The Min-Min by Mavis Thorpe Clark

Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1966.
206 pages; hard-cover; 22cm; 22 b/w illus by Genevieve Melrose.

More publishing information including publications in alternative format (audio and braille)

Awards

  • "The Children's Book of the Year" by The Children's Book Council of Australia in 1967.
  • Chosen as a "Notable Book" by The American Library Association in 1969.

About the story

"Across nearly two thousand miles of flat, sandy desert country runs a railway line, linking east and west Australia. Scattered along it are small groups of houses. Here the fettlers live, isolated from towns and other people, maintaining the line in the blazing heat.

At night, out of the blackness the min-min appears, an elusive and mystic light dancing on the horizon, beckoning and retreating. Aborigines tell of the wonder and excitement this small swaying light arouses. To Sylvie, a young girl living with her family at the siding, the gleam in the dark is symbolic of her life and future.

Her brother Reg, a "young rough", is frightened to stay at the siding after some of the mischief he causes. So he and Sylvie set off across the endless desert, carrying insufficient water and some bread and jam, walking under the scorching sun, in dust and wind, and facing icy nights."

- The Min-Min (1966) blurb.

Background

Mavis Thorpe Clark was first introduced to the red earth of the South Australian desert by Harold Darwin, the Library Man. Harold Darwin, a retired teacher, travelled 1500 miles each month to take library books to the isolated people of the outback sheep and cattle stations.

Mavis Thorpe Clark travelled with the Library Man in 1960, 1963 and 1966 gathering background for a number of stories, including her most well-known novel, The Min-Min.

"The basic ingredients for The Min-Min were gathered on this first 1960 journeying through the bush with the Library Man, although the book was not written until several years later. The process began with that introduction to the stretching horizon and the limitless sky."

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 94.

"Without Harold D.'s introduction to those outback people, his vouching for me, I could not have entered into their homes, their lives. I could not have learned of my country: its Aborigines, its ways, its character, its beauty, its harshness, its pastoral industry; or made the many lifelong friendships.

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 184-5.

"The Min Min is a mystic light, described in Aboriginal legends, which appears at night on the horizon, and Sylvie (one of the main characters) sees it as the symbol of a better life in the future and runs away from home with her brother.

The character of Sylvie was suggested by a girl Miss Clark (observed) during her 1960 trip.

In 1961 a short story she wrote about Sylvie won the Melbourne Quill Club's J.K. Moir award for Australian writing. But she felt there was still more to be said about the character.

Miss Clark has made several more visits to the South Australian outback, travelling on tracks where she says the ordinary tourist would get lost.

But she and her husband accompanied a travelling librarian, sleeping in their car or in his van. They have visited and stayed with many outback station owners.

And many of the people she has met have contributed bits of themselves to the fictional characters, she says."

- "On desert's edge", The Age, 8 July 1967.

Excerpt

"And now (Sylvie) was thinking. How did one leave home from a place like the siding, with waterless country all around? There were only two outlets: The black shiny rails of the Trans-Australian Railway; and the unmade track across to the main road - almost equally unmade - which linked Port Augusta with Alice springs, and followed the railway for the first 200-odd miles.

But the Trans itself, was a through train; and she was shrewd enough to know that a girl and a boy couldn't hide-out on any of the goods trains that stopped at the siding. Once they were missed, those trains would be sifted for them. In any case, the Commonwealth police and the local police often made a routine inspection of a train. And if they went out by road and hitched a ride on a transport, they would be picked up at the Port, or at Alice."

- The Min-Min (1966) page 38.

See also Inspiration for The Min-Min.

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Cover illustration: houses of the railway siding.

Cover of the 1966 Australian edition of The Min-Min.

Cover illustration: girl making a fire and boy climbing rocks in the desert.

Cover of German edition of The Min-Min.

Cover illustration: girl and boy in the desert.

Cover of Japanese edition of The Min-Min.