas (b. 1935) and Meg Keneally (b. ca 1967)

Book coverMulti-award-winning author Thomas (Tom) Keneally has published over 40 novels, from his 1964 debut novel, The place at Whitton, to his most recent 2020 novel, The Dickens boy. He is best known for his Booker prize-winning novel, Schindler’s ark, which was adapted to the Academy Award winning film, Schindler’s list.

Amongst his 40 or so novels are four in The Monsarrat Series, which he co-wrote with his daughter Meg. Meg has gone on to publish a novel on her own, Fled, with another due out this year. Both Tom and Meg write primarily historical fiction.

In a “Two of us” article in 2016 in The Sydney Morning Herald, Tom writes

Temperamentally I could see she was very like me. I think that’s why we’re able to work together now. I find it hard to batter out 1500 words of a new draft of a novel in a day, and I was always impressed by the speed and fluency with which she could write. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be good to get her out of the maw of the corporate world and turn her into something really self-destructive, like a novelist?”

Haha, love it!

There are other dynasties, most notably families of historians, but I’ll finish here and wait for your suggestions. 

Postscript: No, I haven’t forgotten those 10th anniversary literary requests. They will be done, but they require more time than I have now, hence this post that was already in the offing!

30 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2020 11:51 pm

    The Drover’s Wife was almost certainly told to Henry by his mother and in fact I think both Henry and his sister Gertrude had shots at writing it.

    The ‘dynasty’ that comes to my mind is the Lindsays: Norman and his brother Lionel and Norman’s son Jack. And they are connected to the Boyds of writing and painting fame through Joan Lindsay (Picnic at Hanging Rock) who was a Boyd cousin married to a Lindsay.

  2. SiLK permalink
    August 25, 2020 3:05 am

    Adelaide, South Australia: wordsmith dynasties in various genres

    I think the following tasters shows the intricate and interdisciplinary mesh that surrounds literary and artistic endeavours. Beyond talent, there are the whodunnit staples of means, motive and opportunity.

    Max Harris
    https://www.adelaide.edu.au/library/special/mss/harris-family

    Samela Harris
    https://australiadaysa.com.au/pages/samela-harris
    https://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/product.php?productid=584

    Kate LLewellyn
    https://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/library/finding-aids/guide-papers-kate-llewellyn
    https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/to-adelaide-with-love-20060304-ge1v26.html

    Caro LLewellyn
    https://www.penguin.com.au/articles/2173-the-day-everything-changed

    Richard LLewellyn
    https://trove.nla.gov.au/people/1309087

    Becky LLewellyn
    https://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/artist/llewellyn-becky

    Click to access sub0481.pdf

    • August 25, 2020 8:11 am

      Thankyou SiLK. There are some interesting arts dynasties around. I know a few of these, Max, and Kate and Richard, and Caro rings a bell, but not the others of their families.

  3. Jan dickinson permalink
    August 25, 2020 5:50 am

    Fascinating. I had forgotten how many there have been!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. August 25, 2020 6:02 am

    How is it I’m so ignorant that I never even HEARD of Lawson’s mum ?!!! 😦

    • August 25, 2020 8:16 am

      How M-R? I don’t know, but I’m glad to have brought her to you! She was quite a mover and shaker in her time.

      • Sue permalink
        August 25, 2020 9:27 pm

        I didn’t know about her either!

        • August 26, 2020 8:37 am

          Isn’t that interesting, Sue? You mustn’t have read much feminist history ? Most recently, for me, is Clare Wright’s mention of her – though she’s not one of the prime focuses – in You daughters of freedom.

    • August 25, 2020 12:40 pm

      In 1987 Brian Matthews published a wonderful biography – title ‘Louisa’

      • August 25, 2020 5:34 pm

        And I was really around, then – AND reading books. Tsk ! :\

        • August 26, 2020 8:33 am

          TSK, indeed, M-R. You never know, you may “read” books again.

      • August 26, 2020 8:29 am

        Thanks Carmel. MR, did you see that? Might be in audio version?

  5. Meg permalink
    August 25, 2020 8:51 am

    Hi Sue, Ethel Turner and her daughter Jean Curlewis – I only found that out when I was trying to find Ethel Turner’s sister’s name, Lilian Turner. She too was a writer. Can I claim Geraldine Brooks and her American husband Tony Horwitz.

    • August 25, 2020 10:39 am

      Oh of Couse. I knew that, Meg, thanks! You can claim Geraldine Brooks though they are more a literary couple than a dynastyl

  6. August 25, 2020 8:58 am

    Continuing the Charlotte Barton / Louisa Atkinson lineage are Charlotte’s great-great-great-great-granddaughters, novelists Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell.

  7. August 25, 2020 9:15 am

    To jump the gun about families of historians: Tom Griffiths, his wife Libby Robin and their son son Billy Griffiths. Wonderful, and important, historians and environmental writers.

    • August 26, 2020 8:24 am

      Thanks, Michelle. It was the Griffiths and Clarkes I was thinking of, though I didn’t know about Tom Grffiths’ wife,

  8. Meg permalink
    August 25, 2020 9:30 am

    Hi Sue, more names keep popping out. The Flanagan brothers, Richard and Martin. Don Watson and his first wife Hilary McPhee and his second partner Chloe Hooper. Helen Garner and her daughter Alice Garner.

    • August 26, 2020 8:26 am

      Oh yes, the Flanagans. And Alice Garner, thanks Meg. Of course Watson and co are couples again, rather than dynasties.

  9. Sara Dowse permalink
    August 25, 2020 10:32 am

    Hi WG – Post got me thinking too. Wasn’t it Tom Flood, Dorothy Hewett’s son, who won the Miles Franklin a while back?

    • August 25, 2020 12:42 pm

      That’s so. His MIles Franklin book was Oceana Fine

    • August 26, 2020 8:28 am

      Thanks Sara. I hadn’t connected him to Hewett. I’m not sure Wikipedia has either. I had to creak a llnk in Wikipedia to Kate Lilley, she was in Hewett’s page but with no link.

  10. Sue permalink
    August 25, 2020 9:32 pm

    Mary Durack and her sister Elizabeth co-wrote a couple of novels I think.

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