State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 60 Spring 1997


It is with great pleasure that I present to you this special issue of the La Trobe Library Journal, devoted to Australian Children's Literature. The issue has been long in its gestation — not the fault of the contributors who met their deadlines conscientiously, but purely the fault of the guest editor's appalling inability to manage his own time better. I beg the forgiveness of both the Foundation's membership and the Honorary Editor, who have been most patient with me. My hope is that the issue is worth the waiting.
The origins of this special issue lay in the success of a previous La Trobe Library Journal — that devoted to the illuminated medieval manuscripts in the State Library of Victoria's collection. This editor felt that Australia is blessed with a group of very fine scholars in children's literature and that a collection of essays could be gathered, highlighting and further stimulating use of the Library's excellent children's collections — recently substantially augmented by the purchase of the Ken Pound collection.
The invitation sent to contributors was not so much to present new research but to re-present their research in ways accessible to an intelligent lay audience, such as the membership of the State Library of Victoria Foundation. Original research, of course, was not excluded, but it was not expected. In the end, I am very pleased that all the papers present new perspectives as well as new materials, and so this special issue wilt be of interest to both the specialist and the general reader.
Although such collections of essays often take the form of a pot pourri, I believe the present collection has an organic shape. We are led into the subject by Bunbury's succinct and comprehensive overview, from before European settlement to the present-day. (A slightly different version of this paper was published in the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature (1996). The editor is grateful to Routledge for their permission to reproduce this piece.)
The first grouping of papers by Saxby, Moors and Kilner might be headed by the rubric ‘Authorship', as they treat three relatively neglected Australian authors of children's books — Jean Curlewis, and the pseudonymous ‘John Mystery’ and ‘Furnley Maurice'. It is hoped that these three papers mark the beginning of further research into each of these authors. For ‘John Mystery', at least, new materials are now available — Derrick Moors’ research into ‘John Mystery’ (real name Lester Sinclair) has resulted in the State Library of Victoria acquiring a substantial archive of material from the Sinclair family.
The next grouping of five essays might have the rubric ‘Representations'. Each looks at a variety of books and stories with a view to analysing how certain specific aspects of our culture and history are represented — the modern city (Aitken), Asian
settlers (Lees), colonial Melbourne (McIntyre), the gold rushes (Muir), and mothers and mothering (Hillel).
The final and most heterogeneous grouping might come under the rubric ‘Consumption'. Torcasio describes in disarming detail the pioneering efforts of the trade and the broader sector to promote children's literature through Children's Book Week of 1924. (I'm sure Kerry Kilner would have been interested to learn of the high profile of ‘Furnley Maurice’ and The Bay and Padie Book in the CBW activities.) O'Conor, through adroit use of the tape-recorder, describes how the State Library of Victoria's children's literature collections have attained their present shape. Pope investigates the narrative methods by which the reader is drawn into the text. And finally, and perhaps most unusually, Bayfield describes the development of the instructional (and highly literate) games of the nineteenth century.
There is one essay that does not appear in this issue — Chris Holland's paper on ‘Modern First Editions of Australian Children's Literature'. I can tell you something of its content and style. It certainly would have been detailed and scholarly, and yet would also have been imbued with Chris's own warmth, good humour and enthusiasm. The essay was never written because Chris Holland died on the 18th February 1997. The editor would like to dedicate his efforts to Chris Holland's memory.
Finally, there is only to acknowledge and thank the people who helped me with this special issue. Individuals included (in no particular order) Des Cowley, Sandra Burt, Ian Morrison, Julie Duffy, Carol Barnard, Adrian Flint and John Barnes. Thanks must also go to the following for permission to reproduce illustrations: the Sinclair family. Lothian Books, Scholastic Australia, Penguin Australia, Omnibus, and Random House Australia Pty Ltd. Special thanks must go to the contributors themselves who responded enthusiastically to my original proposal.
The cost of this special issue was met from two sources — the State Library of Victoria Foundation and the George Robertson Program. The latter is a fund that has received monies from a variety of activities conducted by the Library's Rare Printed Collections Team. In a sense then all the people who contributed to the success of these activities must be thanked for making this special issue possible.
One may read the following essays as one continuous narrative, or one may sample in tasty bites. The essay form is ideal as a means of introducing a subject, or simply to entertain in its own right. However you approach them, my final exhortation is — Enjoy!
Brian Hubber
State Library of Victoria