Jeannie Gunn

Jeannie Gunn OBE (pen name, Mrs Aeneas Gunn) (5 June 1870  9 June 1961) was an Australian novelist, teacher and Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) volunteer.


Jeannie Taylor was born in Carlton, Melbourne, the last of five children of Thomas Johnstone Taylor, a Baptist minister who went into business and later worked on the Melbourne Argus.[1] Matriculating through Melbourne University after being educated at home, Jeannie ran a school with her sisters between 1889 and 1896, after which she worked as a visiting teacher. In 1901 she married the explorer, pastoralist and journalist Aeneas James Gunn in the Presbyterian Church. In early 1902 they travelled to Darwin (then called Palmerston) and then onto an outlying station at Mataranka. Jeannie Gunn's husband died early in 1903 and she returned to live in Melbourne.

There, at the encouragement of friends, she began writing the books for which she would become famous. The Little Black Princess: a True Tale of life in the Never-Never Land, published in 1905 and revised in 1909, chronicled the childhood of an Indigenous Australian protagonist named Bett-Bett. Gunn's second book, We of the Never Never (1908), was styled as a novel but was actually a recounting of her time in the Northern Territory with only the names of people changed to obscure their identities. We of the Never Never sold more than 300,000 copies over thirty years, was translated into German in the 1920s In 1931 its author was voted the third most popular Australian novelist after Marcus Clarke and Rolf Boldrewood in a poll by The Herald (Melbourne).[1] By 1990 over a million copies of the book had been sold.[2]

During the First World War Gunn became active in welfare work for Australian servicemen overseas.[3] At the end of the conflict she began campaigning for the welfare of returned servicemen, liaising with government departments and becoming a patron of the Monbulk RSL, attending every event they organised over two decades. Although she never completed another novel, she did publish further stories about the characters from her previous works.[1] In 1939 she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her writing and advocacy work.

Jeannie Gunn died at Hawthorn, in 1961. The memoirs of her work with the RSL, My Boys: A book of Remembrance, was published in 2000.

Significance of works

We of the Never Never is regarded as being significant as a precursor of the 1930s landscape writers. Already in 1908 Australia was a significantly urbanised country and the book was seen to provide symbols of things that made Australia different from anywhere else, underwriting an Australian legend of life and achievement in the outback, where "men and a few women still lived heroic lives in rhythm with the gallop of a horse" in "forbidding faraway places".[2] In 1988 the book was referred to as a "minor masterpiece of Australian letters" by Penguin's New Literary History of Australia.[4]

In 1991 Elsey Land Claim No 132 was lodged by the Northern Land Council covering all of the old Elsey cattle station, an area of 5304 km2 (2062 square miles). Judge Peter Gray, Aboriginal Land Commissioner, submitted his report on the Elsey claim to the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, John Herron, on 28 November 1997 and a copy to the Administrator of the Northern Territory. Justice Gray's report referenced Gunn's work in trying to establish who were genuine traditional owners of the land under question, and who were not.[4]




  • My Boys: A Book of Remembrance (2000)


  1. Rutledge, Martha (2000). "Gunn, Jeannie (1870–1961)". Melbourne University Press. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  2. Forrest, Peter (1990). "They of the Never Never" (pdf – 14 pages). Occasional Papers (no 18). Northern Territory Library Service. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  3. Wilkinson, Jane (23 September 2000). "Gunn, Jeannie (Mrs Aeneas) (1870–1961)". Australian Women's Archives Project. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  4. Ramsey, Alan (10 April 1999). "Fighting for the Never Never". Sydney Morning Herald (print) – transcript at The Mail Archive. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
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