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Monday 14 December 2020

Review: Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australia's First Children's Author

Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author is a documented journey of discovery undertaken by award-winning writers and sisters, Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell. 

Having grown up in an encouraging, nurturing environment filled with books, writing, and stories, the girls were always told stories about their ancestors, especially great-great- great-great grandmother, Charlotte Waring Atkinson.

It was unknown to them that she was the author of A Mother’s Offering to her Children. Written in 1841 when Charlotte and her children were destitute, the identity of the writer had been a mystery until 1981.

A warm-toned, flowing narrative is shared by Kate and Belinda in alternate chapters. Filled with history, personal stories of their childhood and adult experiences, and a family life filled with love, are trunks of vivid images.

They accommodate additional stories spread like branches on a family tree; extending out with others extending from them. Endless stories.

Peeled back and revealed is the background of Charlotte’s life. A reverence and pride at her strength, determination and absolute dedication to her children is made visible by the illuminating words that accompany her name.

In 1826, at 30 years old, Charlotte left England for a post as governess to the Macarthur family in NSW. An intelligent, highly educated, strong-minded woman, she wasn’t thwarted by the long voyage or any expectations. On the ship she met and soon after married James Atkinson, the love of her life.

Charlotte Waring wasn’t only Australia’s first children’s author. She was an early Australian artist, interested in botany and a pioneer in the fight for women’s legal rights in a colonial patriarchal society, when women, their possessions and income, became their husband’s chattels.

A person with compassion and understanding for the traditional landowners, Charlotte always showed kindness and respect to them and their culture. Surviving an encounter with the bushranger known as the Berrima axe murderer, she endured domestic violence at the hands of her second husband, fighting the courts with amazing strength of character to keep her four children.

Fascinating is the perfect word used to describe the story. Beautifully written, it is also a pilgrimage to sacred places; places that enriched Kate and Belinda’s lives, creating in them a strong sense of belonging; of a rich inheritance that helped define them.

Poetic prose magnifies the lavish descriptions of the English countryside that the girls traversed with their daughters. A strong sense of connection with the landscape and the people they encountered, is evident throughout the book.

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul – French philosopher Simone Weil.

Title: Searching for Charlotte
Author: Kate Forsyth & Belinda Murrell
Publisher: NLA Publishing , $ 34.95
Publication Date:10 November 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780642279699
For ages: 16+
Type: Biography