Who could refuse an invitation to speak to Jane Austen Societies in Australia at a time of year when Nova Scotia is buffeted by icy gales and often buried in snow? Yet it was not a matter of weather that was the deciding factor. The Jane Austen Societies in Australia are known for their keen interest in all things Austen, their impressive scholarship and their welcoming spirit. Between the 8th and 23rd February, I was delighted to spend time with them. I spoke about my book, Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister, in Brisbane, the Southern Highlands (Bowral), Sydney, Newcastle and Melbourne. My husband, Hugh, accompanied me.
Sydney was a focal point of the book tour, both as a transportation point and the largest gathering - 150 members of JASA. There I shared the stage with Susannah Fullerton, author of Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, A Dance with Jane Austen and Jane and I: A Tale of Austen Addiction, who conducted the AGM of JASA prior to my talk. It was Susannah who initially invited me to speak in Australia and she proved to be a wonderful host and helpful advisor on all aspects during the book tour. A delicious tea followed the talk, a pattern repeated with much panache in Brisbane and elsewhere.
Brisbane provided a warm welcome (in 36 degree’s heat), dinner with the local Jane Austen committee and most hospitable accommodation with Barbara O’Rourke. A strong turnout of 90 members came to hear about Fanny Palmer Austen. While in Queensland Hugh and I made the acquaintance of koalas, kangaroos, wombats, echidnas, and cassowaries at the justly famous Australia Zoo and enjoyed exploring Brisbane on the Water Cat, a convenient form of transport on the river.
The Bowral meeting took place in the beautiful and delightfully cooler area of the Southern Highlands, located between Sydney and Canberra. A small, but enthusiastic group showed a marked interest in Fanny Palmer Austen and the narrative of her transatlantic life at sea and on shore. We enjoyed several meals with the local committee members and two scenic drives to nearby villages. I saw my first poisonous snake, which fortunately showed no interest in me.
In Newcastle the Hunter Region were great hosts and an attentive audience. Pamela Whalan made us very welcome in her home. I happily traded books with Pamela, who has adapted all six of Jane Austen’s novels for the stage. Pamela also took us on a very interesting day’s drive, exploring the Hunter River valley as far as Maitland and historic Morpeth
The last stop was Melbourne. Here I was impressed by the range of ages and interests of JAS Melbourne. That college age students met to discuss Jane Austen with members as old as 93 proves Austen’s appeal to the young, the old and all in between. The Melbourne committee arranged a happy dinner after my talk at which there was lots of additional chat. Before leaving Melbourne, Hugh and I had a wonderful day out with Margaret Baulch (a direct descendent of Charles Austen) who took us to the Healsville Animal Sanctuary and the fascinating William Ricketts Sculpture Garden at Mount Dandenong.
As we departed for home, I learned that JASA is planning a study day on “Jane Austen & Art,” on 29 June, and news that JASA hopes to host Adrian Lukis, the actor who played George Wickham in the 1995 film version of Pride and Prejudice, for a programme in Sydney titled “Being Mr Wickham.” These are only two events of what looks like a vibrant year for the Jane Austen Societies of Australia. Would that they were not over 16,000 km away from my home base in Halifax, Nova Scotia! I close in gratitude for the new friendships and many enjoyments which enriched my book tour. My heartfelt thanks go to all those who hosted and assisted me and my husband along the way.