I had kept diaries in the past. Over the years, some have been lost by accident, or the diaries were deliberately destroyed under difficult circumstances. With the digital age, I keep notes on my phone, a tablet or a laptop. Some of these notes often do not make sense after a while but sometimes I find some little gems I could use in my stories or important information I need to keep. There are websites you can write a diary on these days. In my search to find Australian stories to celebrate Australia Day, I found a story about another fascinating historical character. Ethel Turner was an Edwardian woman and writer who kept diaries for 62 years. She later wrote for the Sydney newspaper and eventually published books. I believe that maintaining a habit of writing consistently, sometimes with meaningless notes, apart from writing for the love of it, has made it natural for Ethel to progress into a published writer. Ethel’s diary entries which seemed vain and meaningless at that time of entry, also later became part of history. In addition, Ethel’s grand-daughter Philippa Poole was able to bring together and use these valuable entries as threads for all her grandmother’s writings.
Here is a review on The Diaries of Ethel Turner & Seven Little Australians” found on a blog called, Tell Me a Story.
For 62 years, Ethel Turner kept a diary. Ethel’s diary entries which begin in 1889 at aged 17 were only a simple record of each day of shopping, tennis and picnics, garden parties and balls.
“This morning I made myself a black lace hat. Idled in afternoon. At night went to Articled Clerks dance and wore my white liberty again, this time with crimson flowers and snowdrops. M.Backhouse asked me for a dance and then did not account for it. I shall never notice him again. He was a bit intoxicated last night, I think, it is pity, he might be a very nice boy. I’m awfully sorry for him.”
If the endless round of social gaiety was enough for most girls Ethel and her sister Lilian had other ideas. Having gained experience editing their school magazine, in 1889 they launched their own monthly publication called the Parthenon which would have considerable success during the next three years. Her love of literature and writing becomes more noticeable in the diary entries as she records the books she buys and reads…
” I read the loveliest book or part of it after 11pm last night Not All In Vain by Ada Cambridge – I think I like better than any book I have read.’
She began writing stories, poems and articles for a Sydney newspaper, recognising that she had a talent that could earn her money and help her gain independence.
In 1894 Seven Little Australians was accepted for publication.
Set in Sydney in the 1880’s it tells the story of the seven children of a very authoritarian father and a flighty stepmother. By informing her young readers at the beginning that they are about to hear the tale of ‘very naughty children’ Ethel Turner immediately grasps their interest.
She was also ahead of her time with her writing by capturing a warm relationship between parents and children and by going against the ‘happy ever after’ ending. This is a story of fun, adventure and a tear-jerking tragedy.
Despite warnings that marriage would mean the end of her writing career , in 1896 Ethel married her long-time suitor Herbert Curlewis and bore two children, Jean and Adrian early in the new century.
She continued to write prolifically – more than 40 novels, short stories and poems for children.
In 1928 her beloved daughter was diagnosed with tuberculosis and after a prolonged illness died in 1930. Ethel was heartbroken and never wrote again.
Ethel Turner died in 1958.