She Came, She Saw, She ConqueredAugust 19, 2014
Jeannie Gunn was not only a fine lady, but also a great author.
Jeannie Taylor was born on June 5, 1870 in Carlton, Melbourne, the daughter of Thomas Johnstone Taylor, a Baptist minister. He provided her and her four older siblings a good education, so it was no surprise that she became a teacher. In 1901, she married Aeneas Gunn, a pastorialist in a Prebysterian Church, their common background seen as a sign that the union would last. But Aeneas was an explorer.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Australia was more or less urbanised. It became a federation the year before, a young nation wanting to prove that it was more than British. But the Victorian houses won't do any help. Jeannie would play a pivotal part, but it was unintentional. Aeneas was appointed manager of "The Elsey", a large cattle station on the Roper River, about 300 miles south of Darwin, the state capital of Northern Territory. Back then, this state was more of a part of the Outback. (Most of the Aussies lived in Sydney and its nearby areas and Melbourne and the surroundings.) Aeneas didn't take long to decide, as the offer appealed to his adventurous spirit. She was unlike any wife, not wanting to leave behind.
The people who worked in the station resented Jeannie at first. Aside from being one of the few whites in that area, she was the only white woman. But she wasn't disheartened. In time, she won them over with her warmth and spirit. In the midst of this untamed terrain, she discovered that she was born to be a writer.
"We of the Never Never" was an autobiographical book. Using her unerring ears and perceptive eyes, she wrote about Mataranka, its beauty and cruelty. The isolation did brought her moments of loneliness, but it dissipated whenever she spent time with the people working for her husband. It was moving yet simple. She could've stayed long if not for her husband, who died from dystentery. One year after her arrival, she travelled back to Melbourne.
Jeannie Gunn paved the way to the writers of the Landscape genre. It became popular during the 1930s. The writers of this category would define Australian literature. Not that the likes of Banjo Peterson didn't make any contribution at all, but what these authors wrote were truly Oz. Deserts which were different from the others. Flora and fauna only found in this part of the world. An island continent which seemed to have no bounds.
Jeannie's pen name was Mrs. Aeneas Gunn. "We of the Never Never" was published in 1908, her second book. The first was "The Little Black Princess: a True Tale of life in the Never-Never Land", which came out in 1905. The public was more interested on the next, curious and excited about the other regions that were yet to discover. It was no surprise that this book became a classic.
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