Stella Miles Franklin (1879-1954) and Rose Scott (1847-1925)

Visionaries Who Demanded change To The Role Of Women

As part of Melbourne's Federation celebrations in May 2001, Stella Miles Franklin was honoured as one of Australia's high achievers. Most Australians know Franklin as the benefactor of the Miles Franklin Award, an annual award for literature. Australian, British, American and Irish readers know Franklin's Australian classic My Brilliant Career. Several books written about Miles Franklin concentrate on her writing rather than her life, about which she was extremely secretive. Rose Scott and Miles Franklin stood for and achieved has had a huge influence on women today. They dared to question women's roles in the era before domestic appliances freed women from grinding domestic toil.

Miles Franklin

Miles grew up seeing her mother living a treadmill existence of domestic and farm drudgery interspersed with repeated cycles of pregnancy, birth, breast-feeding and weaning. Miles' own life spanned a period of huge change: she saw horses and buggies replaced by motor cars and aeroplanes, contraceptives, previously illegal, become freely available in family planning clinics; and later she watched (albeit with misgivings) the arrival of the contraceptive pill in Australia. Before Miles' death, syphilis, the 'Red Peril' so detested by her and Rose Scott, was finally vanquished by penicillin.


Franklin grew up in the Brindabella ranges south-west of Canberra. Today the Franklin and Lampe families no longer inhabit Talbingo or Brindabella homesteads, but a bronze plaque beside Jounama Creek in the Monaro records Miles Franklin as 'one of Australia's most widely acclaimed and spirited authors, who wrote 21 published books ... reflecting her unflinching belief in equality and social justice'. Stella Miles Maria Sarah Franklin was descended from two markedly different cultures. From her Irish father she inherited good looks and a Celtic love of words and poetry. Through her mother, Susannah Lampe, she inherited the virtues of thrift and a capacity for hard work. Miles Franklin's maternal grandparents were Holtman and Sarah Lampe. Holtman had emigrated to Australia as a free settler and become a pioneer of the High Monaro. Sarah was born in England, and her father had been transported to Australia. Granny Sarah Lampe was the woman Miles Franklin loved and admired most in her childhood, a strong-minded matriarch, mother of ten offspring and successful owner-manager of Talbingo Station. 

Holtman Lampe had bought the grazing rights to Talbingo Station from his father-in-law, convict-turned-farmer William Bridle. Due to Holtman and Sarah Lampe's hard work and efficiency, Talbingo Station became one of the best-run properties in the Monaro. Unfortunately, while relatively young, Holtman Lampe had bought the grazing rights to Talbingo Station from his father-in-law, convict-turned-farmer William Bridle. Due to Holtman and Sarah Lampe's hard work and efficiency, Talbingo Station became one of the best-run properties in the Monaro. Unfortunately, while relatively young, Holtman Lampe was paralysed in a riding accident and die of years later, leaving his widow and daughter Susannah to run the station until Susannah fell in love with an impractical dreamer named John Franklin and married him.

Stella Miles' Irish grandfather, the darkly handsome Joseph Franklin, was a teacher's son who emigrated in 1839 from County Clare to escape rural Irish poverty. After spending a profitable period on the goldfields, he married a 'squatted' on land (the phrase 'squatting' refers to land farmed without a lease) in Yass and later in the Monaro. In 1863 he took up the lease on isolated Brindabella Station, in the Goodradigbee River Valley, where his cattle grew fat on summer pastures. His sons swaggered round the High Monaro on pure-bred horses, farmed rich land and married girls capable of bearing fine sons. They earned a good living breaking, training and selling the strong, sure-footed wild horses of the area, which they sold at a handsome profit to the British Army in India. Stella Miles' father, John Franklin, was in partnership with his three older brothers. They leased grazing rights to the adjacent cattle properties of Brindabella, Bin bin, Bramina and Oakdale. (A fourth brother, George, ran another large lease on the Murrumbidgee River near Yass.) As the youngest son, Stella Miles' father was given the smallest property, bin bin, situated beside the important Brindabella Station.( Stella Miles adopted the pseudonym 'Brent of Bin Bin' as one of her numerous pen names; it seems amazing how few people discovered her secret, especially as she mentions she lived at Bin Bin in her autobiography, Childhood at Brindabella.) 

John Franklin, blue-eyed, black-haired and descended from a long line of talkative, imaginative but impractical Irish Protestants, was seen as an unwise choice of husband for such a provident, punctilious and proper young woman as Susannah Lampe, whose mother Granny Lampe firmly believed one of the Franklin brothers was 'good enough' for her daughter, whose many accomplishments included playing that colonial status symbol, a rosewood piano. Although the Brindabella Ranges are relatively close to Canberra, the only way to reach the Goodradigbee Valley and the three Franklin homesteads was on horseback. When Susannah was eight months pregnant with Miles, she made a heroic journey from isolated Bin Bin riding side-saddle through snow and ice. Susannah made this long journey so her own mother could act as midwife at Talbingo homestead, a sprawling weatherboard house surrounded by a magnificent garden and orchards and served by ample domestic staff. The child was named Stella Miles Maria Sarah Franklin. Susannah, a very practical woman proud of her housewifely skills and the Lampe family name, hoped her daughter would take after her; as time passed, she was dismayed to find Stella Miles very different in character to herself. 

High in the beautiful valley of the Goodradigbee, Stella Miles spent a happy childhood. She was taught to read by her mother, from adult rather than children's books; Shakespeare's plays, Milton's Paradise Lost and sonorous passages from the King James version of the Bible helped from her prose style. Like her mother, Susannah's second daughter Linda Lampe Franklin was meek, religious and dutiful, while Stella Miles was strong-willed energetic and rebellious. Susannah was totally perplexed by her elder daughter. Susannah, a thrifty bush housewife who worked hard on her husband's farm, did not believe that women should perform paid work outside the home. When Stella Miles challenged her mother's views on the role of women Susannah punished her, declaring that women who wanted to have equal chances with men challenged God's laws. Stella Miles may have been her mother's despair but she was her father's favourite. A brilliant but reckless horseman, John Franklin taught her to ride as fearlessly as he did, to swim in the creek and read aloud from the poetry of mad, bad Lord Byron. In Childhood at Brindabella, Miles Franklin noted how different her mother was to her father: 'My mother never indulged in fantasy. Her natural bent was not that way, and she never had a minute of her own free from responsibility from the time she could toddle'.

Following the birth of a second daughter, Susannah's health deteriorated and the precocious, hyperactive Stella Miles, now four, was sent to be cared for by Granny Lampe at Old Talbingo. Granny Lampe also read the Bible, as well as the novels of Charles Dickens, to the four-year-old. At Talbingo, surrounded by ten young aunts and uncles, Stella Miles became the adored youngest member of the household. she discovered that by being amusing and lively she would receive plenty of attention, and her time at Talbingo proved to be the happiest period of her entire life. She felt far more loving towards her grandmother than she did towards her mother. God-fearing, dignified Granny Lampe lived by strict rules. She was a just and enlightened employer of station hands and a good judge of livestock, but on her property swearing, drunkenness or loose conduct was never tolerated. Granny Lampe would figure in Miles Franklin's novels as the model for a series of wise, widowed matriarchs who ran their pastoral properties better than did most men.

However, at Talbingo there were occasional conflicts between the wilful Stella Miles and her grandmother. She was a stubborn, at times defiant child who enjoyed being the centre of attention. She was a stubborn, at times defiant child who enjoyed being the centre of attention. Dressed in a brand new white frock and standing in the yard in front of the homestead, little Stella Miles announced one Sunday that she was not going to church. Since she could not see or touch God, how cold he exist? she demanded. Scandalised, Granny Lampe picked up a broom and smacked her with it. Miles fell flat in a mud puddle in her new white dress. As a punishment she was shut in a cupboard and denied dinner until she apologised. At first she sulked and refused to say she was sorry. Then, growing hungry, she apologised and was released. But for the rest of her life she remained convinced that God did not exist. After almost a year Susannah Franklin recovered her health and Stella Miles returned home to her parents in Bin Bin. Mr Charles Blyth, a well-educated but alcoholic Scottish gentleman 'down on his luck', was engaged to teach Stella Miles and her four older cousins. When sober Charles Blyth was an excellent teacher, delighted by little Stella Miles' quick intelligence and her love of books. Dressed in white, topped by a frilly sun bonnet, she walked across the paddocks to the small schoolroom beside Brindabell homestead.    .

When the Commissioner for Crown Lands arrived at Brindabella to reassess the Franklin land-holdings, he was amazed by the little girl's knowledge and breadth of vocabulary. 'You should be an author when you grow up,' he told her, and she always remembered his words. Stella Miles loved the beauty of the Monaro. She wrote about is mountain ranges 'thrown one upon another like storm waves poetrified when the world had cooled', and cattle paddocks bright with flowers. She loved the rivers and their poetic names: the Murrumbidgee, the Goodradigbee and the Yarrangobilly, 'their waters silver in the summer sunlight and dark green where they entered deep granite gorges'. She was a perceptive, sensitive child, observing the platypus that lived in the creek, soaring eagles, and the platypus that lived in the creek, soaring eagles and the displays of lyrebirds. Mr Blyth's fondness for alcohol eventually became so pronounced that the Franklin children had to find proper schooling. Expensive boarding schools were out of the question; the golden days of profitable trade in brumbies to the Indian Army were now over. Years of drought meant that although the Franklin brothers were land rich, they had no ready cash. Debts forced the dissolution of the family partnership; Uncle Thomas Franklin and his wife Annie bought out John Franklin 's interest in Brindabella.

John and Susannah Franklin decided they should find a new house near a State school so their children could benefit from State-funded education. In April 1889, when Stella Miles was nine, they left Brindabella forever and moved to a small run-down dairy farm near Goulburn, which they named Stillwater after the muddy dam on the property. They were no longer wealthy graziers but had become poor 'cocky' farmers, scratching a living from harsh land like cockatoos. Watching her mother and grandmother, she realised that, in order to survive, each station homestead had to be virtually self-supporting: vegetables, milk, eggs, salted beef and mutton , preserves, fruit and tallow candles were all obtained or produced by these resourceful women. Out at Stillwater, living without piped water, Stella Miles and her mother carted buckets from the well, boiled water to do the weekly wash and did the ironing using flatirons heated on the stove. They baked bread, salted meat to preserve it, made jam and cheese, churned butter, kept hens, scoured tinwared and cutlery, cleaned windows, mended clothes and fed poddy calves and sick lambs. The Franklin girls attended the little wooden State school at Thornfield. Stella Miles' teacher, Miss Gillespie, encouraged her to study music and entered her successfully for examinations in singing and music in the Sydney College of Music.

They were unlucky in settling near Goulburn during a seven-year period of drought that lasted until 1902. During this time cows and calves, reduced to skin and bone, stood around the house mooing piteously. Stella Miles' father refused to spend money to buy feed for the animals, knowing they were worthless. finally the wretched bests were so weak that crows pecked out their eyes and they died in agony. for Stella Miles, who loved animals, their slow deaths were torture, especially those of the calves she had bottle-fed. At Stillwater Susannah Franklin bore a son, whom she named Hume Talmadge. Lack of money and the rearing of children had changed the formerly 'genteel' piano-playing Miss Susannah Lampe of Talbingo Station into a domestic drudge. Susannah struggled to maintain standards, but her dowry of fine linen sheets and damask tablecloths was ruined when rain poured through Stillwater's sagging roof. Stella Miles couldn't help comparing her parents' poverty-stricken existence to life at the more luxurious Talbingo homestead. She stopped believing in love matches and began to view marriage as virtual 'sexual slavery', as she would write later. by this time Susannah had given birth to five more children. Most pioneer wives (in an era with no reliable contraception) bore six to ten children as a matter of course because so many children died at infancy. Stella Miles saw her mother struggling to cook, iron and clean in a bark-roofed home surrounded by cowsheds and pigpens. It made marrying for love, as Susannah's mother had done, distinctly unattractive. Trying to farm on drought-afflicted land with seven children to raise and educate, the Franklin family's position became desperate. Their water supply turned out to be polluted, and Susannah's youngest daughter, Ida, died of typhoid fever. When her mother gave birth to another daughter, Laurel, Stella Miles upset her mother when she declared that the birth of yet another child during the drought was a disaster: another mouth to agreed, another bottom to wipe. In a desperate attempt to avoid more children, Susannah denied her husband access to her bedroom. As a result husband and wife fought bitterly over sex and money. Stella Miles overheard fierce, whispered arguments. She decided if if this was marriage she did not want it. A career must offer a better life.

When Stella Miles was sixteen she spent one last idyllic Christmas with her beloved grandmother at Talbingo homestead. She was dismayed to realise she was no longer the amusing, youngest member of the family, but had been replaced by a crop of even younger grandchildren. Like most teenage girls Stella Miles worried about her figure. In the looking glass she saw herself as snub-nosed, short and fat, whereas in fact she had an attractive figure that curved in all the right places. she compared herself unfavourably to her younger sister, blonde, willowy Linda, and despaired. both girls had their photographs taken to send to their Lampe relatives in northern Germany. They wrote back commenting how very beautiful (sehr hiibsch) Linda was, with her fair hair curling softly around her face in ringlets, and how elegant was her long flounced dress. They said not a word about Stella Miles, a champion rider who had been photographed wearing a black riding habit and a bushman's hat.

The Lampes added approvingly that Linda looked aristocratic, and if she was not already promised in marriage then one of their sons, Heinrich Lampe, a cavalry officer in a crack German regiment, would be very interested in her. To Stella Miles' dismay, none of her male cousins seemed at all interested in her. She craved male attention, for although she did not like what marriage did to women she did like men and was hurt by what she regarded as male rejection. Her mother and grandmother had already warned Stella Miles that cleverness was 'a curse', that men felt threatened by a woman with brains. Females wee prized for beauty and femininity, for domestic skills and for bearing their husbands male heirs. Miles decided that marriage and domesticity was not the answer to happiness - she wanted a career and male attention. As though to reassure herself she could attract the opposite sex, Stella Miles made a point of flirting with boys she met, earning reproofs from her mother about coquetry and 'being forward with the opposite sex'.

'Do you mean to marry any of the young men to whom you are writing flirtatious letters?' Granny Lampe demanded, deeply shocked by what she saw as Stella Miles' scandalously coquettish behaviour. but Stella Miles told her grandmother she had no serious intentions and wanted to remain single. To proclaim the truth, that she feared marriage, pregnancy and childbirth, would have given rise to ridicule in the farming culture in which she was raised. To avoid this, the ultra-sensitive girl became expert at dissembling her fears. Miles would flirt with attractive men and then reject them. In fact miles' flirtatious behaviour was motivated by fear that she would become 'the girl left out in the cold'. For decades she would be torn between needing male admiration to raise her self-esteem and a complete revulsion against the sex act and its consequences. Today she would have consulted a psychiatrist; at that time she could not tell anyone her fears. Miles would flirt with attractive men and then reject them. In fact miles' flirtatious behaviour was motivated by fear that she would become 'the girl left out in the cold'. For decades she would be torn between needing male admiration to raise hr self-esteem and a complete revulsion against the sex act and its consequences. Today she would have consulted a psychiatrist; at that time she could not tell anyone her fears. 

At dances, parties and country race meetings young girls were always chaperoned; the 'flirtations' of which Stella Miles' grandmother accused her were doubtless very mild by today's standards. It was a conservative Bible-dominated era, especially in the bush. girls had to be virgins when they married: unmarried girls who gained the reputation for being 'forward' or 'loose' with members of the opposite sex would jeopardise their marriage prospects. To become an unmarried mother ensured ostracism. 'Nice girls' went to the altar as teenage virgins, having experienced no more than a chaste kiss on the lips. These were some of the factors that shaped Franklin's puritanical attitude to sex and marriage. Her prudishness appears almost contradictory for a woman who pursued freedom from stifling convention.

Stella Miles Franklin did not complete secondary school and had no qualifications apart from an Honours Certificate in Music. she wanted a career, but teaching, governessing and nursing were the only occupations permitted to young ladies at the time of Federation. Having done well in her music exams, she was inspired by Melba's brilliant career. She was told she had a beautiful singing voice; all it needed was professional training and she could be another Melba. A wealthy local grazier offered to put up the money for her to travel to Europe to train her voice. However, like Nellie Melba's father David Mitchell, who believed that performing on stage was only for whores and courtesans, Granny Lampe would not hear of her grand-daughter singing for money. 'Ladies do not sing in public,' she decreed. Instead, she told Stella Miles she had a talent for writing, and this should be enough for her. Years later Miles wrote a novel called Cockatoos, in which the central character, Mollye Brennan (based on Melba) becomes a singer in London and returns to Australia as the rich and famous Madame Austra.

Stella Miles was recommended twice for a lowly paid pupil-teacher position which included free tuition from the headmaster, but each time her application was unsuccessful. Was she too outspoken and 'modern'? No reasons wee given. She worked briefly as a governess to the unruly brood of her Aunt Margaret and Uncle George Franklin, hated it and returned to back-breaking farm and housework at Stillwater. she observed the wives and daughters of neighbouring farmers working from dawn to dusk, cooking, cleaning, rearing children, milking cows, churning butter and making cheese: all 'women's work'. She saw children dying of typhoid after they drank from polluted wells and streams including thee of her siblings. Her mother found her eldest daughter a difficult, moody teenager. In an era when girls married very young, to be in one's twenties and unmarried meant being disparaged as a spinster. Susannah Franklin urged both her daughters to marry 'well'. The beautiful Linda was longing to get married, but Stella Miles distrusted romance and marriage as a means of acquiring happiness or financial security.

Australia-Great Women-Stella Miles Franklin And Rose Scott-Part 2


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