ANU research uncovers trove of lost Australian Christmas stories

An Australian National University (ANU) research project has uncovered a treasure trove of lost Australian Christmas fiction stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The stories, some of which are by well-known Australian writers, were uncovered as part of the To Be Continued project which has identified over 21,000 novels, novellas and short stories published in newspapers from the day.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Katherine Bode of the ANU School of School of Literature Languages & Linguistics, said the Christmas stories were a window into Australia’s past.

“They are beautiful stories and uniquely Australian,” Dr Bode said.

“There’s a real focus on what it’s like to experience Christmas time in the bush - there’s flood, bushfires, cyclones and terrible, terrible heat.

“One fabulous story involves Christmas Day celebrations constantly being interrupted by people checking barometers and reporting signs of impending extreme weather.

“Another involves a flood leaving two men stuck up a gum tree on Christmas Eve, three days’ walk from the nearest station.

“In a more political vein, one features an Aboriginal protagonist who is revealed as the ‘rightful heir’ of a rich station, but gives it up to his English half-brother believing himself better equipped to make his way in the world.

“It’s quite a radical and interesting reversal of Social Darwinist ideas about the survival of the fittest race that were circulating at the time.”

The stories have been published in a book titled Christmas Eve in a Gum Tree (And Other Lost Australian Christmas Stories).

The book includes titles from well-known writer Catherine Martin, author of the acclaimed 1890 novel The Australian Girl, and Ada Cambridge, who Dr Bode describes as one of Australia’s most famous female nineteenth century authors.

In March, Dr Bode called for members of the public to help with the To Be Continued project and has been amazed with the response.

“We had around 400 people take part, adding around 800 new stories to the database and correcting the text of many thousands more,” she said.

“People have been really engaged in the process and have made lots in interesting discoveries.

“A volunteer named Paul found a story from the 1890s that involves a same-sex romance between two women in Tasmania, where they didn’t even legalise homosexuality until the 1990s, so there’s some fascinating findings.”

Dr Bode said it is not too late for people to get involved in the project, and encouraged anyone interested in taking part to get in touch or to sign up on the project website.

You can visit the project and search, read, correct, add or export the works by visiting To Be Continued - The Australian Newspaper Fiction Database

More details here:

The book, Christmas Eve in a Gum Tree (And Other Lost Australian Christmas Stories), is available for purchase here:


Associate Professor Katherine Bode
ANU School of Literature Languages & Linguistics
T: 02 6125 9845
M: 0431 539 475


Aaron Walker
ANU Media Team
T: 62125 7979
M: 0418 307 213

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