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Children’s Literature Digital Resources
A Full Text Repository of Early Australian Children's Literature
Compiled by Amy Cross, Cherie Allan, Michelle Dicinoski & Kerry Mallan.

(Status : Public)
Coordinated by AACLAP & CLDR Editors
  • Children Lost in the Bush

  • A photograph of the Duff children in 1864. Almost certainly staged some time after their recovery.

    The figure of the lost child is a persistent one in Australian literature. In the mid-to-late 19th century, incidents of children lost in the bush received significant press coverage, and they were also the subject of artists' renderings and fictionalised re-tellings in poems and stories.

    The most famous case of children lost in the bush is that of the Duff children (pictured right), who went missing in the Wimmera region of Victoria in 1864. Isaac (aged nine), Jane (aged seven), and Frank (aged almost four) spent nine days lost in the bush before being rescued by Indigenous trackers.

    If we examine some of the numerous re-tellings, drawings, and paintings of the incident, we can see how writers and artists gradually made Jane Duff the hero of the story, virtually ignoring the courage of Isaac and Frank Duff, and the skill of the trackers who actually saved the children's lives.

    This trail leads you through newspaper reports, art work, poems, shorts stories, and full-length works that tell or re-tell the Duffs' story. It also includes critical work that examines these primary texts, or the figure of the lost child more generally in Australian literature. Most of the primary works listed here can be read immediately online, because they have been digitised as part of the Children's Literature Digital Resources (CLDR) project. 

    Trail by Michelle Dicinoski.

  • The Argus's first report of the children's disappearance occurred on Saturday 27 August, 1864. It was a reprinting of a story that had appeared in the Hamilton Spectator three days earlier. The children went missing on the morning of Friday the 12th of August. A newspaper article from September 5th 1864 details the recovery mission and the discovery of the children

    Seldom has a tale been told which relates so much patient suffering as those little children underwent. Seldom has brotherly or sisterly affection been so beautifully illustrated. The girl had regularly taken off her her frock to cover the younger one when he complained of the bitter cold.'

    It also draws from another article from the Geelong Advertiser, which states

    'In the down train yesterday afternoon, the heroic conduct of Jane Duff forming the subject of conversation, a resolution was adopted to give something more substantial to the little maiden than empty praise ; and in a few minutes 19 pounds was promised towards a memorial fund of her self-denying and self-sacrificing love.'

    The report also comments that 'the recognition of virtue in one so young will have its influence on other children.'

  • ‘King Richard’ or ‘Dick-a-Dick’, the tracker who found the Duff children, 20 August 1864. [Photo courtesy Horsham & District Historical Society.]

    Dick-a-dick, also known as Djungadjinganook, Jumgumjenanuke, and King Richard, was one of the trackers who found the children on 20th August 1864. Dick-a-Dick was a Wotjobaluk man of the Wergaia language group. After rescuing the Duffs, he would go on to tour England as part of an Aboriginal cricket team that played 47 games between May and October 1868.

    Possibly the earliest literary account of the Duff children's ordeal is William Stitt Jenkins' The Lost Children. Jenkins was a Geelong bricklayer and temperance advocate who was prominent in civic affairs.

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      Fiction and Poetry about the 'Lost Children

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      Critical Works

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      Other Works about Lost Children