'Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, countless distinguished writers made the long and arduous voyage across the seas to Australia. They came to give lecture tours and make money, to sort out difficult children sent here to be out of the way; for health, for science, to escape demanding spouses back home, or simply to satisfy a sense of adventure.
In 1890, for example, Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny arrived at Circular Quay after a dramatic sea voyage only to be refused entry at the Victoria, one of Sydney's most elegant hotels. Stevenson threw a tantrum, but was forced to go to a cheaper, less fussy establishment. Next day, the Victoria's manager, recognising the famous author from a picture in the paper, rushed to find Stevenson and beg him to return. He did not.
In Brief Encounters, renowned author and speaker Susannah Fullerton examines a diverse array of writers including Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, DH Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, HG Wells, Agatha Christie and Jack London to discover what they did when they got here, what their opinion was of Australia and Australians, how the public and media reacted to them, and how their future works were shaped or influenced by this country.' (Publisher's website)
''When I look at the map and see what an awfully ugly-looking country Australia is, I feel as if I want to go there to see if it cannot be changed into a more beautiful form.' Oscar Wilde never did get to Australia, either to change it or be changed by it. For him it remained that 'ugly-looking' shape on a map and little more. But the writers in this book did make the journey, not to try to change the way it looked but for a great variety of other reasons: they came for scientific research; to sort out difficult children; to make money from lecturing; to escape demanding women back home; to finding themselves; to shop; to see doctors; and as part of their jobs.'
'In January 1836 Charles Darwin lay on a sunny bank of the Cox's River, not far from Bathurst in NSW, and watched with interest as a life and death struggle took place nearby. It was happening in the little burrow of an antlion.'
'It would be nice to regard this moment on the Australian riverbank as Charles Darwin's 'Eureka!' moment, the instant when his theory of the origin of the species flashed upon him, ready formed and complete. In reality Darwin's musings on that Australian riverbank would be just one of the many thousands of thinking sessions that would lead him to the full development of his evolutionary theory.'
'In 1867 a rather frail little boy gazed out on the ocean for the first time in his life. His uncle had taken him to Odessa, the Black Sea resort town, hoping to change of scene might take the child's mind off t he recent death of his mother. He was only nine years old, but the sight of the vast ocean filled him with dreams of travel and escape. The sea would come to symbolise liberation from the problems of his family and his country, a route away from the past and into a new world of romance and opportunity. Even at the age of nine, the boy knew the sea offered adventure - the sea stories of Captain Marryat and James Fenimore Cooper had taught him that. Across the sea new lands awaited and he could hardly wait to see them. At present they were only coloured shapes on the globe, but he promised himself that one day he would get to visit them.'
'A reception clerk at Sydney's prestigious Victoria Hotel in King Street would long remember Robert Louis Stevenson's arrival in Australia. Not recognising the skeletal, badly dressed man in front of him as the famous author, the clerk allotted the man and his wife a small room on the fourth floor of the hotel, instead of the requested suite of rooms on the first floor. Stevenson had had problems with hotel staff before and wasn't going to put up with this indignity. He took one look at the dingy, carpetless room up too many sets of stairs, and rushed back to reception, where he treated the unfortunate clerk to one of his famous 'purples', and explosion of words and fury that rapidly attracted a crowd of staff and guests.
'Few writers make their fame as quickly and at such a young age as did Rudyard Kipling. In 1891, at the time of his visit to Australia, he was twenty-four years old and was already seen as the new star in the literary firmament. Two years before, he'd arrived in London to find his reputation had preceded him and he soon sent it soaring with 'Danny Deever', a haunting poem about a soldier hanged by his regiment for shooting a colleague, which was published in February 1890. Its grim subject and tightly controlled verses, each ending with the refrain 'An' they're hanging Danny Deever in the mornin'' were acclaimed by TS Eliot, WB Yates, by critics and by the public.'
'The air in the Horsham Mechanics' Hall was heavy with exception. It was warm night, and those who had rushed inside when the doors opened at 7.30 pm were jammed in like the proverbial sardines. Around the walls were the people unlucky enough o tot have booked seats - they would stand during the whole performance. There were even people sitting on the sides of the stage. Bodies shifted restlessly on chairs, fans swished to bring cool breezes to heated cheeks, legs crossed and uncrossed in anticipation...'
'The fight was not due to start until 11 am, but by three in the morning the queues were forming up the hill from Rushcutters Bay into Paddington, and hordes of men and boys were making their way down to the bay from the city. Extra trams had been laid on - they'd been arriving since 6 am, packed tight, boys clinging to the outsides. Hansom cabs were at a premium and the old Sydney omnibuses had doubled their prices, but they too arrived bursting at the seams. The most eager had camped out on the grass near the stadium, a strange way to spend Christmas night, but it got them a better chance of a seat on one of the wooden planks inside. It had rained during the night, but everyone soon steamed dry...'
'As Sir Arthur Doyle set sail on the RMS Naldera from England to Fremantle, the Presbyterians of Australia sent up fervent prayers to heaven that he'd be shipwrecked and drowned. And yet Conan Doyle was a famous author, loved around the world for his creation of Sherlock Holmes. Australians should have been welcoming him with warmth, eager to hear about the great fictional detective and the mysteries he'd solved. Why were some of them hoping he would never reach these shores?'
'D. H. Lawrence came to Australia searching. He didn't know what he was actually looking for or where he would find it. But he had to get away from England, from Europe, and Australia was far enough away for him to search for 'something that brings me peace'.'