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Authors: Eleanor Spence

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Lillipilly Hill

BOOK: Lillipilly Hill
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ELEANOR SPENCE was born in 1928 in Sydney. She grew up on her parents' orange orchard in Erina on the central New South Wales coast, and went to Gosford High School and then Sydney University. After graduating, she worked as a teacher and a librarian in Australia and later for a time in the UK.

Although she had started writing stories as a young child, it was only when she realised that there were very few books set in Australia for Australian children that she began writing seriously. Eleanor's first novel,
Patterson's Track
, which was based on rural life in Erina, was published in 1958, and she went on to write twenty-three books for children, almost all set in New South Wales.

Several of her novels were written in the 1960s when her three children, Nigel, Alister and Lisette, were very young. Her third novel,
Lillipilly Hill
, published in 1960, looked at family life in rural Australia in the late nineteenth century and was among her first to touch on social issues.

The Green Laurel
The October Child
were awarded the Children's Book Council of Australia's book of the year.
The October Child
was also shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Carnegie Medal.

In 1998 Eleanor received an Emeritus Fellowship from the Australia Council and in 2006 she was awarded Member of the Order of Australia for services to children's literature. She died in Erina in 2008.



URSULA DUBOSARSKY was born in Sydney in 1961. She has written more than thirty books for children and young adults, including the award-winning novels
The Golden Day
The Red Shoe
and the acclaimed non-fiction titles
The Word Spy
The Return of the Word Spy
. Ursula lives in Sydney with her husband and three children.


Patterson's Track

The Summer in Between

The Green Laurel

The Year of the Currawong

The Switherby Pilgrims

Jamberoo Road

A Schoolmaster

A Cedar-Cutter

The Nothing Place

Time to go Home

The Travels of Hermann

The October Child

A Candle for St Antony

The Seventh Pebble

The Left Overs

Me and Jeshua

Miranda Going Home

Mary and Frances: A Story about Mary MacKillop and the Sisters of St Joseph

Deezle Boy

Another October Child: Recollections of Eleanor Spence

The Family Book of Mary Claire

Another Sparrow Singing

The Text Publishing Company

Swann House

22 William Street

Melbourne Victoria 3000


Copyright © The Estate of Eleanor Spence 1960

Introduction copyright © Ursula Dubosarsky 2013

The moral rights of the authors have been asserted.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

First published by Oxford University Press, London, 1960

This edition published by The Text Publishing Company 2013

Cover design by WH Chong

Page design by Text

Typeset by Midland Typesetting

Primary print ISBN: 9781922147172

Ebook ISBN: 9781922148247

Author: Spence, Eleanor, 1928-2008 author.

Title: Lillipilly Hill / by Eleanor Spence; introduced by Ursula Dubosarsky.

Series: Text classics.

Subjects: Country life—Australia—Juvenile fiction.

Dewey Number: A823.3






Something Shining
by Ursula Dubosarsky

Lillipilly Hill

Something Shining
by Ursula Dubosarsky

ELEANOR Spence always knew she was going to be a writer, but as she grew into adulthood it did not occur to her that she would write for children. How could it? A serious writer in her generation would not think of writing for children. She wrote in her 1988 memoir,
Another October Child

Had anybody ever suggested that, when one day I did achieve my ambition of being a writer, I would write for and about children, I should probably have been affronted. Books for young people had no place whatsoever in the English syllabus; such a notion would have been ludicrous in the forties...There was no such thing as Children's Literature, especially in an Australian context.

Yet by the time of her death in 2008, she had produced a score of piercing, gentle, prizewinning novels for and about children, which formed a vital contribution to the creation of the body of work that became modern Australian children's literature and established the reputation of Australian children's books internationally. How did it happen?

Born Eleanor Kelly in 1928, she grew up in the Erina district of the Central Coast of New South Wales. Her father was an Australian returned serviceman and orchard farmer and her mother a Scottish highschool teacher.

Life on the Central Coast in the 1930s was secluded, almost hidden. Observant, sensitive and fervently attached to her mother, Spence was a self-confessed romantic child, who wanted the world to be full of beautiful loving and loveable things but was afraid that it might not be. Her mother was determined to give her three children the gift of a happy childhood, because she had not had one herself, and she succeeded—at least in the daytime. At night, alone in the darkness, Eleanor suffered extreme terrors. Her greatest remembered horror was the sound of a horseman galloping down the street outside—‘...the approach of a single horse at night, with no certain knowledge of the rider's identity,' would resound all her life.

But the daylight was full to the brim with simple and sincere pleasures—Shirley Temple, Snow White, George MacDonald, swimming, biking, hiking, picnics and fancy dress balls. Eleanor moved happily through primary school to matriculation from Gosford High. Even the undeniable facts of World War II and the death of a close friend could not truly undermine daytime Eleanor's belief in a good world. Then she enrolled in an Arts degree at Sydney University, leaving home to live in the Country Women's Association hostel in Kings Cross. The change and social isolation was a shock. She wrote in 1980:

All the harsher realities of life, the conflicts and personality problems and successes and failures, waited ahead in our adolescence, and I may have been less ready than others to come to grips with them. That is another country again, where the dreams change.

Yet cope she did, slowly making friends, conducting romances and eventually passing her exams. All the time her chief ambition was to be a writer, although she struggled to find what she wanted to write. Eleanor graduated in 1949, and after a disappointing year teaching in a girls boarding school, she undertook a librarianship course at the State Library of New South Wales. This led to work in Canberra where she met
John Spence. They married in 1952 and, along with many others of their generation, took a boat together to the UK.

It was there that it happened. Finding work as a librarian in the city of Coventry, Spence was handed the task of choosing books for the children's collection. She was obliged to read an enormous number of children's novels, good and bad, and was confronted with the rich, creative possibilities of the genre. She was also particularly struck by the lack of books about Australian children—it was as though Australia scarcely existed. She decided that she would try to write one herself, and in doing so discovered the aesthetic form that most suited her sensibilities as a writer and what she wanted to say.

Back in Australia, now with a young family, Spence took to writing at night when everyone was asleep. The fictional children that emerged from her mind were so vivid they seemed, she said, ‘almost as real as my own'. She submitted her first novel to Frank Eyre at the Australian office of Oxford University Press, who was developing a list for Australian children. And so her career began.

Lillipilly Hill
, published in 1960, is her third novel. It is set in a fictionalised version of the Erina district of Spence's childhood, around 1875–80. While it could
be described as a historical novel, it is essentially a family story with a historical setting. It displays all the qualities that marked Spence's later, more celebrated work—the melodic language, the strength of character and theme, and the intense sympathy for the child's point of view.

The prime mover of the story is twelve-year-old Harriet, the middle child of a newly arrived family from London. Harriet is the imaginative codebreaker and the challenger of her parents' British preconceptions as they discover their new country. Her first triumph is to convince her parents to let her go to the local public school, rather than be privately educated by a governess:

‘But why should we be different?' burst out Harriet. ‘Why can't we go to the same school as these other children? We live here too, in the middle of the bush, just like them.'

In this Harriet prevails, and the three children are enrolled at the local one-teacher school along with everyone else. But not all of Harriet's attempted inversions of the social order succeed. Both Harriet and the novel continually ask the big questions: What is education for? What makes a boy a boy and a girl a girl? What is Australia? Perhaps above all, what is freedom? Harriet's family have land, education,
class. But Harriet envies the personal freedom of her working-class friend Dinny O'Brien, who can climb trees, go barefoot and take off by herself to the seaside whenever she wants. Yet Harriet knows that Dinny is destined for a lifetime of impoverished housekeeping.

Nor does Harriet have the freedom of her brother, Aidan, who will be sent to Sydney Grammar to prepare him for university, while Harriet and her sister will stay at home learning dancing, piano and how to wear nice clothes, none of which Harriet can bear. Still, Aidan too is trapped—he is not a ‘boy' as the schoolchildren of Lillipilly Hill understand a boy to be. He's an intellectual and is labelled a coward because he doesn't want to fight in the playground. Running away one night in misery, he befriends another boy, Clay, son of an English father and Aboriginal mother. Clay lives in a cave with his dog. He is a kind of Huck Finn character, a boy who answers to nobody, and the children are in awe of his freedom and independence. But what kind of society is it, if a boy like Clay can only feel the freedom to be himself alone in a cave?

Spence reminds the reader that the world is not easy, but that this is the world we are in and the world we must somehow come to terms with. Or try to change it, as Harriet does, with some failures along the way.

BOOK: Lillipilly Hill
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