Ten Creeks Run (1930), is the second novel in the saga based loosely on Miles Franklin’s mother’s family and their neighbours in the upper Murrimbidgee and Monaro alpine regions of southern NSW, and published under the penname Brent of Bin Bin.
It follows on from Up the Country with a lapse of about 30 years, putting it in the 1880s and 90s, which has the interesting consequence that John Franklin and Sussanah Lampe are already married and their first child Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (1879-1954), who is of course the author, is alive and kicking. MF’s principal reason for withholding My Brilliant Career from republication was the embarrassment she felt it caused her parents. As they were still alive in 1930 (they died in 1931 and 1938 respectively), it will be interesting as I make my way into Ten Creeks Run to see if and how they are portrayed.
Miles was born in her maternal grandmother’s house in Talbingo after Susannah famously “rode seventy miles two months before I was born” from the Franklin property, Brindabella, to Talbingo. “She went by impossible tracks negotiable only by a mountain-bred horse, at such angles that those unaccustomed could not retain a seat. For miles the horse plunged to the girths in snow.” (1963, p.19)
Brindabella is east of Talbingo (towards Canberra and Goulburn) and outside of the real high country which is the territory of the first two novels. Towards the end of the period covered by Ten Creeks Run, John moves his family further away again, leaving the family properties, to become a humble ‘cocky’ at Thornford near Goulburn. A few years later, in the mid 1890s Miles’ alter ego Sybylla, in My Brilliant Career, goes to stay with her widowed maternal grandmother who has living with her her son Jay-Jay and daughter Helen. Sybylla is re-written as Ignez in Cockatoos, the next in this series, and John’s family’s story is fictionalised in All That Swagger (1936), published under Miles’ own name. So are all MF’s stories intertwined.
Ten Creeks Run begins with a horse muster at Bool Bool, with all the surrounding families gathered to sort out their herds –which mostly run free in the bush – demonstrate their horsemanship, socialise and celebrate the opening of a new bridge over the Tumut River. Oh and of course to introduce the new cast of players and farewell the old. The central figure once again is Bert Poole, now in his 50s but still single. Old Mrs Mazere is still around and her daughter, the beautiful Rachel Labosseer, now a widow and a grandmother, is no longer the centre of Bert’s attentions. The Healey’s and Stantons are represented by younger generations and Milly Stanton and Aileen Healy in their teens and early twenties respectively, are the cynosure of all eyes.
Interestingly, in the context of the dying out of the old hands, is that one ‘feminist’ innovation introduced by old Mrs Mazere is her attendance at funerals “against the usual custom for women”. This was probably told to MF by her mother, but while the basis of these first two books is family legend, it would be interesting to know at what stage MF began accumulating stories, and what steps she took to refresh both her history and her geography, given that by the time she began writing she had been out of Australia for 18 of the preceding 20 years*. Walter Scott says in his General Preface to Waverly (1814), “I had been a good deal in the Highlands at a time when they were much less accessible, and much less visited, than they have been of late years, and was acquainted with many old warriors of 1745, who were, like most veterans, easily induced to fight their battles over again for the benefit of a willing listener like myself.” It is unlikely that MF had access to any similar sources, at least after 1906, and likewise her descriptions of country must come from childhood memories. However, by fictionalizing her stories she has, like Scott: “like a maiden knight with his white shield, assumed for my hero, Waverley, an uncontaminated name, bearing with its sound little of good or evil, excepting what the reader shall hereafter be pleased to affix to it.”
Franklin clearly loves the high country and always regarded Talbingo as home. I am not going to explain how squatters used ‘dummies’ to secure land otherwise available to new selectors, but here is a typical description:
Stanton turned back from Wamgambril Flats where the lone selection of his dummy secured the eye of a mountainous horse and cattle run. He retraced his way across creeks and ferny gullies through the cool depths of thousands of square miles of timber broken only by the tiny spring-head flats of the plateaux amid the ranges.
Franklin basically uses her people/locations as an excuse for a romantic romp, very much in the style of Georgette Heyer (wouldn’t she hate me for saying that!). The last GH I read, ‘The Quiet Gentleman’, had the back cover blurb: “There are sub-plots and counter plots, a delightfully practical heroine, a fair charmer, and various villainies, all engagingly sustained on a diet of humour and excitement.” And that pretty well covers Ten Creeks Run too.
I won’t tell you who ends up with whom, though you’ll see soon enough when I progress to Cockatoos, but one young girl is ‘sold’ to an older suitor who has got hold of the family mortgages, a dashing young woman gets pregnant and requires an extended stay in Sydney, there is a child lost in the bush (of course!), the melodramatic rescue of a stolen horse, and a young man attempts rape to force marriage.
In a familiar MF trope, Milly grows from schoolgirl to young woman, is kissed, and then suffers terribly until she is reassured that she is neither pregnant nor automatically betrothed.
Some interesting historical points arise: travellers not only changed trains at Albury, but went through Customs; Canberra was already a place (I thought it was just a paddock until 1912), “Over the nearer rolling widths the spire of Canberra church came to view in its Plain, and Mount Ainslie”; MF airs allegations of cannibalism: “ould Bowes saw wan of the gins with a white child’s arrum [arm] in her dilly bag”, and also has station hands recounting hunting parties “in Queensland” where the Blacks were shot and the “gins” raped. I don’t think MF was racist, rather the opposite; perhaps she thought the best way to illustrate the race problem was to present accurately what men say. During the period of this book there was a Depression caused by the general failure of the banks. This comes up from time to time, here for instance:
The Isaacses [storekeepers], for example, had their hands full in standing to the district with liberal credit till money should circulate again, and dispensed it with a friendly generosity that gave them first place with the old inhabitants till the end of their days.
Mrs Isaacs and Mrs McHaffety, the publican’s wife, are used by MF effectively as a Greek chorus, with interludes throughout where they comment on the action and exchange gossip for the general advancement of the plot. Although stockmen are also very good at disseminating rumour, and are likewise used to good effect.
And so, do young Stella (MF) and her parents make an appearance? In two ways. Firstly Milly is a ‘Sybylla’ clone, which is to say an idealised version of Miles herself – independent, chaste, determined and a fine horsewoman. And then, Ignez Milford, who is the central character in Cockatoos, which at its core is autobiographical, makes a small appearance, along with her parents, in the search for the lost child. Interestingly, Ignez’ maternal grandmother, who is so important in My Brilliant Career, is not old Mrs Mazere, whose death marks the conclusion of this story, but Mrs Mazere’s widowed daughter Rachel Labosseer.
The writing in Ten Creeks Run sparkles, and the action proceeds at a cracking pace. This is a fine book, not literary of course in the way that Christine Stead’s writing is, but also not deserving of its present obscurity.
Miles Franklin, Ten Creeks Run, Blackwoods, 1930. Reissued by Angus & Robertson, 1952
Miles Franklin, Childhood at Brindabella, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1963
Georgette Heyer, The Quiet Gentleman, Pan Books, London, 1971 (first pub. 1951)
Illustration: Kevin John Best’s paintings for sale here. (My book had no dust jacket)
* Added 14 Dec 2016. MF visited the high country for 10 days in 1924, staying with her mother’s people, the Lampes (Roe, 2008, p.258); and again, for 2 months in 1928, after completing the first draft of Ten Creeks Run (p.296).