Ethel Turner

Ethel Turner (25 January 1872 – 8 April 1958) was an English-born Australian novelist and children's literature writer.

Ethel Mary Turner
Ether Turner, pictured in 1925.
Ethel Sibyl Burwell

(1872-01-24)24 January 1872
Doncaster, England
Died8 April 1958(1958-04-08) (aged 85)
Mosman, Sydney
Spouse(s)Herbert Raine Curlewis (m. 22 April 1896)
  • Bennett George Burwell ( ~1875)
  • Sarah Jane Burwell (née O'Brien)


She was born Ethel Mary Burwell in Doncaster in England. Her father died when she was two, leaving her mother Sarah Jane Burwell with two daughters (Ethel and Lillian). A year later, Sarah Jane married Henry Turner, who was 20 years older and had six children of his own. Sarah Jane and Henry had a daughter, Rose. Henry Turner died suddenly, leaving Sarah Jane with nine children and little income. In 1879 Sarah Jane moved to Australia with Ethel, Lillian, and Rose; within the next two years she married Charles Cope and gave birth to his son Rex.[1]

Ethel Turner was educated at Paddington, New South Wales Public School and Sydney Girls High School[2]—she was one of the school's original thirty-seven pupils.

She started her writing career at eighteen, founding the Parthenon, a journal for young people, with her sister Lillian. As 'Dame Durden' she wrote children's columns for the Illustrated Sydney News and later for the Australian Town and Country Journal.[3] In 1891, the family moved to Inglewood (now known as Woodlands[4]), a large house in Lindfield, now Killara, which was then out in the country. Woodlands still stands today in Werona Avenue and is where she wrote Seven Little Australians.

In 1896 Ethel married Herbert Curlewis, a lawyer.[5] After living in Mosman, they built their own house overlooking Middle Harbour. The house, Avenel, is where Ethel Turner spent the rest of her years. She survived her daughter Jean Curlewis, who died of tuberculosis, by 28 years. Jean was also a writer of children's books, although not as popular as her mother. Jean's works include The Ship That Never Set Sail, Drowning Maze, and Beach Beyond (1923). Her son Adrian, was a Barrister, Captain in WW2 and a Changi and Thai-Burma Railway POW and later Judge.[6]

Ethel Turner died at Mosman on 8 April 1958 at 85. She is buried at Macquarie Park Cemetery in Sydney's North.


Her best-known work is her first novel, Seven Little Australians (1894), which is widely considered a classic of Australian children's literature and was an instant hit both in Australia and overseas. It is about a family of seven children growing up in Australia. The book, together with its sequels The Family at Misrule (1895) and Little Mother Meg (1902) deal with the lives of the Woolcot family, particularly with its seven mischievous and rebellious children, in 1880s Australia. A companion to "Seven Little Australians", Judy and Punch was published in 1928. Like her stepfather, the character of Captain Woolcot was a widower with six children. The book was made into a feature film in Australia in 1939 and a UK television series in 1953. A 10-episode television series was made in 1973 by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.[7]

Turner published a number of other books for children, short stories and poems. Three Little Maids (1900) is a strongly autobiographical novel about her family's migration from England to Sydney, Australia. Turner wrote more than forty novels. Some were about the mischievous Woolcots. Others were serialized, like her books on "the Cub", and some were stand-alone. The children she wrote about were all adventurous and independent. They frequently got themselves into sticky situations and got themselves out of them with very little to no adult help.

Turner was awarded a number of prestigious literary awards and could be considered one of Australia's best-loved authors. She is listed on The Australian Women's Register. The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature is given annually under the auspices of the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards.[8]


Minor works

  • Widening the Horizon Short story appeared in the Argosy July 1931.


  1. Douglas, Brenda Niall. "Turner, Ethel Mary (1870–1958)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University.
  2. "Distinguished Old Girls". The History of Sydney Girls High School. Sydney Girls High School. Archived from the original on 22 June 2008. Retrieved 25 May 2008.
  3. Jane Stewart, 'Turner [née Burwell], Ethel (Sybil) ['Dame Durden']', in The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English, ed. Lorna Sage, 1999
  4. "Woodlands". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. H01762. Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  5. "Turner, Ethel". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 1779.
  6. Booth, Douglas. "Curlewis, Sir Adrian Herbert (1901–1985)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University.
  7. "Australian Television: Seven Little Australians". Archived from the original on 18 June 2005. Retrieved 5 June 2006.
  8. NSW Premier's Literary Awards
  9. "Life in Prison: ONE-WAY TICKET by Ethel Turner". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
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