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!”