The original manuscript for Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians, held in the State Library of NSW’s collection, has just been added to the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.
‘Sketched out’ on her 23rd birthday in 1893, Turner’s 182-page manuscript would become one of Australia’s best known children’s stories and arguably her greatest achievement. The manuscript, written on scraps of paper of different shapes and sizes, is a record of Turner’s creative process. The first few pages alone document the progression from working title ‘Six Pickles’ through to ´Seven Little Australians’.
It is rare for a 19th century literary manuscript to survive, especially one with the significance of Seven Little Australians. The inscription of the manuscript on the UNESCO register acknowledges the important place that Ethel Turner and Seven Little Australians holds in Australian literary history.
Seven Little Australians marked a turning point in Australian children’s literature. She wrote about everyday family life in urban Sydney and her characters were not only believable children – significantly, they were recognisably Australian. Seven Little Australians features a girl as its hero and, consequently, contributed to the foundation of girls' literature in Australia.
Nine-year-old Turner emigrated to Australia from England in 1880 with her mother and sister Lilian. Both sisters had a flair for writing, whilst attending Sydney Girls High School they produced their own magazine, the Iris. After leaving school the sisters founded the Parthenon, a monthly magazine of which the sisters were the primary contributors.
Seven Little Australians was a spectacular success when it was published in 1894 and has been in print continuously ever since, longer than any other Australian children’s book. It was one of the earliest Australian children’s books to be translated into a foreign language (Swedish in 1895) and to date has been translated into over ten different languages.
The Library has five collections inscribed on Australian Memory of the World Register: the First Fleet journals, World War I diaries, the Holtermann photographic collection, Dorothea Mackellar’s poetry notebook ‘Verses 1907‐1908’ and a collection of internment papers from 1914–1919 as well as the Holtermann large glass plate negatives on the International Register. The inscription of the Library’s Seven Little Australians manuscript along with the success of a joint nomination for Migration Voices Oral Histories with the National Library of Australia, State Library of South Australia, State Library of Western Australia, Migration Museum, South Australia, brings the number of UNESCO collections held by the the Library to eight.
Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians manuscript has now been included in the Library’s UNESCO SIX exhibition and will be on display alongside the Library’s other UNESCO listed collections until Sunday 5th May 2019.