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A Little Bush Maid

Style: Classic

Attitude: Edifying

This review was contributed by Lucy Smith, Portico Books

In Brief: A vivid depiction of the quintessentially Australian; values such as mateship, hard work and bush hospitality to beautiful illustrations of the outback, Australian character and humour. Heart-warming, humorous and highly enjoyable Australian classic!

Author: Mary Grant Bruce

Series: Billabong

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published in: 1910

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: Early 20th C

Setting: the Australian outback

Genres:  AdventureClassicFriendshipGirlsGrowing-Up


Characters:

  • Norah Linton is a 12 year old girl whose life revolves around her brother, father and Billabong, the sheep and cattle station on which they live. Billabong is quite an isolated station so Norah doesn’t have any girl friends her own age; but this doesn’t bother her, as she loves nothing more than being her father’s companion and spending time in the kitchen with Mrs. Brown, the fat, kind and motherly cook.
  • Jim Linton is Norah’s fourteen year old brother who spends most of his time at a boarding school in the city in Victoria. While he is a serious boy with a strong character, he is not averse to playing practical jokes and coming up with adventures. He and Norah are very close.
  • Mr Linton is Jim and Norah’s widowed father, his wife having died while Norah was a baby. He is a serious and kind father who instils in his children “good old-fashioned values.” Norah was “the only being who had power to make her stern, silent father smile – almost the only one who ever saw the softer side of his character. He was fond and proud of Jim – glad that he was growing up straight and strong and manly, able to make his way in the world. But Norah was his heart’s desire.”
  • Wally Meadows is Jim’s best friend who is also great friends with Norah, whom he ends up towards the end of the Billabong series. He is “a wag of a boy, with merry brown eyes, and a temperament unable to be depressed for more than five minutes at a time.” He usually comes to Billabong for the holidays, or at least part of them, because his family lives quite far away. He is the laconic Aussie larrikin, but without any negative connotations. He is fiercely loyal, honest and has a strong and appealing character.

Synopsis:

Norah can’t wait for Jim to come home for the holidays, and when he does arrive, accompanied by Harry and Wally, every day is full of adventures. For example, soon after they arrive, Wally holds a ‘Menagerie Race’. Norah gets a kangaroo, Wally a wallaby, Jim a rooster and Harry a tortoise, and they have to race them. A couple of days after that Jim proposes that they ride across Billabong to Angler’s Bend, a prime fishing spot. It is on this adventure that Norah meets a mysterious man camping nearby. He is an eccentric old man dressed in animal skins, who has obviously been camping alone for quite a while. Norah, in her compassion, asks him to lunch with them, which the boys aren’t too happy about. But he soon wins them over with his yarns.

Soon enough the holidays are over and Norah must tearfully bid farewell to Jim. One day she persuades Mrs. Brown the cook and Norah’s surrogate mother to let her drive her into town. It is on this visit that Norah hears of a local murder and a murderer on the run. She is shocked at hearing the description of the murderer, which perfectly describes the mysterious hermit she had met in the bush. Not being allowed to read the newspapers, Norah hears little about the murders over the next few weeks. Soon enough, though, she accompanies her father on a camping trip back to Angler’s Bend. She finds the hermit dying in his tent. Hearing her sobs, Mr. Linton comes to her aid only to realise that this was his best friend as a boy, who was long thought dead. It turns out that he been falsely accused of some crime many years ago and faked his own death. Living in the bush for so long, he didn’t hear that his name had been cleared. Norah races home to get help; and the hermit – Jim Stephenson – doesn’t look like he’ll make it; but in the end he does and he is tearfully reunited with his family thanks to Norah.

Notes:

The Billabong Books were my absolute favourite books as a child, and have remained with me since. They beautifully depict the father daughter relationship and Australian values. They could be described as Seven Little Australians cross Enid Blyton, with an emphasis more on the former than the latter. As we see Australia swallowing American values whole, books like A Little Bush Maid remind us of what a wonderful country Australia is. I would recommend them for girls aged 10 and up.

Norah’s home was on a big station in the north of Victoria – so large that you could almost, in her own phrase, “ride all day and never see anyone you didn’t want to see”; which was a great advantage in Norah’s eyes. Not that Billabong Station ever seemed to the little girl a place that you needed to praise in any way. It occupied so very modest a position as the loveliest part of the world!”

Thursday 17th May 2007