The Mayne Inheritance and other Australian Gothic Classics

I’ve been immersed in gothic tales lately – doing a spot of research for a story I’m working on. And it was after several friends insisted I read Rosamond Siemon’s 1997 non-fiction work, The Mayne Inheritance, that I finally picked it up.

I couldn’t put it down.

The Mayne InheritanceSiemon delves into the lives of the Maynes – a wealthy Brisbane family who donated 270 acres of riverside land to the University of Queensland to build a new campus in 1926. It might sound like a worthy story of philanthropy. But it’s actually a gripping tale of murder, madness and social exclusion. It sheds light on the murky origins of the family’s wealth and explores the stigma that still surrounds the family today.

Siemon also paints a vivid picture of Brisbane’s early history – from the mid nineteenth century, when it was a lonely colonial outpost, prone to floods and fires, through to the early twentieth century when Brisbane developed into a flourishing river city.

Ever since finishing the book I’ve looked at my hometown with fresh eyes – inspecting the streets for markers of the era that Siemon describes.

For the Term of His Natural LifeIt might come as a surprise that Brisbane has much of a past to explore. As a teenager I recall heritage buildings being torn down in the dead of night by dodgy demolition crews. But enough fragments of old Brisbane remain, as a reminder of the people and events that shaped the city.

There is certainly a great deal of the Mayne’s legacy left. The University of Queensland remains on the sprawling St Lucia site, donated by surgeon and philanthropist Dr James Mayne. And income from the quietly elegant Brisbane Arcade, which was built on the site of the family’s butcher shop, still supports the University’s Medical School. The Mayne’s grand home, Moorlands, is preserved in the grounds of the Wesley Hospital.


In true gothic fashion, their legacy includes a ghost. The spirit of Mrs Mayne, dressed in black, is said to bustle along the upper floor of the Brisbane Arcade – drifting through shop windows and rattling display cabinets in the quiet of the afternoon.

Picnic at Hanging RockAlthough Australia might seem like an unlikely place for gothic literature – what with the dearth of draughty castles, foggy lanes and sinister gargoyles, there’s actually a strong tradition in our novels. Marcus Clarke’s classic, For the Term of his Natural Life, Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Rosa Praed’s many novels of colonial isolation all pit ill-prepared settlers against the foreboding bush.


Sonya Hartnett’s terrifying Wolf Creek and Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright continue the tradition, with the outback taking on a sinister personae, where no one is safe.

Plenty of research material for me to be getting on with, but I might leave the last two until after I’ve finished exploring the Australian outback!

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

Australian Classic Read-Along

There are just too many Australian classics I haven’t read and I’m sure I’m not alone on this one. I always have the intention of getting to them, but there are so many other great books and new releases clambering for attention on my TBR (to-be-read) pile, that it’s difficult to achieve.

Does anyone else in the Boomerang Books community feel the same way? If you do, would you like to participate in an Australian Classic Read-Along?

How would it work?
First we’d need some suggestions in order to come up with a range of Australian classics to choose from. Depending on your feedback and requests, we can then determine the most popular/requested novel. I’ll create a reading schedule for us and each week we can discuss our thoughts online here on the Boomerang Books Blog by leaving comments on the weekly posts.

Advantages of a read-alongBoomerang-Books Australian Classic Read along
A read-along can inspire you to read a book (in this case an Australian classic) you’ve always been meaning to read.  You’ll enjoy the bookish conversation and feel like you’re part of a reading club. You might even meet likeminded booklovers like yourself.

What should we read?
That’s up to you, what would you like to read? You can click here and browse books from some of these lists, but some suggestions to get us started could include: The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay or The Harp In The South by Ruth Park.

We could also choose a contemporary Australian classic, such as: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The possibilities and choices are endless.

Suggestions welcome
Now it’s over to you. Are you keen to read an Australian classic with likeminded readers or know someone who is?

Leave your novel suggestions below and we’ll see if we can drum up some interest. You can also make your request on Twitter, just use the hashtag #bbooksreadalong and don’t forget to tag us @boomerangbooks

According to Mark Twain, a classic is: a book which people praise and don’t read. Let’s see if we can change that!

No. 4 – Most Popular Aussie Novels of All Time

We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Novels of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Novels between now and Christmas Eve…

At #4 – Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

38.5% of all respondents have read this book

Synopsis for Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Picnic at Hanging Rock is Joan Lindsay’s best known work. It was made into a 1975 feature film by producers Patricia Lovell, Hal and Jim McElroy, and director Peter Weir. The story is fiction, though Lindsay dropped hints that it was based on an actual event.

Picnic at Hanging Rock centres around a trip by a party of girls from Appleyard College, a fictitious upper class private boarding school, who travel to Hanging Rock in the Mount Macedon area, Victoria, for a picnic on Valentine’s Day 1900. The excursion ends in tragedy when three of the girls, and later one their teachers, mysteriously vanish while climbing the rock. No reason for their disappearance is ever given, and one of the missing girls who is later found has no memory of what has happened to her companions. A fourth girl who also climbed the rock with the group is of little help in solving the mystery, having returned in hysterics for reasons she cannot explain.

The disappearances provoke much local concern and international sensation with sexual molestation, abduction and murder being high on the list of possibile outcomes. Several organized searches of the picnic grounds and the area surrounding the rock itself turn up nothing. Meanwhile the students, teachers and staff of the college, as well as members of the community, grapple with the riddle-like events. A young man on a private search locates one of the missing girls, but is himself found in an unexplained daze – yet another victim of the rock. Concerned parents begin withdrawing their daughters from the formerly prestigious college and several of the staff, including the headmistress, either resign or meet with tragic ends. We are told that both the College, and the Woodend Police Station where records of the investigation were kept, are destroyed by fire shortly afterwards.

Lindsay based Appleyard College, the setting for the novel, on the school she attended, Clyde Girls Grammar School at East St Kilda, Melbourne, which incidentally in 1919 was transferred to Woodend, Victoria, in the immediate vicinity of Hanging Rock itself.

Source: Wikipedia

About Joan Lindsay

Joan Lindsay, Lady Lindsay (16 November 1896 – 23 December 1984) was an Australian author, best known for her “ambiguous and intriguing” novel Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Joan à Beckett Weigall was born in St Kilda East, Victoria, Australia, the third daughter of Theyre à Beckett Weigall, a prominent judge who was related to the Boyd family, perhaps Australia’s most famous and prolific artistic dynasty. Her mother was Ann Sophie Weigall née Hamilton.

From 1916 to 1919 Joan studied painting at the National Gallery School, Melbourne. In 1920 she began sharing a Melbourne studio with Maie Ryan (later Lady Casey). Joan exhibited her watercolours and oils at two Melbourne exhibitions and also exhibited with the Victorian Artists Society.

Joan Weigall married Daryl Lindsay in London, on St. Valentine’s Day 1922. The day was always a special occasion for her, and she set her most famous work, Picnic at Hanging Rock, on St. Valentine’s Day. Daryl was the youngest of a noted family of artists and writers, the most famous of whom was Norman Lindsay.

Daryl later abandoned painting to become Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. Daryl was knighted in 1956, thus Joan became Lady Lindsay.

The Lindsays had no children. They donated their Mulberry Hill house to the National Trust upon her death. It is open to the public on weekends and some weekdays. Lady Lindsay died in Melbourne in 1984 of natural causes.

Source: Wikipedia

The List so far…

#4 – Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

#5 – The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

#6 – Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

#7 – Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

#8 – I Can Jump Puddles by Alan Marshall

#9 – Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

#10 – A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

#11 – Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey

#12 – A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey

#13 – Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

#14 – Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

#15 – April Fool’s Day by Bryce Courtenay

#16 – The Harp in the South by Ruth Park

#17 – My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

#18 – Jessica by Bryce Courtenay

#19 – My Place by Sally Morgan

#20 – For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke

#21 – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

#22 – Dirt Music by Tim Winton

#23 – Breath by Tim Winton

#24 – So Much to Tell You by John Marsden