The Brown Land was Green / Kammoora by Mavis Thorpe Clark

Melbourne: William Heinemann, 1956.
219 pages; hard-cover; 21cm; 6 b/w illus by Harry Hudson.

More publishing information

Award

  • "Highly Commended" by the Australian Children's Book Council "Book of the Year" in 1957.

About the story

"An Australian pioneering story set in the lush, newly settled Western District of the Colony of Victoria. The year is 1844: the Webster family - John Webster, carpenter; Belinda, his prim, lady-like sister, and his motherless children, Henrietta, Andrew, William and baby Edward - arrive by bullock cart at the wattle and daub hut in the Vale of the Wannon which is their first home in Australia.

Twelve-year-old Henrietta, high-spirited and resourceful, and her three brothers soon find themselves in a host of new experiences and adventures, mostly precipitated by the ruthlessness of Benjamin Jones, manager of the sheep station where John Webster has taken up employment. It is Jones' implacable enmity towards the Aborigines that brings Mundowie, the wounded Aboriginal girl, to the shelter of the Websters' home."

- The Brown Land was Green (1974) blurb.

Background

As a child, Mavis' family holidayed with her Aunt Martha of Tahara, twenty miles from Hamilton, in Victoria's Western District. It was from Aunt Martha that Mavis was first introduced to stories of pioneering life in the early 1900s and Australia's Aborigines. Those stories became the background for The Brown Land was Green.

"(Aunt) Martha grew up in the atmosphere of station life in the early pioneering era. In her later years, she was small, slim and straight, with grey hair pulled back tightly into a bun. She wore long skirts with an apron nipping-in at her tiny waist, and hard-wearing button-up boots. Her face and arms carried the stamp of long weathering in the sun. She was a fearless horsewoman in the days of the sidesaddle … Martha knew her district, its people, its history, as she knew herself…

It was in Martha's kitchen while she was making cartwheel currant biscuits, delicious fruit cakes or kneading the bread dough; or when sitting by the leaping living room fire at night, and watching moths around the lamp light, that Martha told me the stories of her growing up.

Martha was a natural storyteller, with her small round lively face, eyes that laughed or cried with her tale, and a voice that did likewise. She told of the people of the Wannon Valley; of the Aborigines who had been dispossessed of their land; of her parents with their Irish ways who had yet made the transition to calling this land home… Martha immersed me, the city child, in her own life experiences. Through her, this land, the earth of Australia, made its first rendezvous with me…"

- Trust the Dream (1999) pages 72-74.

Written in 1957 as a "precis" of the writing process, Mavis Thorpe Clark describes the writing of The Brown Land was Green giving her "a great deal of joy. Though research for this historical story was considerable, the reward was more so. The bony structure of history, remembered from school textbooks, became clothed with flesh. In reading the personal accounts of the pioneers, it was exciting to discover in Edward Henty’s diary, December 19, 1834, “Among other things, landed four rabbits..." Sympathy was awakened, particularly for the pioneer women, by a shipping circular which stated: "A sufficient stock of clothing for a four months’ voyage should be procured, since it is not possible to wash linen during the voyage." – two pints of water per person per day was often the ration... The description of aborigines strolling down Collins Street, with possum skin rugs for covering, gave romance to Melbourne. Such small details as these wove, for me, the country’s background."

- Letter to Mrs Norris for incusion in a 1957 Newsletter.

In her biography Mavis Thorpe Clark writes:

"In 1990 under a new title Kammoora this story was issued in a paperback edition by Octopus, part of the Heinemann group, the original publisher. Why I consented to this change of title is today beyond my comprehension!"

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 78.

Excerpt

"Suddenly she heard Edward laugh. The loud happy note told her that something or someone was with him. She went forward quickly, the sound guiding her to the green spot in the middle of the trees and scrub.

She stood very still at what she saw. A neat mound of hot ashes was all that remained of a small fire, and seated on a fallen log was a black girl, several years younger than herself, with some smaller ones clustered about her. Edward was seated on her knee, laughing excitedly.

- The Brown Land was Green (1956) page 78.

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Two girls riding a horse are surprised by a kangaroo.

Cover of 1956 edition of The Brown Land was Green.

Cover of the 1975 edition shows a pioneering family.

Cover of the 1975 edition of The Brown Land was Green.

Cover shows a white child and an aboriginal child.

Cover of the 1990 paperback edition with the new title, Kammoora.

Illustration of aboriginal girl holding Edward, the white child.

Illustration The Brown Land was Green, page 80, 1956.
Caption: Witchetty grubs for Edward.