Talbingo Honours Its Favourite Daughter

By Theo Benet

21 October 1979 The Canberra Times

Down around Talbingo way they're mostly very proud of the authoress Mites Franklin - although there's still some mixed feeling about her feminist activities.

Last weekend the people of Talbingo unveiled a cairn in honour of Miles Franklin.

More than 160 people, including some 40 or 50 relatives and close friends of the authoress gathered in the cold park grounds in front of the Country Club to see Mrs Pearl Cotterill, 75, of Tumut, unveil the monument. Mrs Cotterill was one of Miles Franklin's cousins. "I remember her well", she said.  

"Apart from being born here 100 years ago, she used to spend her holidays at Talbingo. We had a common grandmother - Grandmother Bridle... and she loved this area so much that she had her ashes scattered here in the Jounama Creek after she died in 1954",

Mrs Cotterill had been given the task of scattering the ashes along the banks of the creek which has since swollen, being the feed stream for Blowering Dam.

The waters now cover the old Lampe homestead where Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was born on October 14, 1879.

She was the eldest daughter of the seven children of John Maurice and Susannah Franklin who owned Brindabella Station on the Goodradigbee River, about 65 kilometres from Canberra - a popular area today with hikers and bush walkers.

The Brindabellas present a magnificent environment and one which had a lasting effect on the young Miles Franklin.

She used the area and the people she knew there as background for her novels and the important trilogy written under the pseudonym of "Brent of Bin Bin". This trilogy was said to be comparable with Henry Handel Richardson's Australian classic, 'Fortunes of Richard Mahony'.

By the time she was 11, Miles was forced to move from Brindabella Station because her father had fallen on hard times and had to transfer his interests to a small dairy farm near Goulburn. It was there that she received most of her education and later wrote 'My Brilliant Career'.

The novel was more autobiographical than fiction, telling as it did of the frustrations of the young writer, Sybylla Melvyn, who lived in the narrow minded Victorian era environment of a southern NSW farm.

'My Brilliant Career' was published with the help of Henry Lawson in 1901 in Scotland. Almost immediately relatives and friends of the Franklins took offence at what some believed to be undue criticism and indiscreet writing.

Arguments and conflict over the novel forced the young writer to abandon further efforts to have her work published and she fled to Melbourne where she met the feminist Alice Henry.

The pair moved to the United States where they set up house in Chicago. Henry and Franklin, spent their time together campaigning for better working conditions for women through the Women's Trade Union League.

Miles appeared during those years to have given up writing and except for one feminist propaganda work, seemed to do little to pursue her "brilliant career".

Part of the old resentment towards her having made "certain disclosures" was coupled with her militant feminism for a couple of old timers who cared to remember in nearby Tumut last week-end. The couple did not want to be named and said only that Miles Franklin had not lived a "normal" life. When pressed they explained that she had not married.

The authoress had never made any secret of her aversion for men whom she was once heard to describe as "the uselessest, good-for-nothingest, clumsiest animal on the world". Another time, when asked why she had not married, she said, "Because I'm no charwoman".

But it mattered little to the people of Talbingo that she was a militant feminist - although there were still some minor reservations about her first famous novel.

'She was ahead of her time'

A cousin, Mr Jack Bridle, said that he was surprised when the book was made into a film. "When I read the book f wondered how they'd make a film of it", he said. "I didn't think the material was there to make a film".

The secretary of the Miles Franklin Committee of Talbingo, Mrs Liz Peares, was quick to defend the Franklin image, "I don't agree, Jack", the said.

Mr Bridle thought for a moment or two, then he admitted, ''She was ahead of her time. She marched with the suffragettes in Chicago".

"I'm very proud that Talbingo has honoured her in this way", Mr Cotterill said. "Her memory will be evergreen. I remember her very well. She was a dear friend as well. We were very close. And think My Brilliant Career was excellent.

Other members of the Franklin family who were there for the unvailing included Mr. Les Franklin and Mr. Lindsay Franklin who said they were glad to be among the first to read the inscription on the memorial.

The inscription tells of Miles Franklin's birth by Jounama Creek and her death in a hospital in Sydney on September 19, 1954. It explains the name "Jounama" to be Aboriginal dialect for "singing waters".

It says Miles Franklin was one of Australia's "most widely acclaimed and spirited authors, who wrote 21 books depicting the nostalgic years of our national evolution and reflecting her belief in equality and social justice for women.

Miles loved Talbingo more than any other place on earth and her writings showed her love of the Australian bush.

"A fifth generation Australian, her family pioneered this district and her ancestor, Edward Miles, came to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788 on the Scarborough”, the inscription says.

"Miles joined the suffragettes in England and America and helped form women's trade unions and served with a Scottish hospital unit in war zones during World War I".

The memorial says most of what Miles Franklin was really about during her lifetime. Her family, especially those who were her junior and who are still alive, combine their pride in having known her with a pride in Talbingo.

Two Sydney women Mrs M. Morton? and Mrs Thelma Perryman, both cousins of the authoress, were keen to talk about the way things had been.

"The Lampes were the original owners of Talbingo", Mrs Perryman said. "He was my grandfather, Oltman Lampe. He was also Miles' grandfather .... although I wasn't born here, I was born at Tumut, but I knew her very well.

I nursed her when she was ill, before she died. She came to our home at Beecroft in Sydney, and she stayed there until two days before her death. She spent the last two days of her life in hospital. She was 75 then, and very ill, but she was writing till the day she left".

The cairn in front of the Country Club cost the locals almost nothing. Stones were brought to build the mound from a property at Yellowin on the western side of the Tumut River, a few kilometres south of Talbingo.

This was another part of the area's interesting history. Yallowin was settled in 1840 by Mr John Wilkinson, his brother Thomas, and their sister, Elizabeth.

The three had settled on a land grant and had built their first home above the bank of Yallowin Creek. The Wilkinson family were still living there 125 years later, although by then the name had changed to Yellowin and the house had been enlarged into a fine old homestead which was eventually abandoned in 1965 when it was to be covered by the waters of Blowering Dam.  

In 1978 when the waters dropped to a very low level, the stones of the old family home were to be seen by Yellow- in Creek and the Miles Franklin Committee made a number of tripe with a few of the stones to Talbingo.

The stones were perfectly shaped to form a cairn and were beautifully toned in black, grained grey, white and brown and other tints.

Strong work ethic.

If is with some pleasure that the people of Talbingo point to the strong work ethic that Miles Franklin had displayed daring her life.

It was an ethic that had earned her a small but hand- tome amount of money — despite the long rest period between her first novel and the later works. When she died she left more than $16,000 for an annual $1,000 novelist's award — The Miles Franklin Literary Prize for an Australian novel.

Further evidence of their pride in Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was the roll up last Thursday night at the Tumut theatre at the country premiere for 'My Brilliant Career'. The seating capacity at the theatre was 500, and there was not an empty seat in the house.

Over at the local police station there is a friendly sergeant who predicts that there will be another film of a Miles Franklin novel.

He could be right at that - especially if somebody with a mind to making a movie as good as 'My Brilliant Career' were to take a long hard look at the book that won Miles Franklin even greater acclaim. It was, of course, 'All That Swagger'.