You all know that I absolutely adore Australia. Does Australia have issues? Heck yes. But is Australia beautiful? Yes. With rich history? Yes. And absolutely stunning landscapes and culture, both the original First Nations culture, and the cultures of the diverse peoples that have settled here? YES.
Australia is also, in my opinion, underutilised as a setting for books, particularly as a setting for stories that are traditionally set in European and American settings. So today, we’re going to look at 10 Classic Novels (I’ll get to the fairy tales and myths in a different post) that are public domain and NEED to be retold with an Australian setting.
Also, feel free to snatch any ideas you see here and nurture them into a novel. And then please let me read it.
Little Women is a true classic, beloved by many generations of women and girls (and men too!). Admit it, we were all a little in love with Laurie as kids (I was). If we grew up to be writers, we probably related to Jo and her struggles to be recognised as a female author.
Basically, if you don’t know, Little Women begins in Massachusetts, America, during the Civil War. Mr March is away, serving as a chaplain in the war, and his wife and three girls are left to suffer through a Christmas without any presents. Obviously, over the course of the story, they grow up, they all (excepting one *sniff*) get married and have children. They achieve their dreams, etc.
It’s a very American story, despite the fact that its beloved by an international audience. So what if we gave it another spin?
Let’s say, it’s 1850, in the pioneer land of Australia. Mr March, a Scottish immigrant to the colonies, is away in New Zealand, serving as a chaplain in the Maori Wars. His wife and four girls are struggling through their first Christmas in an utterly unfamiliar land, where it’s sweltering hot and there’s no snow. Their next door neighbour is an eccentric old man who struck it rich on the Ballarat goldfields and is now living in comfort with his spoilt and lonely grandson…
Jane Eyre is the exact sort of story line that sells itself perfectly to the Australian outback. It tells the tale of Jane, a young and discontented young orphan, who leaves school to become a governess at the foreboding mansion, Thornfield. Of course, she soon meets the master of the house, Mr Rochester, who she falls in love with.
This is the sort of thing that actually happened fairly regularly in Australian history, up to quite recently (even now, homeschool teachers, nannies and governesses are needed in the outback). We could set this story anywhere from the mid 1800s, to the 1950s or 60s. Essentially, young orphan Jane (maybe a poor immigrant girl from England or Ireland), arrives in Brisbane (or another large Queensland town), and then answers an advertisement for a governess at a remote Cape York station.
Off she goes, expecting a civilised country estate, only to discover a wilderness full of dingoes, crocodiles, water buffalo and mosquitoes. And of course, the owner of the property is a rough, womanising beast of a man, who soon learns the errors of his ways, and falls in love with her…
Wait a minute, you may be saying, haven’t you already written an Australian Les Mis, Chelsea?
Yes, yes, I have. But we need more.
I desperately want someone to write a historical brick of a novel, based on Les Mis. It would just work so well with Aussie history, I think. First of all, we would have our young convict, John Brown (most generic name I could think of), a poor Englishmen convicted for stealing a loaf of bread.
He is sentenced to five years in the penal colony of New South Wales, and off he goes. Of course, he attempts to escape, which just lands him on Cockatoo Island, and with a total of nineteen years imprisonment.
Once he is released, he tries to start a new life in the blossoming Sydney town, but there’s an old Cockatoo Island guard desperate to prove that he can never change…
Things go as usual, except the students are now young, broke Scottish and Chinese miners, who participate in the Eureka Stockade in an attempt to win their freedoms, and there’s bushrangers and general corruption and social injustice.
I really, desperately want someone to write this.
The Secret Garden
I feel like The Secret Garden which is a story about how a neglected garden and a neglected girl grow together through the power of friendship and forgiveness. But see, the thing is, over here, gardens are hard to maintain. They take water–lots of it–and other precious resources. Gardens are important and beautiful and I kinda want to see a bratty, lonely girl putting in the backbreaking work of tending to a garden in Australia’s harsh climate.
Like Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden takes place on the Yorkshire moors in England and the setting is as much a character as the actual humans. There’s so many beautiful places in Australia that our retelling could take place in–the snowy Victorian high country, Tasmania’s wilderness, somewhere out near Alice Springs, Cape York, the Gulf of Carpentaria… so many opportunities.
The Christmas Carol
Christmas Carol is, well, a Christmas classic. Some people religiously read it every year at Christmas time. However, Christmas in Australia is a completely different deal to American or British Christmas. Christmas in Australia is (generally) barbecues and 50 degree celcius days on the beach. Swimming, hanging out with family in the backyard…etc. That’s the stereotypical Christmas anyway.
I just think a contemporary Australian Christmas Carol would be absolutely hilarious and 100% pure comedy gold. Unfortunately, I don’t have the powers of comedy necessary to pull this off, so someone else will need to do it.
What about you guys? Was this post interesting at all or am I rambling because I have a cold? Would you like to see other Australian retelling ideas? And what are your favourite retellings/classics that need to be retold?