I am always thrilled to be contacted by those who by chance find my blog. I have been blogging for three years and am hoping to complete my first draft by the end of the year. I thought it timely to re-publish what has already been published. The following is from my presentation at the University of Kassel, Germany.
In 1904 Olga Ernst, a pupil teacher, wrote Fairy Tales from the Land of the Wattle. Although she was just sixteen years old, Ernst was one of a small group of writers in Australia who attempted to nationalise the fairytale towards the end of the nineteenth century, signalling quite clearly that they intended to affix the elves and fairies of Europe onto the Australian landscape aiming to fill a void that was keenly felt by the children of emigrants and the Australian-born children of emigrants. (Walker, 1988)
The beginnings of the Australian bush fantasy genre can be linked with the desire to bring the comfortable and familiar into the new and distinctly non-European landscape. When coupled with a determination to use local settings and colour in children’s stories in the late nineteenth century writers were drawn to the challenge of imagining an Australianised fairyland believing it was the right of all children to have their own fairies (Niall & O'Neill, 1987).
Ernst’s parents were German and she was born in Melbourne (capital of the Colony of Victoria) in 1888, at a time when approximately two percent of the population was German. There were a number of secular newspapers and journals published in the German language and it was possible to purchase goods in shops speaking only in the German language, in the central business district of Melbourne.
Ernst’s family were members of the Trinity German Lutheran Church belonging to a close social circle of influential and highly educated scientists, artists and musicians. It could be argued that the cultural wealth contributed by these German emigrants’ achievements in science, art and exploration in the formative years of the Colony of Victoria was considerable. Although the Australian-born descendants of German emigrants saw themselves as Australian first, they continued to identify with Germany culturally (Bodi & Jeffries, 1985).
Ernst’s mother, Johanna Olga Straubel[i] was born in Melbourne to German-born parents while her father Julius Theodor Ernst, formerly a senior pharmacist in the Royal Prussian Reserve Forces who emigrated in 1884. Ernst’s ancestors were pastors and teachers and education and the arts were highly valued. They were the ‘literati’, the educated bourgeoisie of Germany. Marianne Heyne (nee Tieroff), her great-grandmother was brought up in the cultured world of stepmother Charlotte Greeve after the death of her father Pastor Tieroff, (Ford, 2009).
Ernst’s German heritage is central to her writing and my research aims to illuminate a little explored aspect of writing for Australian children. Ernst’s fairytales are a blend of the old world lore and a careful attentiveness to the unique botany and geology of the bush. She did not look to the ‘old country’ (Britain) for inspiration but admitted her fairies were plucked from the pages of her childhood reading and interpretation of Grimm’s’ Kindermärchen. My thesis argues that Ernst reshaped the fairytale structure of earlier writers such as Westbury (1897), Lockeyear (1891) and Whitfield ( 1898) as a result of her cultural, social and pedagogic experiences. Writing from a unique German-Australian perspective Ernst uses recurrent narrative patterns common to fairytales. Using the knowledge gleaned as a member of a family highly educated within scientific, horticultural and education fields, she weaves botanically and geographically accurate descriptions of place and time into her stories. Thus her invented fairytales have a stronger link with Australian place and setting not apparent in most of the earlier fairytale attempts.