Recurrent Themes

Mavis Thorpe Clark's stories are set clearly in time and place - historical or contemporary fiction - and each has a uniquely Australian flavour. Her research is always thorough, characters are real, and issues are engaging.

There are a number of enduring themes in the fictional work of Mavis Thorpe Clark - setting, female characters, Aboriginal characters, search for identity, and conservation or development.


A number of Mavis Thorpe Clark's novels are set in nineteenth-century colonial Victoria. Often with short chapters and swift action, there is an air of adventure and excitement in her writing.

"In the historical context of Australian children's literature, Mavis Thorpe Clark has been a trend-setter in certain respects. With her early successes The Brown Land was Green (1956) and Gully of Gold (1958) she was one of the first contemporary writers to produce interesting, entertaining and properly-researched historical fiction with Australian settings for children."

- Innocence and Experience (1981) page 8.

Not limited to the historical, Mavis Thorpe Clark also explored the contemporary issues confronting children and teenagers of the time.

"Clark re-creates historical and contemporary settings vividly, particularly the countryside, ranging from the lush Victorian rainforests to the arid central deserts. Her historical research is accurate and wide-ranging ... Her major contribution has been the historical novel, a fine example being Blue Above the Trees (1967), although her stories about contemporary adolescents under stress such as Sylvie, in The Min-Min (1966) and Jude in Solomon's Child (1981), are written with poignancy."

- The Oxford Companion to Australian Children's Literature (1993) page 98.

Female Characters

Mavis Thorpe Clark was one of the earlier Australian authors to write positive female role models into their novels.

"Mavis Thorpe Clark was unselfconsciously filling her novels with heroines who, without apology, and at the expense of nobody else, eschewed passive sex-stereotyped roles in order to live adventurous lives in which they were responsible for their own cheerful and courageous initiatives. As with Henrietta in The Brown Land was Green (1956), they were sparking personalities in their own right ... (Henrietta) is wise, resourceful and strong-willed, prepared to take initiatives and determined to tackle the new adventure with great gusto and to make a success of it."

- Innocence and Experience (1981) page 9-12.

"These young women are often seen in an historical context, a far cry from the circumscribed and delicate portraits in many colonial novels."

- The Oxford Companion to Australian Children's Literature (1993) page 98.

See also "The Weight of the Earth" and "New Cousins", short stories written around 1950 which feature unheralded female heroes.


Mavis Thorpe Clark wrote with genuine sympathy for Aborigines at a time when this would have been unusual.

"Clark's interest in the lives of Aboriginal People can be identified in her informational books, such as The Boy from Cumeroogunga (1979), a version for children of her earlier Pastor Doug (1965), a biography of Sir Douglas Nicholls, the prominent Aboriginal activist. It can also be traced in her novels, from The Brown Land was Green (1956) through The Min-Min (1966) to A Stranger Came to the Mine (1980)."

- The Oxford Companion to Australian Children's Literature (1993) page 98.

"The author's stance is in no way paternalistic but arises from a commitment to the native people who were forced off their religious sites and out of their tribal lands in the most callous fashion..."

- Innocence and Experience (1981) pages 12-14.

Search for Identity

"Crisis of identity is a recurrent theme in Mavis Thorpe Clark's novels. Usually the interest is in an underprivileged adolescent outsider, often with a secret past, but always striving to discover himself, to find his own place, and acceptance in the world. Peter, the stowaway in search of an unknown and wronged father in Gully of Gold (1958). Angus McIvor, the runaway shepherd boy of They Came South (1963), the poor orphan Sandy in Pony from Tarella (1959), Sylvie in The Min-Min (1966)..."

- Innocence and Experience (1981) pages 23.

Conservation or Development

Mavis Thorpe Clark was acutely aware and uncommonly concerned by the materialism and greed of the "white man", particularly in comparison to inherent conservation by the Aborigine, Australia's original inhabitants.

"White man in his desire for domination over the land ... unbalances nature in a more subtle, more dangerous more comprehensive way than the Aborigines."

- Trust the Dream (1999) pages 391-392.

These strong values are reflected in many of Mavis Thorpe Clark's books - from gentle Simon in Blue Above the Trees (1976) who pleads with his father to set aside land on their Gippsland property for the protection of the lyrebird, to the impact of the booming mining industry on the pristine desert of north-western Western Australia in Iron Mountain (1970).

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Illustration: A young man standing in awe in the old growth forest.

"Standing there, he was in the upper circle of a small amphitheatre. The tangle of first-storey growth was not as thick here, but the light was no less dim. Tree-ferns, thirty or forty feet high, with a spread of fronds at the top like a hat of green lace, formed the first ceiling. The sloping floor was a garden of lesser ferns and trailing creepers, some in flower. Between the tree-ferns, the stand of mountain ash, with their immense red-brown butts, thrust straight trunks far up to the rich brown earth and blended their strength with the greatness of giant tree and fern. A small flock of scarlet and jewelled parakeets flashed beneath the green ceiling. Not far below, the hidden creek accompanied the tinkle of unseen bell-birds."
- Blue Above the Trees (1967) page 34.

Illustration: Camping in the darkness.

Illustration of Sylvie and her brother Reg from Japanese edition of The Min-Min (1971).

Illustration: an aboriginal child holds a white baby.

"Suddenly (Henrietta) 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 ... 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 (1967) page 78.

Illustration: two boys fight while three young people look on.

"I've always been alone. My father and mother were killed in an accident when I was a year old, and they didn't leave any money, and no relatives... people have always been decent to me. It wasn't until I got to know Sunflower (a horse) and somehow felt that she belonged to me, that I realised how good it must be to have someone or something of your very own."
- Pony from Tarella (1959) page 17-18.

Illustration: the family walks amongs the burnt remains of the forest.

"There was nothing he could do to save these creatures, next season their sanctuary would be the scene of the next burn; and every year it would happen again until there was no forest left, no monkey-bears, no lyrebirds of the proud tail."
- Blue Above the Trees (1967) page 92.