Monday musings on Australian literature: The Australian girl’s annual

Some time ago I posted on an old School friend annual that I found during my decluttering. Today, I bring you a much older annual for girls, The Australian girl’s annual. It came not from my childhood, but from my aunt’s house when I was working on her estate, and it is undated. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain the series was published annually from 1910, when editions were apparently dated, until around 1935, when they weren’t. 1935 is the last time I found it mentioned in Trove’s newspaper index.

Trove’s cataloging records for it are incomplete. As far as I can tell, it was first called The Australian girl’s annual. It was then published as The Australasian girl’s annual (and perhaps The Australiasian girl’s annual), before returning to its original name. It was originally published by Cassell in London and Melbourne, but one Trove record notes that volumes from [1929]* on have the imprint “[Sydney] : Gordon & Gotch (A’sia) Ltd. for the Amalgamated Press Ltd.” My edition says “Published in Australasia by Gordon & Gotch (Australasia) Ltd.” but it also credits “The Amalgamated Press Limited Fleetway House, London, E.C.4”

So, I have two challenges. First, what is the date of mine? From Trove’s records, and from the contemporary-story illustrations, I’m guessing it comes from the 1929 to 1935 period. Second, who did it belong to? My aunt was born in 1930, when my grandmother was 37, making the book not really age-suitable for either – given it was geared, says The Australasian (21 December 1912), to “those who have passed childhood”. However, my aunt had a big sister who was born in 1918. Perhaps the book was hers?

I was intrigued when I picked it up, because here’s this book called The Australian girl’s annual, but it was clearly generated from England. In my search of the Internet, I found reference to some research published in 2014. It was done by Kristine Moruzi, and her paper is titled “The British Empire and Australian Girls’ Annuals”. The abstract says:

This article explores two series of girls’ annuals: the Empire Annual for Australian Girls (1909–30), published by the Religious Tract Society, and the Australian Girl’s Annual (1910–3?), published by Cassell. Although both series were seemingly targeted at Australian girls, they were published in Britain before being given a new title and sent to the colonies. This article examines the implications of these British models of girlhood for their explicitly colonial girl readers. The British publishers of these annuals addressed an apparently homogenous readership comprised of girls from white settler colonies and Britain without attempting to customize the contents of their books for different audiences. In both fiction and illustrations, the annuals simultaneously employed and produced a British model of girlhood that was attractive to Australian girl readers.

“Before being given a new title and sent to the colonies”? This suggests that the very same content was published for English girls under a different title. Certainly, the volume I have contains 26 stories with not one written by an Australian, though one author, Violet M Methley (b. 1882 in Kent), might have had some Australian connection. She is listed in AustLit, because, as a blogger writes, “she may have spent time in Australia, as many of her books are set on that continent”. Then again, as this blogger’s blog is “Tellers of Weird Tales”, Methley may just have had a vivid imagination! She has two stories in this volume, one being “Mademoiselle Miss: a story of the French Revolution”. (As little aside, this story is illustrated by H.M. Brock whose brother was C.E. Brock, famous for his Jane Austen illustrations.) Her other story is “Celia: A thrilling story”, which is set in the Hebrides.

Anyhow, the 26 stories are written pretty much 50:50 by male and female writers. None are known to me, but many were prolific writers in their day. Pleasingly, the illustrators are identified along with the authors in the table of contents. Most of the stories are fiction, and they include traditional “girls’ stories” like school stories, but there are also historical and adventure stories, and non-fiction, such as editor H. Darkin Williams’ travel piece, “On top of the world: Sun and ice at mid-summer on the heights of Switzerland” and naturalist Mortimer Batten’s “The adventure land of wild nature: And how YOU can become a Member of a Famous Camp Circle”. Batten’s heart is in the right place but how relevant were his “stories about hedgehogs, and stoats, and hares, and wildcats, and eagles, and deer …” to his Australian readers?

Of course, my next step was to see if the annual was written about in Australian newspapers, and it was, most often in end-of-year lists as a gift suggestion. Here are some of the mentions:

For softer tastes quieter themes are chosen; but the stories by Mrs. G. Vaizey, Katherine Newlin, Bessie Marchant, Doris Pocock, and others, are well written, and have nothing of the vapidity which was once thought a proper characteristic of fiction intended for girls [my emph]. – The Australasian (21 December 1912.

a very attractive and beautifully printed volume, with illustrations in colour and in black and white. It contains many short stories by writers popular with girls, and one complete book-length story, ‘The Girl from Nowhere,’ by Nancy M. Hayes. An excellent present for a girl. – Sunday Times, 13 December 1925.

… It has four color-plates, a profusion of other pictures, and as for the stories and reading matter, generally—well, a very high standard is reached. – The World’s News, 19 December 1925.

The “Australian Girl’s Annual” is another publication that puts the girls quite level with the boys in diversity of reading matter and illustration. It has all those features which girls like, and a lot of others that boys will turn to—on the quiet, of course [my emph]. It is really a very fine compilation of first-class serial and short stories. – The World’s News, 18 December 1926.

fills that very much-needed requirement of the girl-child who has passed the ‘toys’ standard, and is yet too young to be interested in the sentimentality of the average best seller in the fiction field, or carried beyond her age by the classics. – Sunday Times, 15 December 1929.

But what did the girls themselves think? Well, thanks to the letters section in some newspapers’ Children’s Pages, we do know something:

Dear Uncle Jeff … I have been reading a very interesting book, ‘The Australian Girl’s Annual.’ It is just the thing. – The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, 10 October 1913.

Dear Aunt Mary … I had a book called “The Australian Girl’s Annual” given to me for my birthday. There are some nice stories in it. – Western Mail, 22 September 1916.

Dear Aunt Georgina … We got book prizes, and the name of my book is ‘”The Australian Girls’ Annual.” It has nice stories in it. – Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette 25 January 1930.

You can see how these Children’s Pages worked. Some of the correspondents even signed off “your niece”! These writers aren’t exactly effusive about the annual, but these were spontaneous comments in letters to a newspaper, so may not mean much.

Meanwhile, I would love to read what Moruzi found.

* Square brackets donate the lack of date on the volume.

28 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: The Australian girl’s annual

  1. I don’t think it is unexpected that the same annual would be sold throughout the dominions. Australia barely had a body of children’s lit. before the 1960s. My father and grandfathers grew up on English stories and so did I. In primary school I got an English boys magazine, and I still have any number of English annuals.

    A year or two ago I bought a beautifully bound girls annual second hand for my granddaughter Ms 10. But I’m not sure if it is the one you are discussing here.

    • No I don’t think so either, Bill, but it perhaps shouldn’t have been called “Australian”. 0f course that would sell better than “English”. I think there were annuals called “Empire…”

    • I think this is why, for all that they are criticised now for being imperialist etc, the Victorian Readers which were produced between 1927 and 1930 for school children in Victoria were landmarks, because they featured a lot of Australian stories and poems, chosen for children to read.
      I was interested to see when I searched for their publication dates that they are said to have been used (with revisions) until the 1950s. I don’t know about that, but I read them in Grades 4-6 in the Sixties, and we read the monthly School Magazine as well, which featured more of what was in the Readers. Yes, we wandered lonely as clouds among daffodils, but we also drove stock with Clancy of the Overflow, rode with The Man from Snowy River, were brave about snakes like The Drover’s Wife and rescued people from shipwrecks like Grace Bussell.
      I was always given an annual at Christmas, and I liked them because they featured wonderful female role models. I learned about the heroism of Nurse Cavell and the courage of Florence Nightingale and the genius of Marie Curie and was (briefly) inspired to be brave and clever like they were.

      • Yes, we had the Queensland School Readers which were published from 1915 into the 70s apparently. I certainly remember many of the Australian and overseas stories you mention. Our heroine Grace, the tragic story of Gelert are two memorable ones. The website https://education.qld.gov.au/about/history/Pages/qldSchoolReaders.aspx says they also included content like Aboriginal rock paintings but I’m not sure I remember those. So much of my Aussie culture came from my father, as well as school, it’s hard to remember where I remember what from.

        • What I remember of content about Aborigines was not written by them, with all the problems that entails, which are now recognised. I’d need to go through them to see the illustrations, but I can’t find where I’ve put them, and I’ve only got the Year 5 and 6 ones, not the others.
          But I would say that though the Readers get a bad press for their flaws today, I would say that as a newcomer to Australia, I found their Australian content utterly absorbing.
          *chuckle* I remember taking the book back to school after I’d read it all, and asking for the next one, and being crushed by the reply that it was what we were going to read all year. I subsequently learned the horrible truth of it, in those awful awful awful round robin reading sessions where less able readers were humiliated and the more able like me were always in trouble for not knowing the place when it was our turn to read.

        • Lisa, re Victorian school readers, I have my father’s boxed set. A reissue from 20 odd years ago. I don’t remember any Aboriginal art, but I’ll have a look at the weekend.

        • Queensland School Readers bring back some memories for me as a lad and being a bookbinding apprentice working at the old Qld Government Printing Office in George Street in the 1970s where these were produced. They were a very popular item. I recall taking the box set home, but can no longer find them, sadly.

        • I remember them too, fondly too, fourtriplezed, and wish I had at least an example. But we can’t keep everything as we travel through life can we? Have you stayed working in bookbinding?

        • No more bookbinding for me or the printing industry in general, sadly. It is now very much a craft, here in Brisbane I know of only one company that are specialists. I have to admit to being a very poor binder and on completion of my indentured apprenticeship. 1980, I went into other areas of the printing industry. Unfortunately an industry full of the ancients such as myself, few youngsters seem interested in a career in the industry.

  2. “Dear Uncle Jeff … I have been reading a very interesting book, ‘The Australian Girl’s Annual.’ It is just the thing. – The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, 10 October 1913.”
    This comment reminds me strongly of those on the Web dreamed up by advertisers who want you to think that their product is popular .. [grin]

  3. One of my treasured legacies from my mum ( who died last year) is her Girl’s Annual book from her childhood. I’m not sure who had gifted it to her but it was one of only 2 books she’d owned as a child as the family were very poor and her first decade of life was during the Depression. It’s very English too, full of jolly school japes and girls having adventures. I loved looking through this book as a kid; it always felt like a glimpse into a foreign place (which of course it was)

  4. When I was busily collecting old Penguin books I would often see these old books, similar or the same? There were many for boys as well as girls. I think they must have been fairly popular in their day and with the older generations (of myself) they seemed to end up in thrift shops and second hand book stores. I always liked looking through them.

  5. Hi Sue, I have the Empire Annual For Australian Boys, which has a few Australian stories: A Tragedy of Australian Life by AJ Wade; An Australian Bush-fire by Willie Montrose, (the protagnist is named Bob Hawke); Australian Games by A W Clemes (in the introduction it says ‘Mr Clemes, a cross country runner for Oxford, is a Rhodes Scholar from Tasmania. He contrasts school and University games at the Antipodes with our games at home’ – AFL is included; and A Brush with Australian Natives by Alexander MacDonald. It is not dated but the cover has a Kangaroo in the centre. I do have other old annuals, but they are mainly English. I have a fair few children’s annuals, though not Australian. But, I do have the Victorian School Readers, Lisa mentions. And, I also have 1958 and 1959 School Papers.

  6. The Australian Girls Annual sounds fairly progressive. In the U.S., there is a nonprofit called VIDA that looks at how the gender skews with the big literary magazines. Most do not achieve 50/50 men and women. Also, I was surprised to read that the stories for girls included tales of adventure. When I read that the British model of a good girl was being sent to Australia, I was sure it was going to be all shyness, knitting or sewing, and being a perfect daughter.

    • Yes, I was interested in the gender mix, Melanie. We have seen the VIDA counts here and have our own Stella count, modelled on it. Since they started doing it around 2012 things have improved across most categories.

      And yes, re adventure stories for girls. Quite a few were historical fiction adventures, I must say, often involving romance, but in some the girls were active participants not passive maidens waiting to be saved. There’s very little how to be a good girl or daughter here – but many tales of loyalty, friendship, etc.

  7. This is so interesting – that list of animals must have been a little bewildering, though I loved reading about different lands when I was younger (as of course I do now). Do all the heroines in the illustrations have those straight-nosed profiles like pre-Raphaelites? I have a few girls’ annuals and novels from the 1920s and am very fond of them.

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