Putting the "Goulburn" back into Miles Franklin

Jennifer Lamb at the Goulburn Mulwaree Library, 12 March 2017
I travelled to Goulburn today to hear Jennifer Lamb, resident Miles Franklin researcher, give an illustrated talk on the author and the city of her day. Franklin is regarded as one of Australia's literary greats for her novel, My Brilliant Career, published at the time of Federation in 1901.

Ms Lamb became an avid Franklin researcher after "rediscovering" the author many years ago. At the time, there was little awareness of the important link between Goulburn and Franklin's novel, but there are many interesting back stories to the novel's protagonist, Sybylla Melvyn, that mirror events in Franklin's own early life and society. 

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (1879–1954) lived at Stillwater, a property near Goulburn, from 1891 to 1903. Franklin wrote her most famous novel at age 18 while residing there. Her novel caused a bit of a stir at the time because of the many parallels between fiction and real life.

Ms Lamb's presentation included many interesting photographs and links to Goulburn. For example, in the novel, Sybylla tells how she loved the organ music in either of the two cathedrals, and would often attend church just to hear the music. 

These same cathedrals still stand in Goulburn today, as does the store where the novel was first sold, and the house where Franklin was mentored by Thomas Hebblewhite, editor of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post, a newspaper that is still in circulation. Franklin's teacher, Mary Gillespie, provided early encouragement for the young writer, who was described by Ms Lamb as "a strident firebrand".

About fifty people attended the talk, followed by a pleasant afternoon tea. There were many questions from the audience and a keen interest in the obstacles Franklin faced trying to publish as a young woman and the circumstances around the support offered by Henry Lawson. 

The talk highlighted the past avoidance of Australian literature in our education system. Indeed, one audience member had read Australian literature at his school in England decades ago while many Australians are only now discovering what should otherwise be a strong local literary tradition.

Ms Lamb's talk also introduced the work of Brent of Bin Bin, especially the book Cockatoos, which encompasses my home town of Gunning, just west of Goulburn. It turns out that Brent of Bin Bin was Miles Franklin's pseudonym, allowing her to write stories inspired by the people and places of her youth while shielded by anonymity.

Ms Lamb continues to educate audiences about Miles Franklin, which over the years includes involvement in a play in 2013 and an art exhibition showcasing the life of Miles Franklin in Goulburn in 2001. The talk was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon and to learn more about this fascinating part of Australia.

Today's even was hosted by the Goulburn Mulwaree Library as part of Goulburn's "Our Living History" program.