Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tas Lit Tues: Nan Chauncy

I have a love hate relationship with Nan Chauncy's books. I love them becuase I wrote a thesis on them when I did Honours in English in 2008. That is also the reason why I hate them. Nevertheless, her books are steadily increasing in value, so I'm planning on holding onto the two I own, Mathinna's People and Tangara.

Now, Nan Chauncy was actually born in England in 1900, but her family moved to Tasmania while she was still a child. Her family bought land about 40 kilometers from Hobart. Today, that land is known as Chauncy Vale and it is a wildlife sanctuary, open to the public.

 Nan Chauncy, c. 1950.

She wrote over a dozen childrens novels, all set in Tasmania. Three of them won  Children's Book of the Year awards. Two of her books are about the Tasmanian Aborigines, and these were the books that I wrote my thesis on.

As we were talking about Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin the other day, I thought I would share a quote from Mathinna's People. Mathinna, if you remember, was the little Aboriginal girl who was adopted and then abandoned by the Franklins.

"About a year after Towterer's* death, the new Governer of Van Dieman's Land, Sir John Franklin, came to visit the Wybalena Settlement on Flinder's Island, with Lady Franklin. Both were eager to help the native people. Lady Franklin was very taken with one child, exclaiming, 'Oh, what a pretty infant! What is her name?
"It seems likely that this was Towterer's child, and that Mr. Robinson** answered that her name was 'Mary'.
"A little after this her mother, Wongerneep, died: only Parlin now remained to look after the child.
"She is next seen at Government House, and with a new name. Lady Franklin disliked the unsuitable and sometimes absurd names Mr. Robinson gave his charges: since the orphan 'Mary' had no native name of her own, she choe Mathinna for her. The little girl may have arrived wearing a string of tiny blue-green shells to suggest it, for the name means 'a necklace'.
"Mathinna did not forget her 'father'.^ Preserved in Eleanor Franklin's Journal is an 'unprompted' letter which she wrote at Government House to Parlin.

"'I am good little girl, I have a pen and ink cause I am good little girl. I do love my father. I have got a doll and a shift and a petticoat.'

"It then becomes a little confusing, lacking punctuation; but mention is made of the celebrated red frock. She wished her 'father' could come to see her, and says: 'I have got sore feet and shoes and stockings.'
"Lastly, the words 'I am very glad' seem to mean present happiness, and since there was little of this in her brief life--a tragic one ending in squalor and despair--it is best to part from the last of the Toogee now.
"Now--as she runs happily down the steps of old Government House to the waiting carriage, dressed in her dainty red dress, ready for the delights of driving through the streets of Hobart Town in the Governor's carriage. Now, while she looks half-proudly at the feet infine stockings and painful shoes--never before worn by a child of the Toogee!^^
"She will kick them off when the Old Ones come for her, and run free with the wind and her sister Djuke over the long beaches of the west, and hide in the parllerde [sacred place of the spirits], where the white men cannot find her."

* An Aboriginal chief.
** Go here and here for more infromation about George Robinson.
^ Referring to Parlin, who married Wongerneep after Towterer died.
^^ An Aboriginal Tribe that lived on the west coast of Tasmania.

Go here and here to learn more about Nan Chauncy

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