In 1902 Jeannie Gunn, a Melbourne schoolteacher, went with her new husband to live on the remote Elsey cattle station near the Roper River in the Northern Territory. Although she spent little more than a year there, her experiences in the outback and her contact with the local Aboriginal people impressed her deeply, and on her return to Melbourne she set down her recollections in two books, We of the Never Never and The Little Black Princess.
Based on Jeannie Gunn's fictionalised autobiography of the same name, the story begins in 1902 with the arrival of Mrs Gunn and her new husband Aeneas in the Northern Territory. They have come to take over management of Elsey Station, a huge cattle and horse property. She is subsequently forced to battle isolation, disease, and the white stockmen who believe the station is no place for a woman. She befriends the local Aboriginal women, but is mystified by their culture. Her affection for the place and the people is tested by frequent tragedy.
(Source: Australian Screen.)
Harold White, in a letter dated 5 November 1953 to H. M. Green (held in the Dorothy Green Manuscript Collection at the Academy Library UNSW Canberra) advised Green that the novel is classified as fiction by the Commonwealth National Library, 'as the first edition bears the subtitle "a novel"'. White adds that 'Morris Miller also lists it as fiction, although he adds the proviso that it is not really a novel'.
Source: H. L. White, [Letter to H. M Green, Dated 5 November 1953], Dorothy Green and H. M. Green, Dorothy Green Manuscript Collection (1918-1990)
Western fascination with the north Kimberley coastline has endured since seafarers encountered it in the 17th century, writes Nicholas Rothwell.
'Australian Kevin Wong Hoy traces Cheon's journey from China to Australia, bushland to cattle station kitchen, and past the fences to Elsey Station. It was Jeannie Gunn's portrayal of her Chinese cook Cheon in We of the Never Never that sparked a great deal of fondness for "Australia's first Chinese Celebrity Cook". (Publisher's blurb)
In 1910 Jack London wrote an introduction for a proposed American edition of We of the Never Never but it was never published. The manuscript, in Jeannie Gunn's handwriting, is contained in a book of letters written to William Peter Hurst and the location is:- MS 6107, Box 169/1. William Peter Hurst papers. La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria.
The 'preface', as it was later described by Mrs Gunn, has been reproduced in this article.