According to Southern Highlands Business Chamber President, Mr Garry Barnsley OAM, the Southern Highlands has more than enough local literary connections to justify its claim to be acknowledged as Australia’s booktown.
“Australia’s only Nobel Prize winner for literature, no less a literary figure than the renowned Patrick White, spent early school days at Tudor House in Moss Vale which he described as ‘far enough from Sydney to foment terror in the heart of a timid, introspective child … the climate was bracing.’
“The quote is from White’s autobiography Flaws in the Glass published in 1981.
“In more recent times, Moss Vale has become a major book distribution centre. Harper Collins is a significant local employer through its warehouse in Yarrawa Road. Moss Vale residents will remember historian Rachel Roxburgh and novelist F J Thwaites – there is even a street named after him.”
Major historical firsts.
In researching local literary connections for the booktown project, Mr Barnsley is grateful to acknowledge the insight of Burradoo resident Mr Rowan Cahill.
“Besides being a popular teacher at Bowral High School, Rowan is a published historian and journalist who drew to my notice a host of Australian literary figures with a Southern Highlands connection. For example, his research reveals that the district actually has a couple of major historical firsts, mightily overlooked, associated with literature for children and female authorship. In 1841 Charlotte Barton wrote the first book for children to be published in Australia (‘A Mother’s Offering to Her Children’). Her youngest daughter Caroline Louisa Atkinson wrote several novels including Gertrude the Immigrant (1857) the first work of fiction by an Australian-born woman. Their residence at Oldbury Farm in Sutton Forest is acknowledged as one of the great historic homes of the Southern Highlands.
“Berrima gaol gets a mention in Robbery Under Arms (1888). Rolf Boldrewood (Thomas Alexander Browne) has his hero Dick Marston and bushranger Captain Starlight escape from the gaol. Local bushwalkers still go in search of Starlight’s Trail in the bush near Hilltop. The uncle of NSW Governor, Gordon Samuels, served as an officer of the Guard at Berrima Prison during the Great War, publishing ‘An Illustrated History of Australian Internment Camps’.
“In recent years Berrima has been home to poet Grace Perry, radio serialist Gwen Meredith (Blue Hills) and poet John Millett.
Our Don Bradman.
“Sir Donald Bradman is inextricably linked to Bowral and his cricketing eminence needs no elaboration – but he is also a fine writer and his autobiography A Farewell to Cricket (1950) has recently been re-published. His book ‘The Art of Cricket’ is still widely read and acknowledged as a leading coaching text.
“Paul White, author of the popular Jungle Doctor books was born in Jasmine Street. He grew up here during the 1910s and 1920s and went on to work in Africa as a doctor and Christian missionary. He wrote about his experiences in a series of books that have been translated into more than 70 languages.
“Another well-known Bowral literary figure is Arthur Upfield, creator of the aboriginal detective Napoleon Bonaparte (the hero of the famous ‘Bony’ books). He lived at 3 Jasmine Street and his literary executors still administer the worldwide copyright of his works from Bowral. His books still have a strong global following, especially in Eastern Europe where they are translated and published in multiple languages.
“Until his recent death, novelist, playwright and film producer Maslyn Williams made Bowral his home – and we still enjoy the local company of author, critic and biographer Clement Semmler, as well as publisher Kenneth Wilder OAM, honoured for his lengthy contribution to the Australian publishing industry.
“Mittagong has a rich literary heritage through Frensham School attended by authors such as Nancy Keesing and Joan Phipson.
“Bundanoon is now home to one of Australia’s leading contemporary writers, David Foster.
“P L Travers (creator of Mary Poppins) is another historical literary link to Bowral but we also have contemporary women writers resident here in Jennifer Fisher, Jane Nicholas and Annette Hinde, all working in the field of needlecraft. Cartoonist James Kemsley lives at Welby where he continues to produce the famous image of Ginger Meggs, now developing a following beyond the shores of Australia.
Destination for booklovers.
“I am bound to have omitted mention of other significant literary figures who have made a contribution to the identity of the Southern Highlands. The important thing to know is the depth of literary heritage that we enjoy here and the opportunity that this offers to promote the Southern Highlands as a destination for booklovers.
“Wingecarribee Shire Council can also take a bow through its initiative in developing the new Bowral Central Library, surely one of the finest country libraries in Australia under the leadership of librarian Jean Jamieson.
“Certainly, the Southern Highlands Business Chamber is keenly interested in developing new business initiatives for the Southern Highlands and that is why I am delighted to join with Paul McShane and the other booksellers in the Highlands to advance the booktown concept. The idea has emerged from an
audit of the wealth of resources that we have here. Other good ideas are sure to be on the verge of discovery” Mr Barnsley concluded.