Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week


AWW Gen 1 Week, 15-21 Jan. 2018, is an opportunity to discuss the first generation of Australian Women Writers. First though to be clear, I love and support the AWW Challenge, but this is NOT one of their events (though I think they’re happy for me to do it). I hope you will use the period between now and then to read/review works from this period, putting a link in the Comments below. Then on 15 Jan I will launch an AWW Gen 1 page  to serve as a resource into the future.

I guess the definitions of generations or schools in writing, or any artistic endeavour, are arbitrary, especially at the edges, but I define Gen 1 as those Australian writers who began writing prior to the 1890s and the Bulletin. The fiercely nationalist (and misogynist) Sydney Bulletin and its writers were pretty scathing about this first generation, based mainly in Melbourne, whom they dismissed as anglophile and in the case of the women, purveyors of romance.

But in fact, that first generation were as conscious as their successors of the need to define what it meant to be (a white) Australian – people of British descent but rapidly acquiring independence throughout the latter half of the C19th, and with Melbourne one of the richest cities in the world. The women writers were often fiercely feminist, suffragists and outspokenly anti-marriage (anti men’s domination of marriage), one of the reasons they provoked such outrageous attacks from the Bulletin.

My other generations are as follows. Feel free to argue!

Gen 2, the Bulletin crew, mostly men, but including Barbara Baynton.

Gen 3, in many ways the glory years of women’s writing in Australia, starting with Miles Franklin (who published from 1901 to 1956), KS Prichard, Christina Stead, Kylie Tennant, Eve Langley, Barnard and Eldershaw, Dymphna Cusack, Florence James, Elizabeth Harrower. Lots of social realism from the women, while the men mostly harked back to the Bulletin years (as some still do).

Gen 4, the baby boomers, the great wave of writing beginning in the sixties, more men than women, though we could name Helen Garner, Janette Turner Hospital, Thea Astley.

Gen 5 finally brings us a more cosmopolitan Australia, beginning with the Grunge movement in the 1990s – Justine Ettler of course and many others.

Gen 6, too early to say, I think, except that we are experiencing a wave of great Indigenous Lit which interestingly at least some of its practitioners say is separate from Oz Lit.

But to get back to Gen 1, to get us started I will over the next few weeks reread and put up a review of the seminal text on early Australian women’s writing, Dale Spender’s Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers (1988).

The Australian Women Writers Challenge have put up an excellent site (here) where they are listing all books by women, available online, sorted by decade, up to the 1930s. And in an earlier post (here) I listed the main authors and those few books from this period which have been reprinted, mostly thanks to the efforts of Dale Spender –

Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910)

Clara Morrison (1854) Seal Books, 1971
Mr Hogarth’s Will (1865), Penguin, 1988
A Week in the Future (1889), Hale & Ironmonger, 1988 (Review)

Louisa Atkinson (1834-1872)

Gertrude the Emigrant: A Tale of Colonial Life by an Australian Lady (1857), Canberra School of English & Australian Scholarly Editions Centre reprint, 1998

Ada Cambridge (1844-1926)

The Three Miss Kings (1883), Virago, Modern Classics #244 (Review)
A Marked Man, Some Episodes in his Life (1891), Pandora, 1987
Sisters (1904), Penguin, 1989

Tasma (Jessie Couvreur) (1848-1894)

Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill (1889), Pandora, 1987
A Sydney Sovereign, short stories, Imprint, 1993 (Review)

Catherine Martin (1848-1937)

An Australian Girl (1894), Pandora, 1987 (Review)
The Incredible Journey (1923), Pandora, 1987

Rosa Praed (1851-1935)

The Bond of Wedlock (1887), Pandora, 1987 (Review)
Outlaw and Lawmaker (1893), Pandora, 1987
Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land (1915), Pandora, 1987

Mary Gaunt (1861-1942)

Kirkham’s Find (1897), Penguin, 1988 (Review)

So, to steal a line from Lisa at ANZLL, bookmark this page, pop the date into your reading diary and drop back here with a link to your review when you’re ready!


42 thoughts on “Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week

      • Hi there. I don’t really know why I liked it so much – I love Australian historicals, and some of our fiction. And stories of the bush – how it was for everyday people really fascinated me. Publishing under the name Mrs Aeneus Gunn, would give us a clue just how “good” she was!

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s certainly an authentic view of the NT at that time. I think though I’ll stick her in Gen 2, and condemn myself to rereading her to discern the influence of the Bulletin school if writing.


  1. Great idea Bill, will see what I can do. Can we add reviews we’ve done in the past?

    I have one question re your later generations. Thea Astley was born 3 years before Elizabeth Harrower, though I think her first books came out a few years later. None the less because she started in the 1960s I feel she sits uneasily with Garner and Hospital who really didn’t get going until the 1980s.

    I have Mary Gaunt and Tasma in my piles. I’ll try at least to do Tasma. I have read two books by Ada Cambridge and one Rosa Praed, but before blogging.


    • Please, add every review you’ve got, and links or book names for any biographies or essays. I’m hoping you’ll do Uncle Piper. I think I might start with Praed’s Lady Bridget (on kindle) though I own a few others.
      I did my generations off the top of my head and was trying to mark the transition between the white picket fence 50s and the much more worldly (late) 60s. The writer I have in mind to move is MF who was heavily influenced by the Bulletin and too old fashioned – compared to the similarly aged KSP – for Gen 3.


    • I was thinking about men too (Gen 2 is nearly all men). There are lots of writers of one generation who wrote well into the next. Thos Keneally is the one I was thinking of, who might just belong with the boomers but is quite a bit older. KSP is probably the oldest Gen 3 writer but she fits with them by style and subject matter (IMO!). Once we get Gen 1 out of the way, I might write about the others and we can refine our definitions.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It would be too much to do it all in one year, though I think I should do some more work on defining the generations. I am leading this one because it ties in with my previous work, but other bloggers have areas they like to lead on, so I guess I’ll see what the demand is like for subsequent ‘weeks’ and what time is available.


  2. […] Bill @The Australian Legend is planning an Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week. Cambridge is considered to be Gen 1 writer according to Bill’s list of generations. Pop over to his page to join in the discussion or to check the list for your own reading pleasure. The idea is to read and link up Gen 1 AWW on his post that will go live on the 15th Jan 2018, to create a fabulous online resource for all of us. […]


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