Miles Franklin

Presented by Cecilia K., March 2, 2021

Having spent two years teaching in Australia in the mid 1970s, I was eager to present an author I have long admired, Miles Franklin. Five days before my oral presentation I sent members a three-page handout which included a map of Australia, photos, a list of her work and references, as well as a sample of her writing from Chapter Sixteen of My Brilliant Career. The last page included an invitation to watch the 1979 movie based on the book, My Brilliant Career. Before concluding my forty-five-minute oral presentation, I shared a few of my own Australian adventures and a selection of memorabilia.

As this author was the first being presented for our Australian theme, my presentation on Zoom began with a brief look at the First Fleet’s arrival from England in 1788 in what is now called Sydney Harbour from Robert Hughes’ book, A Fatal Shore. I described the petty crimes committed by men, women and children such as stealing a dead hen, a dozen cucumber plants or five books. As punishment these convicts were sent to Australia for seven years. This was followed by a brief look at the tragic suffering of the Aboriginals at the hands of the white man from Bill Bryson’s book In a Sunburned Country.

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was born on October 14, 1879 in Talbingo, New South Wales. Her great grandfather, Edward Miles arrived in Sydney Cove with the First Fleet. Her family were pioneers. The young Miles was often described as gifted, a child prodigy, humorous with an uninhibited ego. She loved nature, yearned for elegance, for books, for music. She became an accomplished pianist, an editor, a nursing assistant, an activist fighting for the working woman and a public speaker, but first and foremost she was a writer whose legacy established Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award. To capture the origin of the energy and vitality in her writing I focused on the people in her life who most influenced her. This information was garnered by reading Jill Roe’s fascinating 2008 biography.

1. John: her father who retained his sense of wonder despite his lack of education.

2. Susannah: her mother who treasured books and taught her children to do the same.

3. Charles Blyth: her tutor who encouraged her to read the classics.

4. Miss Gillespie: her teacher who encouraged her story writing.

5. Thomas Hebblewhite: her publisher who encouraged her to write the things she knew best.

6. Rose Scott: a friend and a noted suffragist, who invited Miles to meet leading writers of the day.

Miles was also influenced by the time and place in which she lived: 1890s Australia. The writers of this decade were masculine and openly chauvinistic. Miles Franklin revolted at the idea that women had to marry instead of having a career. She chose to publish under the pseudonym Brent of Bin Bin. After traveling to the United States to work alongside feminist and labour leader Alice Henry and editing the magazine Life and Labour she travelled to London and joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital Unit stationed in the Balkans. She came home to Australia in 1933, where she eventually was recognized as the author of the Brent of Bin Bin trilogy as well as the classic Australian epic All that Swagger. Her charming memoir Childhood at Brindabella was published after her death. Miles Franklin never married, though she had many suitors including the poet, Banjo Patterson. She settled in Sydney, continued to write and lecture and suffered a fatal heart attack in 1954. Her ashes were scattered near her childhood home Talbingo, NSW.