Six Little New Zealanders Esther Glen, illustrated by Noel Harrold, Cassell, London, 276 pages, 1917, Hardback.
[1983 edition: Hodder & Stoughton, Auckland NZ, Kotare reprints, ISBN 840 1523 8]
“After that we felt just as if we had stepped straight out of a Sunday-school library. We really meant to do our best and be a comfort and a help to the uncles, who were so old and lonely…”
This important New Zealand novel for young people (which adapts the title of Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians,) is noted for its portrayal of ‘children as they were, lively, often thoughtless, but usually well-intentioned’ – p.181, A Sea Change, Betty Gilderdale (1982).
The narrator, Ngaire Malcolm (12) introduces her five Malcolm siblings: Kathie (19), Rob (16), Jan (14), Jock (10) and Pipi (9). When their father takes their mother “Home” to England for medical treatment, the six have to stay with their Uncle John, Uncle Stephen and ‘Uncle Dan’ (actually their adopted son aged 24) at their Canterbury sheep station known as Kamahi, near the Rangitata River.
The children’s good intentions barely survive their first meal with their uncles and they are sent to bed in disgrace. The remainder of the book is an amusing account of how the city children adjust to country life. Jan is infuriated by having to eat with the younger children in ‘the Nursery,’ while Kathie and Rob are treated as adults. Horse-riding swimming, stealing strawberries, a local dance, experiments with cigarettes and walks by the river occupy their time.
There are also a series of minor disasters: mislaid books, near-drownings, and tumbles. When some visiting boys persecute Tairoa, a Maori worker on the station by taking his mere (club), hat and cloak, Tairoa is driven into a mad rage. Jan shows great bravery by facing-up to Tairoa, as the others flee, and calming him down by talking to him. Other excitements include the shearing, the growing attachment between Dan and Kathie, and a fire fanned by a nor’wester wind. As Ngaire modestly notes, she only felt personally responsible “for the blaze and the loss of the barn, the haystacks, a field or two of oats, two plantations and a few other trifles.”
The children’s activities are amusingly described by Ngaire, along with some acute observations on the uncles, and culminate in the return of their parents from London. Further adventures during holiday visits to Kamahi are described in a sequel Uncles Three at Kamahi (1923).
Six Little New Zealanders was first published by Cassell in London in 1917; it was a hardback edition of 278 pages illustrated by Noel Harrold. In 1983 Hodder & Stoughton (NZ) published a new edition in their Kotare series of classic NZ children’s books. This hardback edition of 202 pages was illustrated by Els Noordhof.
Note: This book is the first recorded NZ use of the word ‘lolly’ for sweets. Source: p.241, A Sea Change, Betty Gilderdale (1982).
Trevor Agnew 24 May 2008