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Seven Little Australians

Seven Little Australians (1894) is a classic Australian children's novel by Ethel Turner. Set mainly in Sydney in the 1880s, it relates the adventures of the seven mischievous Woolcot children, their stern army father Captain Woolcot and flighty stepmother Esther.

In 1994 the novel was the only book by an Australian author to have been continuously in print for 100 years.

Characters

The book's protagonists are the seven Woolcot children, from oldest to youngest:

  • Meg (real name Margaret), 16, naive, romantic sixteen-year-old eldest sister and sometime surrogate mother to the younger children.
  • Pip (real name Phillip), 14, eldest brother,handsome, intelligent but badly-behaved.
  • Judy (real name Helen), 13, imaginative and lively, often leads the others into mischief and Pip's partner in crime.
  • Nell (real name Elinor), 10, beautiful and slightly wistful child.
  • Bunty (real name John), 6, described as 'fat and very lazy'.
  • Baby (real name Winifred), 4, is the most well behaved out of the lot, was only a baby when her mother died.
  • 'The General' (real name Francis Rupert) - the baby and the only natural child of Esther, who is stepmother to the other children.

Plot summary

The seven children of the title live in 1880s Sydney with their father, an army Captain who has little understanding of his children, and their twenty year-old stepmother Esther who can exert little discipline on them. Accordingly they wreak havoc wherever possible, for example by interrupting their parents while they entertain guests and asking for some of their dinner (implying to the guests that the children's own dinner is inadequate).

After a prank by Judy and Pip embarrasses Captain Woolcot at his military barracks he orders that Judy, the ringleader, be sent away to boarding school in the Blue Mountains.

Meg comes under the influence of an older girl, Aldith, and tries to improve her appearance according to the fashions of the day. She and Aldith make the acquaintance of two young men, but Meg believes she has fallen in love with the older brother of one, Alan. When Aldith and Meg arrange to meet the young men for a walk, Meg is embarrassed after a note goes astray and Alan comes to the meeting instead and reproaches her for becoming 'spoilt', rather than remaining the sweet young girl she was. Meg returns home and later faints, having tight-laced her waist until it affects her health.

Unhappy away from her siblings, Judy runs away from school and returns home, hiding in a barn. Despite her ill-health as a result of walking for several days to get home, the other children conceal her presence from their father, but he discovers her. He plans to send her back to school however realises that she is suffering from tuberculosis, and she is allowed to remain at home.

In part to assist Judy's recuperation, the children and Esther are invited to visit Esther's parents at their sheep station Yarrahappini. One day the children go on a picnic far away from the property. A ringbarked tree falls and threatens to crush the youngest child, 'the General'. Judy, who promised 'on her life' not to allow him to be harmed on the picnic, rushes to catch him and her body protects him from the tree. However her back is broken and she dies before help can be fetched.

After burying Judy on the property, the family returns home to Sydney sobered by her death. While ostensibly things remain the same, each character is slightly changed by their experience. In particular Captain Woolcot regrets the fact that he never really understood Judy and tries to treasure his remaining children a little more.

Follow-up Books

Ethel Turner wrote three more books featuring the Woolcot family.

  • The Family at Misrule tells the story of the family five years on, including new baby girl Esther.
  • Judy and Punch describes Judy's experiences at boarding school, including meeting a boy named Punch while they are both on the train on the way to school.
  • Little Mother Meg describes Meg becoming a mother and raising her own children and Peter(the General) and Essie(baby Esther)go on adventure when they explore their nieghbours garden through a whole in the fence.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The first film adaptation of this novel was made in 1939, directed by Arthur Greville Collins. The film was shot in Sydney at the Commonwealth Film Laboratories and around Camden, New South Wales.

This was followed in 1953 by a BBC television 6-part mini-series .

The book was made into a 10 episode television series in 1973 , which was largely faithful to the book. Differences include the fact that in the book, Baby never really spoke, and in the series she had a lot to say. Judy was thin and waiflike in the book, she is more solidly built in the series. Meg's hair was long and dark, but in the book her hair is long and blonde. The series has been released on a 2-disc region 4 dvd set in Australia. Music for the television miniseries was composed by Bruce Smeaton.

The book was adapted as a stage play in 1915. A professional version of a musical adaptation ran in Melbourne and Sydney from 1988. It is now a popular production for local musical societies to perform, as well as High School Stage productions.

Cast

Character 1936 film 1973 television programme
Captain John Woolcot Charles McCallum Leonard Teale
Judy Woolcot Mary McGowan Jennifer Cluff
Esther Woolcot Pat McDonald Elizabeth Alexander
the General Don Tall Christian Robinson
Meg Woolcot Sandra Jaques Barbara Llewellyn
Pip Woolcot Robert Gray Mark Clarke
Nell Woolcot Janet Gleeson Anna Hruby
Baby Woolcot Nancy Gleeson Tania Falla
Bunty Woolcot Ron Rousel Mark Shields-Brown
Martha [Letty Craydon Ruth Cracknell

References

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