Another quality found in older books is that they were written at a time when God and the Bible were an assumed part of daily life. This contrasts sadly with our current situation where the mere mention of God, Jesus, Christianity or the Bible will get a book banned from the public school curriculum in a heart-beat.
Morality in most older books is based firmly upon the Holy Inspired Scriptures. Heroes and heroines in these books, both fictional and historical, often quote bible verses and refer to bible stories. Qualities such as honesty, cooperation, perseverance in times of trouble, respecting one’s elders, forgiving others, and being kind to one’s siblings are encouraged and rewarded. We see characters struggle with everyday temptations; then we discover how they overcome their situations and rise above their carnal nature. What a refreshing change this is compared to modern literature. I want my children to have good examples of moral behavior. I want them to read books that show the consequences of immorality on a level that they can grasp, remember and ponder in their quiet moments. These books give children something to aspire to as they grow older and set standards that will be remembered for the rest of their lives. If I limited myself to recently published books for my children’s education I’m afraid that I would have to look long and hard to find modern equivalents with similar moral standards.
The book begins thus:
Australia, though a continent, is a part of the Empire of Great Britain. A few years ago it was a wild country, where no white people lived, filled with Blacks, who were man-eating savages. These are fast dying out, but in this story you will learn something about them, and of the lives of your Australian Cousins.
Isn’t that sweet?
“What kind of a place is Sydney?” asked Fergus.
“It is a fine city, my boy, and very different from what it was when Botany Bay was peopled with felons.”
“What are felons?” asked Jean.
“Felons are people who have done wrong and must be kept in prison for punishment in the hope that they will learn to do right,” answered Mr. Hume. “Botany Bay was named by the botanist Joseph Banks who was with Cook when he made his first voyage in 1770. It is an inlet near Sydney and the English sent their criminals there until 1840. Such men as behaved well when they reached the colony were allowed to leave the penal settlement upon tickets, and were called ‘ticket of leave men.’ They could be followed up and brought back if they misbehaved in any way. Many of them were good men who had been led into wrongdoing and were glad to have a chance to be good again. They went out into the ‘bush,’ cleared farms or sheep stations, and many of them grew rich. Quite a number of the good citizens of Australia to-day, could, if they would, trace their descent back to ‘ticket of leave’ men.”
“I shouldn’t think they would like to do that,” said Fergus. “I wouldn’t like any one to know that my people had done wrong.”
“Everybody does wrong,” said Jean sagely.
“Yes, but every one isn’t found out,” her brother answered. “When they are, it hurts.”
“But if it’s found out that they’re sorry and are going to do good for ever and ever,” the little girl looked puzzled, “then does it matter?”
“Dear little childish point of view,” said her mother, with a smile, and her father added,
“It would be a good thing if older people felt so.”
Sydney looked beautiful enough as their ship steamed into the bay to pay them for their troublesome voyage. The harbour is one of the handsomest in the world. The city is picturesquely situated upon the bold and rocky slopes which rise from the water’s edge and is defended from any possible attack by bristling forts and batteries…
Here is Jean:
And here is Jean getting a bit of a scare in the bush:
The leaves parted and a black face peered through the bushes, fierce black eyes gazed at the child, as she stood speechless with astonishment, gazing at a perfectly strange Black. She did not speak, she was too frightened to scream, and the Black too was silent. With her floating, golden hair, her wide blue eyes, her fair cheek turned to gold by the rays of the setting sun, which shone full upon her, the rest of her body concealed by the branches with which Kadok had filled the mouth of the cave, she looked like a creature of air rather than earth, and so the Black thought her. With a wild cry of “Kurru! Kurru!” he let go his hold of the branches, and Jean could hear him crashing through the bushes in mad haste to get away….
My mother was born in 1911, when this book was the latest thing pretty much. She was also Jean. Just thought I’d mention that…
Yes, there are even YouTubes of the book! Does that make it a classic?
“Kadok found cup for little Missa,” he said, pulling from his belt a battered tin cup. “Think white man drop it, little Missa can have honey-water to drink.” He cut a piece of the honeycomb and put it in the cup of water. Jean drank the sweet drink and almost smacked her lips.
“It is ever so nice, Kadok,” she said. “It tastes like the sugar-water the American children’s black mammy used to give us.”
“Who was that?” he asked curiously.
“There were three children of America came to stay at my uncle’s place, oh, a long time ago before we came to Australia. They had a nurse, a black woman. She was ever so black, not brown like you, Kadok, and so good and nice. I used to like her very much. That was the reason I was not afraid, when the black man told me to come and see the gin who was sick. I thought he would be good like Dinah and bring me right back.”
“Black people very much like white people,” said Kadok. “Some black face white heart, some black all way through. Some white face very black heart,” and the boy shook his head.
The yopolo was indeed done and delicious. It was very tender and tasted like spring chicken. It was a queer supper for the little Scotch girl, seated cross-legged on the floor of the cave, as she drank honey-water and cut off bits of meat for herself and Kadok.
Mind you, if you want vintage Oz kiddie lit go to some much more authentic stuff than that, for example 1899’s Dot and the Kangaroo by Ethel Pedley.
Or 1918’s wonderful The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay.
On the other hand, at least Mary Nixon-Roulet has Indigenous Australians in her book, even if they are “fast dying out”… See also Clare Bradford (pdf): “Representing Indigeneity: Aborigines and Australian Children’s Literature Then and Now“.
And speaking of OzLit, check out Whispering Gums, which I have only just found!