Mary Grant Bruce was one of Australia’s best known children’s authors. Born in Victoria, Australia in 1878, she began writing at the age of six. She spent much of her childhood on her uncle’s cattle station in Queensland, investing her with an abiding love of horses. Upon leaving school she worked for “The Age” newspaper in Melbourne, and wrote “A Little Bush Maid” as a serial for another paper. The serial told the story of Norah Linton – a young motherless child growing up with her father and brother on “Billabong”: an Australian station. It was published in book form in 1910, and won the hearts of young people over the country.

“A Little Bush Maid” was the first of the hugely popular “Billabong” series, for which Mary Grant Bruce is most famous. It followed the fortunes of the Linton family and their friends through war, drought and adventure upon adventure.

Bruce moved to London in 1913, hoping to find employment there. While visiting Ireland (she was of Irish descent) she met a distant cousin, George Evans, whom she married. They returned to Australia, but when war broke out Evans was recalled to his British regiment. Mary accompanied him, and wrote several books in the Billabong series based on the events of the war.

Mary Grant Bruce and her husband moved between England, Ireland and Australia, finally settling in Australia until George Evans’ death in 1946. Mary Grant Bruce returned to England, and died there in 1956.

The Billabong series and some others of Bruce’s works are still in publication, although bowdlerised somewhat in the interests of political correctness. This is a pity – and I do recommend trying to find original uncut copies. They’re expensive, but retain far more of their original character. Checking second-hand bookshops is the way to go – there’s almost always a Billabong book or two to be found in the children’s section, and occasionally some of Mary Grant Bruce’s other works.

While Mary Grant Bruce’s novels are out of date now, they have lost none of their charm. The Australian ideal of “Mateship” is constantly upheld, the bad people meet their just reward, the good people end happily, and many a straying sheep is led back on to the straight and narrow path. So old-fashioned as to be funny, yes, but still quaint, harmless and engaging. More than that, the Billabong series in particular is an indelible part of Australian culture, and a (highly romanticised) window into the past.

Mary Grant Bruce’s novels:

The Billabong series:

Other Mary Grant Bruce titles: