State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 60 Spring 1997


Captivating Narratives: Reeling in the Nineteenth-Century Child Reader

Stories created specifically for children usually have two aims: the explicit aim of entertaining children and the implicit intention of socialising them in the beliefs and practices of their society. Sometimes stories have carried an overt moral, as is found in the fables and fairytales of Charles Perrault or the cautionary tales of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As tastes moved towards a preference for less didactic tales for children, these morals became encoded in the behaviour of the story's characters. However, there are other values which are found in stories which are less visible to their readers. These are the values which are enshrined in social practices and beliefs, and because they represent the practices and beliefs of the readers themselves they seem ‘natural', or normal, and they invite the reader to share in their commonly-held assumptions. Stories written in the past are a useful example of how values can seem invisible in a story, for where these values have changed we are readily able to recognise them and the ways in which they operate to influence their readers.
In Australia in the nineteenth century young readers were largely from the middle classes, until universal primary education began to have its effects on public literacy standards in the last three decades of the century. Children looking for something to read would have found little that was written and published in Australia, as the pioneering studies of Maurice Saxby1 and Brenda Niall2 reveal. The first Australian children's book was not published until 1841, and the few that were printed between that date and the end of the century were often published in small (or even private) print-runs, limiting their dissemination amongst the Australian public. For the most part, young Australian readers were dependent on British writers whose works were imported by Australian booksellers, were brought out in the belongings of new settlers, or were sent as gifts from relatives in Britain.
The British writers whose works comprised the largest portion of a juvenile white Australian reader's diet probably wrote their stories with young British readers in mind. These readers were all potential colonisers as future citizens of the growing British Empire; the juvenile Australian readers were actual colonisers. In another sense, these child readers can themselves be regarded as being colonised, for as subjects of adult direction and instruction in the behavioural and moral codes of
their society, they too had culture imposed on them. They are thus potential or actual colonisers, as well as being themselves colonised. The stories written and produced for them by adults assist in this task of colonising, or socialising, the readers.
Presumably young Australian readers were most interested in those stories set mainly in Australia. Niall identifies four categories of these nineteenth-century Australian children's texts, recognising, of course, that the categories do overlap. The groups are: the settler novels, characterised by moral earnestness and a propagandist immigration impulse; the religious novels, which see the colonial world as a mission field; the adventure novels, in which colonial perils afford tests for the young hero; and the semi-documentary works which have an authentic source and an informative purpose framed within a tenuous and subordinate narrative structure.3
An examination of some of the adventure and settler stories demonstrates how values are written into a story. These stories are commonly written for a male audience, with young male heroes. They encourage their young readers to identify with the models of British manhood which are largely based on the notions of muscular Christianity posited by Charles Kingsley and Rugby School's Dr Arnold. The characteristics of manhood are a healthy body, an agile mind and a noble character and are manifested in the exercise of physical strength and fitness, determination, courage, hard work, loyalty to a ‘higher cause’, and modesty.
The hierarchical structure of Social Darwinism ‘scientifically’ confirmed for the British people their position at the apogee of creation and as the dominant world race. In the tales written for young people, the character traits of the fictional heroes indicate the qualities which made them great, and the value their culture assigns these. It is incumbent on the heroes, in whom are found the hallmarks of a superior civilization, to spread its benefits.
When writers set their stories in Australia they naturally searched for situations that would create danger in order to provide opportunities for their heroes to prove themselves. Encounters with the native fauna of many countries provided tests of manliness and assured the reader in various ways that British was best when it came to the qualities needed for tough assignments. The excitement and threat of predatory wildlife — tigers and lions, grizzly bears and buffalo, rhinoceroses and elephants — gripped young readers with delighted terror.
But useful confrontations with native fauna in Australia were mostly denied the writer anxious to demonstrate the young hero's superior mettle. The koala was a passive target offering none of the thrill of the chase. The ‘opossum’ made no attempt to defend itself. The wombat was too tubby and shy to be considered a worthy opponent. Swimming might have afforded the odd aggressive shark or crocodile attack, but it was not then a common skill, much less a recreation. Even deadly

Figure 16: ‘He faced round, and with his forefeet …‘From The Kangaroo Hunters by Anne Bowman. Illustrated by D.T. Smith (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, ca 1870)

snakes generally preferred to avoid confrontation. The writer was left with only two foes to consider: the kangaroo and the dingo, and of these the kangaroo was the most frequently encountered and written about (see Figures 16 and 17).
John M. MacKenzie has studied the role of hunting and the natural world in the nineteenth century British Empire.4 He notes the intellectual excitement occasioned by new discoveries in the natural world, and he links this with the practice of hunting. The newly discovered animals and birds soon provided a lucrative source of income as clothing fashions incorporated exotic accessories such as ostrich feathers and furs; horn and ivory became popular for cutlery, ornaments and musical instruments; and of course taxidermy and the exhibition of stuffed animals was a passion of the period.5 Hunting exotic animals provided writers with a popular subject that both instructed and entertained and ensured a large interested readership. It was also a convenient vehicle for inculcating values, an important purpose of children's literature, for hunting required strength, health and perseverance and trained the mind, body and character.6 For most of the century, hunting was represented as an obligation and a right: God had provided plentifully but the original owners had not exploited these riches in the way He had intended them to be used, so they forfeited their right to the more energetic and more civilised British.7 This attitude was supported by the ideas of Social Darwinism which had currency from the 1860s, so that in conjunction with land annexation, hunting symbolised the spirit of imperialism.
It was taken up as a common theme in stories of British expansion and exploration by writers such as Captain Mayne Reid, R.M. Ballantyne, W.H.G. Kingston, George Manville Fenn, G. Henry and others. Young fictional heroes scoured the world in search of rare specimens in the service of science or commerce, bringing glory to their mother land.
A year before Henry Kingsley's settler novel The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn was published for adult readers in England in 1859, another settler novel was released for juvenile readers. The Kangaroo Hunters8 was written by Anne Bowman who, unlike Henry Kingsley, had not been to Australia. Her text is sub-titled Adventures in the Bush. The preface expresses the sentiment common to many settler stories: The restless, inquiring spirit of youth craves from its first development, food for the imagination … To know The great works of God, thereby to glorify The Great Work

Figure 17: ‘Frank Layton's encounter with an enranged bull’ From The Leisure Hour 16 March 1854. Illustrator unknown

Master. In this belief, we are encouraged to continue to supply the young with books which do not profess to be true, though they are composed of truth.
The nineteenth-century Australian reader would have had no trouble in separating the truth from the imaginative creation in this work. The frontispiece illustration shows a large kangaroo being crushed by a snake, and the caption reads ‘The Kangaroo and the Boa’. This misleading beginning is not improved by the ‘truth’ of what followed, for in this narrative a family travelling to India from Australia are marooned on the west coast after their ship catches fire. They decide to travel overland back to their friends, traversing the continent easily from west to east, living off the land on their journey, identifying new flora and fauna, and fighting off bands of aborigines led by escaped convicts-turned-bushranger on the way. In the chapter titled ‘The Kangaroo Conflict’ the two boys attempting to kill a kangaroo with the aboriginal-style weapons they have made, corner it in a cave where,
at last we drove him into a corner, pierced mortally with our spears. I wanted Gerald to wait till the beast was weakened with loss of blood; but he was in a hurry to finish, so he rushed on with his drawn knife, and I followed to help him. But when the brave old fellow found he had not a chance, he faced round, and with his forefeet — his arras, I should say — he seized me, and gave me a heavy fall. Gerald was, then, behind, and plunged his knife into him, on which the desperate creature struck out with his powerful hind claw, and tore and bruised poor Gerald, as you see. I was soon on my feet again, and then I speedily despatched the beast.9
Notice the implied loyalty of the narrator — despite the danger — to a foolhardy friend who cannot wait. There is a modest absence of detail in the ‘speedy despatching’ of the kangaroo, which is a ‘brave old fellow’ and a ‘beast’ in this encounter (he was a ‘big old fellow’ on the previous page so the readers have already been apprised of its size). Despite their hours of attempting to kill it with primitive spear and bow and arrow, it is the white man's technology which brings on the kangaroo's demise. This account is supported by an illustration showing the narrator grappling with the kangaroo, which has teeth bared fiercely as it attempts to throw him. Gerald, deadly knife poised, is behind. But when compared with an illustration from W.H.G. Kingston's Peter the Whaler10 where the hero tackles a huge polar bear, a much larger, heavier opponent whose teeth and claws testify to the threat it poses, kangaroos seem tame opponents indeed.
There are many other examples of stories in which kangaroos are represented as a formidable foe. In The Young Berringtons or The Boy Explorers by W.H.G.
Kingston11 a kangaroo drowns one dog and slices two open with its hind claw. In George Manville Fenn's The Dingo Boys, or The Squatters of Wallaby Range12 an Aborigine unsuccessfully tries to kill a ‘gigantic’ kangaroo with his inadequate weaponry:
The spear was thrown, but it was just as the old man was making a bound, and though it struck, its power of penetration was not sufficient… to make it pierce the tough skin.
The kangaroo clasps Shanter, the Aborigine, who is unmanfully pleading with the English boys to shoot his assailant. Shanter is clearly unable to save himself and needs the assistance of his younger, better equipped and more competent comrades. Since it is an Aborigine in the clutches of the animal, the savagery and status of the kangaroo as noble foe is not established. On the contrary, the human assailant becomes the victim, reducing the fight almost to the level of comedy:
Then, in spite of Shanter's struggles and yells to the boys to shoot — to ‘mumkull’ his enemy — the kangaroo began to leap easily as if it were not burdened with the weight of a man; and quickly clearing the distance between them and the water-hole, plunged right in, and with the water flying up at every spring, shuffled at last into deep water. Here, knowing the fate reserved for him, Shanter made another desperate struggle to escape; but he was wrestling with a creature nearly as heavy as a cow, and so formed by nature that it sat up looking a very pyramid of strength while the black, held as he was in that deadly hug … was completely helpless.
The next moment the object of the kangaroo was plain to the boys, for, as if endowed with human instinct, it now bent down to press poor Shanter beneath the water, and hold him there till he was drowned… the kangaroo … seemed to have a peculiar leer in its eyes, as if it were saying, ‘Wait a bit; it is your turn next.’13
Mackenzie notes that towards the end of the century English sensibilities about hunting for sport were being challenged in England itself. By this time hunting for its commercial or scientific purposes, both of which had been associated closely with the pioneering and exploration phases of imperialism, had been largely replaced by hunting for sport. Grouse moors and deer forests in Scotland and large areas of Europe had been set aside for the recreation of the wealthy. It had long been a sport associated with certain imperial locations such as India, and came to be so with the game parks in Africa.14 In the last decades of the century, these changed attitudes to
wanton killing begin to appear in juvenile literature. J. Evelyn's Captain Kangaroo: a Story of Australian Life contains a kangaroo hunt organised on the lines of a fox hunt, but the ladies of the company decry the ‘slaughter of the poor kangaroo’.15 Later settler-adventure narratives reassure readers that animals are only hunted for food, as a necessity, sometimes drawing on biblical authority as a guide.
The change of attitude is also articulated in Emilia Marryat's novel Jack Stanley in which a colonel, a representative of the imperial establishment, expresses these thoughts:
I doubt if kangaroos are ever wild; they are shy and timid, like most innocent, inoffensive animals without natural means of defence; but, like all shy things, they become bolder when treated kindly.16
This removes any suggestion that kangaroos are a noble foe. The colonel then recounts his experience at a kangaroo hunt:
[The kangaroo] stopped and stood up confronting the dogs… I was nearest to him at the time he gave in, and I saw him rushed upon by the savage brutes, who gnawed and worried him, covering his soft grey fur with blood. He stood impotently beating the air with his forefeet, and the great tears ran from his beautiful eyes and down his cheeks. I was thankful that I was armed with a gun, that I might as soon as possible shoot the poor beast dead; and by the time the others came up, I was standing over him, feeling in my own mind that I had joined in a cowardly, unmanly sport, and vainly regretting that I had been an accessory in any degree to what T now looked upon as unworthy of me.17
For the colonel the kangaroo has become a victim of insensitive brutality brought on by a mindless blood lust. He heightens the kangaroo's vulnerability by the use of feminine descriptors: ‘soft grey’ fur, emphasising the kangaroo's mildness and softness; ‘impotently’ demonstrating its defencelessness; and ‘great’ tears and ‘beautiful’ eyes which are commonly supposed to be feminine attributes. Thus the attack is likened to the slaughter of defenceless women.
It is worth noting, though, that manliness in this text takes on a new quality -sensitivity to needless animal suffering. The act of brutality is performed by the ‘savage brutes’ of dogs. By making the colonel ‘an accessory’, responsibility for the crime is displaced to some degree, and in ending the kangaroo's suffering he takes on the mantle of saviour. However, by the end of the century the use of the kangaroo as a means of demonstrating young British courage was closed to the British writer because of changed public opinion.
Thus, colonial Australia offered disappointingly few genuine opportunites for young British men to demonstrate their superior manliness and courage in the face of mortal danger posed by wild animals. There was little dramatic heroism in the drudgery and hard labour of pioneer settlement: perseverance, determination and ingenuity do not make thrilling reading. Writers were forced to fall back on other devices to demonstrate the grit of their young heroes. A good flood or a bushfire (neither of whose dimensions seem to be fully realised in the writings) and sometimes the risk of getting lost or injured in the bush were used as opportunities for a heroic rescue. More common were attacks by ‘savage Aborigines’.
In many respects the indigenous peoples of Australia are written about in the same way as the kangaroo. Natural superiority over Aborigines is assumed, and in many texts the point is made explicitly. This creates a problem for the writer attempting to demonstrate his hero's nobility and superiority. If the foe is unworthy and not worth defeating, the battle will belittle the victor. This difficulty is usually overcome by ensuring that the whites are greatly outnumbered in their confrontations with Aborigines, so that demonstrations of pluck and determination redound on the victors. Confrontation with Aborigines is perhaps the most common device used to demonstrate the superior qualities of imperial manhood in Australian children's texts of the nineteenth century. As William Howitt wrote complacently in A Boy's Adventures in the Wilds of Australia; or, Herbert's Notebook18:
[In earlier times, the squatters] were exposed to the attacks of the natives and many a bloody skirmish has the Australian forest witnessed; many a station burnt, and its inmates all murdered. Many a scene of fierce retaliation, too, have these wildernesses beheld. The sturdy squatters, part of a determined and dominant race which has spread itself over the world from the north to the south, from the east to the west, everywhere subduing the aboriginal tribes to its authority, or driving them before it — these hardy fellows muster on horseback, and getting together in a clanship of extermination, have more than paid back the bloody deeds of the natives.
And on the following page,
The blacks have learned the irresistible power of the British race …You may say of most of them, as the Scripture says of the patriarch Isaac: ‘The man waxed great and went forward, and grew until he became very great. For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants.19
Howitt invites the reader to concur with the view of the Aborigines as ‘murderers'. The white men's murders are not called murder, however, but ‘retaliation’ and the white murderers are ‘determined', ‘dominant’ and ‘hardy’ and perform their biblical duty in stamping their authority over the ‘natives'. Further into the narrative, three aborigines murder a colonist, a ‘youth of excellent character … the innocent object of revenge for some previous damage sustained by the assailants at the hands of his countrymen’.20 Note that here the white victim is an ‘innocent object of revenge’, but what follows does not entitle the same sympathy to black victims. The three suspects, along with about twenty other Aborigines, are enticed into a hut on a station by blandishments of tea and damper. The three suspects have nooses thrown around their necks and ‘their comrades [rush] from the hut with the greatest terror and precipitation.’21 Thus the basic cowardice of Aborigines is also established for the reader.
The Aborigines gather, now forming an adequate foe because of the overwhelming advantage of their ‘great numbers’, and the settlers, reinforced by several other arrivals and the few police who came to take away the culprits, prepare to face an apparently hopeless situation:
The deathlike stillness and the singular appearance of the advancing foe, dimly shadowed forth in the glimmering twilight, may be conjectured to have formed a scene capable of inspiring terror. Vexation and disappointment were evidently expressed in the countenance of the assailants when they perceived that the enemy was prepared for them. The attack, however, was commenced. The vanguard, consisting of about fifty, was soon followed by the main army, which advanced to close quarters, and the battle became mutual. But the shower of spears, though launched against the hut with wonderful force, did no damage to its inmates, who, on their part, responded with better effect from their fire-arms, shooting, as opportunities permitted, through loopholes and crevices of the building.
Great excitement prevailed at one period, on the occasion of one of the leaders being shot, the natives rising with savage yells upon the roof, and attempting to tear off the bark and rafters and even to descend the chimney.22
Sublime terror is invoked here to heighten the anticipation of danger. The Aborigines, whose voices are silenced, are identifiable by their ‘lacks', which demonstrate their inferiority to the white invaders: they lack coolness and clearheadedness in acting precipitately; they lack sufficient strength to prevail; they lack intelligence to produce adequate weapons; they lack leadership and direction; they lack a moral purpose equal to the whites’. The actions of the Aborigines are described with words that
link them to the primitive: ‘savage yells’, ‘tear[ing] off the bark’. The young white reader, identifying with the members of his own race and culture, not only is inspired to emulate the bravery of the young hero but also is imbued with those particular attitudes towards Aborigines which the narrative voice conveys.
Even when Aborigines were helpful to the colonising enterprise, it was rarely admitted that they had any redeeming qualities. Rather, they were regarded with benign amusement for their child-like desire to emulate the white man's ideals. An early example of this attitude occurs in Alfred Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers, published in London in 1830.23 Its anonymous author — thought to be Mrs Sarah Porter who had never been to Australia — assures her reader in the preface that she has obtained her information from ‘a gentleman who resided for some time in Australia, under circumstances peculiarly favourable for obtaining an accurate knowledge on these subjects.’ She was referring to the work The Present State of Australia, written by Robert Dawson who had been Chief Agent to the Australian Agricultural Company. Alfred Dudley is a novel inspired by the belief that to recreate a part of England in Australia is to do God's work and to bestow a benefit on mankind. On one of his rare respites from this worthy task, Alfred accompanies Mickie, an Aboriginal boy, on a kangaroo hunt:
Mickie begged me not to use my gun, as he wished to prove that he was a man to-day, and ‘to catch kangaroo all by himself.’ He was fired with ambition, and had his heart set on signalizing himself in this important expedition. I promised to be an idle though admiring beholder of his prowess; and after much creeping, dodging, and watching, the poor terrified creature, hemmed in at all sides, took to the water. Mickie, first darting at it his spear, plunged in after it, with reiterated entreaties that I would ‘let him do it all by himself.’ Now the fearful contest commenced: it seemed a trial of strength and dexterity. The creature caught hold of his assailant, hugged him close, and held him down with his head under the water. Just as I was pointing my gun to end the contest, the little fellow contrived to free himself, and in his turn gain the mastery, while he called out to me, “Don't tchoot, massa; me kill him all by himself.’ But the contest was not so soon ended, and victory seemed to declare alternately for each. Mickie's strength appreared gradually lessening; and at length the kangaroo kept his head under water for so long a time, that I could no longer remain an inactive spectator: I levelled my gun and shot it through the body. It was evidently mortally wounded; but yet little Mickie did not take advantage of this rescue, and floated, still fast locked in the embrace of his dying foe. I was alarmed, and instantly plunging into the water,
with some difficulty disengaged him from the convulsive grasp of the kangaroo.24
A late twentieth-century reading of this passage, informed by a different understanding of the dispossession of Aboriginal people, contains less of the admiration we are intended to feel for Alfred. Rather, we notice that the presence of Mickie, the Aboriginal boy is essential for the aims of this contest to be achieved. His declared aim of entering manhood is belittled by his failure to achieve his goal, Alfred's indulgent comment about Mickie being ‘fired With ambition’ to ‘signaliz[e] himself’ places Mickie in the role of the observed, Alfred in the authoritative role of observer who already possesses the qualities Mickie desires. As an observer of Mickie's ‘prowess', Alfred establishes the ironic tone which anticipates Mickie's failure and represents Mickie almost as a comic or a child-like figure. Mickie's plantation brand of English associates him with the ‘racially inferior’ negro. His inferior technology, a spear, fails to kill the kangaroo, and it takes the superior technology of the gun, and the greater strength of Alfred, to subdue it and rescue Mickie. Note that the kangaroo is not enraged, but is a ‘poor terrified creature’ when Mickie pursues it into the water, diminishing the kangaroo at that point as a formidable foe and further emphasising Mickie's failure. Mickie becomes ‘little Mickie’ which diminishes him in stature and status. The ‘fearful contest’ is labelled one of ‘strength and dexterity’ which by implication Mickie does not have. Reference to courage, which Mickie did not lack, is not connected to him. Mickie apparently does not even possess the wit to struggle free after his opponent has been wounded, and Alfred, ever alert, is forced to rescue him. When Mickie subsequently chides Alfred for rescuing him, saying ‘Better be killed myself dan not kill kangaroo’, Alfred's amused ironic observation undercuts the comparison he makes and the shame experienced by Mickie. It is made from the perspective of the self-assured Englishman convinced of the superiority of his own culture:
I had no idea that a single combat between an Australian savage and a kangaroo was governed by the same laws of honour which distinguish the rational code of the civilized duellist; and it was incumbent upon me to stand by and witness the death of my companion, without affording him any assistance.25
From our late twentieth-century vantage point, with a background of comic parodies of the duel by comedians such as Dave Allen and John Cleese, we are amused by the association of the words ‘civilized’ and ‘duellist’ and ‘rational code’.
In Alfred Dudley, the illustrated pages are bordered by a frame consisting of aboriginal artefacts: at left and right is a spear penetrating a bird, at bottom is what might be a canoe or elliptical container, and at top is a kangaroo's head mounted as
a trophy. Thus the combative demands of pioneer settlement are established, although the kangaroo's rabbit-like ears and whiskery face do not compare with the fierceness of, say, a tiger's head, which epitomises the animal's power and strength. Behind any trophy, the observer knows, is the absent hunter who risked his life to bring to science's notice the world's most aggressive and exotic creatures.
In nineteenth-century juvenile texts about Australia, there is by no means a uniform assurance about the morality of dispossessing a people of their land; but even where doubts are voiced, the ‘nobility’ of the aborigine recognised, and a sympathy for his plight expressed, the tenets of social Darwinism are frequently used as justification for the actions of the white man where unease is felt about the genocide. G.E. Sargent's Frank Layton: An Australian Story is an example:
‘I told you,’ said Mr. Bracy to Frank, ‘when I brought you up to the run, that I knew something of the spiteful, unprovoked ways of what you call the natives of this country; and yet, when I come to think of it, not so unprovoked either: for, in the first place, we take away their grounds, and drive them further and further back; and, in the second place, they had not been used to so much kindness in return for the land we have taken. Wherever white men and what we call civilization have gone — such civilization too! mostly gunpowder and rum to begin with, at any rate — it has been pretty much might against right, I think. But this is a problem I am not going to try to solve: there's room enough, no doubt, for all, and a hundred times more room than is likely to be filled up for many generations; and so it seems unfair to say that a few black savages should hold land for ever and do nothing with it, when millions of people that do know how to use it want room in the world to turn themselves.’26
Later, Challoner says that his sister ‘does not believe in our right — the white and civilised man's — to dispossess the poor natives of their forests and broad hunting grounds’, and another settler replies condescendingly, ‘A hopeless task, I am afraid, my little philanthropist… I grant that here and there one, like our friend Dick yonder, when taken in hand early as he was, may rise above the level of his fellow savages in intelligence, and may even become a Christian, but as to the mass of them — why, think of their disgusting habits, and look at their degraded forms, their brutal countenances, their low retreating foreheads.’ But Challoner sides with his sister in retorting that ‘The aboriginal natives of this country are undoubtedly sunk low in the scale of humanity; but not so low as to be beyond the influence of Divine Grace and the power of God's good work.’
This may have appeared to offer a bold theory to nineteenth-century readers, but to us the adoption of the position of superiority by all the observers is apparent. The speakers are all white, and their authority is understood by their membership of the
‘civilized race’. The subject of the gaze, the ‘poor black’, is established by his non-membership of civilised society, his colour, the phrenological evidence of his ‘brutal countenance’, his ignorance of the true God. The sister, object of another type of colonisation as her brother's patronising defence shows, had come dangerously close to entering imaginatively into the world of the dispossessed aboriginal. This is deflected by her wiser brother, who manages to sustain the debate at the level of apparently scientific objective observation of the ‘other’ to maintain the status quo.
Values and understandings about the colonial enterprise have changed since these stories were written. It is not difficult for us to see how young readers were not only encouraged to model themselves on the heroic figures offered, but also to side with the narrators’ views on other matters such as imperialism, race and gender. It is tempting, therefore, for us to be superior about the prior knowledge and presuppositions that we bring to interpretation, vis-à-vis the young nineteenth-century reader. But we would do well to reflect that in another hundred years others will be engaged in deconstructing whatever of our work has survived and will be making similar observations about us.
It has been said that in order to understand a culture we must study its works for children. In this sense these readings have been an attempt to deconstruct the literature of our past in order to illuminate the attitudes of our present.


M. Saxby. A History of Australian Children's Literature 1841-1941, Volume 1. Sydney: Wentworth Books, 1969.


B. Niall. Australia through the Looking-Glass: Children's Fiction 1830-1980. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1984.


Ibid., pp.2-3.


John M. Mackenzie, ‘Hunting and the Natural World in Juvenile Literature', in: Jeffrey Richards (ed). Imperialism and Juvenile Literature. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1989, pp. 144-172.


Ibid., p. 145.


Ibid., p. 151.


Ibid., p.153.


Anne Bowman. The Kangaroo Hunters. London and New York: George Routledge, 1838.


Ibid., p.336.


W.H.G. Kingston. Peter the Whaler: His Early Life and Adventures in the Arctic Regions. London: Ward Lock, 190-?


W.H.G. Kingston. The Young Berringtons or the Boy Explorers. London, Paris and Melbourne: Cassell, 1880.


George Manville Fenn. The Dingo Boys, or the Squatters of Wallaby Range. London and Edinburgh: W.&R. Chambers, 1892.


Ibid., pp. 177-9.


Mackenzie, op.cit., p.146.


J. Evelyn. Captain Kangaroo: a Story of Australian Life. London: Remington, 1889, p.59.


Emilia Marryat. Jack Stanley. London: Frederick Warne, [1882] p.251.


Ibid., p.254.


William Howitt. A Boy's Adventures in the Wilds of Australia; or, Herbert's Notebook. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1854.


Ibid., pp. 204-5.


Ibid., p.309.


Ibid., p.311.


Ibid., p.312.


Sarah Porter. Alfred Dudley; or, the Australian Settlers. London: Harvey and Darton, 1830.


Ibid., pp 74-5.


ibid., p.76.


G.E. Sargent. Frank Layton: an Australian Story. London: The Leisure Hour, 1865, p.59.