Review of ‘Seven Little Australians’

Seven Little Australians
This is an old-world charmer reminiscent of Jane Austen crossed with Enid Blyton or Anthony Buckeridge. Only, you know – Australian!

Vital stats:

Author: Ethel Turner
Publisher: Penguin
Format: Paperback
RRP: $17.95 (AUD)

My rating ★★★½☆

The story:

Set in 1880s Sydney, Seven Little Australians follows the quarrels, fights, adventures and love of the seven mischievous Woolcot children, their strict father Captain Woolcot and his lovely, young new wife Esther.

How I liked it:

I’ve grown up hearing references to this book, yet I’ve never read it until now. I always assumed it would be rather boring – I think because I have a habit of judging books by their cover and in this case the title just didn’t do it for me.

I was pleasantly surprised. Seven Little Australians is a lovely snapshot of what life must have been like in early Sydney. The setting, the characters, the narrator’s tone are a quaint combination of English and Australian.

Turner was only 22 when it was published, yet her writing displays a maturity and tongue-in-cheek quality reminiscent of a Jane Austen novel. The scrapes and mishaps the children get into, and the vignette-style plotline made me think of classic English boarding school novels like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers stories or Anthony Buckeridge’s brilliant and quirky Jennings series.

The action was well-paced and each episode gave further depth to the characters, as well-written novels do. The ending was poignant and drew a tear. The characters were well-drawn and charismatic.

The only thing I regretted was that the book was so slim, and there were so many children, that I didn’t feel enough time was devoted to each of them. In particular I would have loved to see more of Judy, the effervescent second daughter, who is described early on as “the worst of the seven, probably because she was the cleverest”.

It felt like the author intended her as the ‘main’ character but then accidentally left her to share the spotlight equally with her six siblings. The relationship between Judy and Pip, too, could have done with further development.

Overall however I could see immediately why this book is thought of as an eduring Australian classic, and I’d recommend it as a charming, old world read for adults and children (Australian or otherwise) alike.


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