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.
Siemon 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.
It 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.
Although 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.
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.