29 Jul 2010

Convicts, a bonnet and my desire to be a pioneer woman

Today I wore a bonnet to work - it was cosy and delicious on my head. I have been thinking about wearing it out for a few weeks now - ever since I re-discovered it in a sewing bag in my room at mum's. She made it for my sister Lucinda to wear as part of her Laura Ingalls Wilder costume to book week when she was in primary school. It is soft wool and hugs the head perfectly.

I have always had a soft spot for bonnets. And it may have something to do with my ancestry - my granny tells the tale of how one of my great great great great grandmothers or aunts actually came out (was sent*) to Australia as a convict from Britain for stealing a bonnet. Of all the things to steal, this woman had a bit of style to her. I am not ashamed of my convict ancestry - nor my adventurous immigrating ancestry, or my wagon-wheel makers from Philadelphia ancestry, or gold-rush enthusiast ancestry - and beyond that who knows - celts? vikings? gypsies? samurai? People sometimes ask where my family is from and I can honestly only say from here and there and well, I don't entirely know. But there's some Scottish and Irish and wagon-wheel makers from Philadelphia. And there must be a few poets and dress-makers and tree-climbers in the mix too.
But returning back to this particular bonnet - the bonnet my mum sewed to look like one of the bonnets a young Laura wore on the days her family moved around the prairies of north Americas in a wagon. Her books are first full-length novels I read, and over the years I have re-read them so many times that the covers are wearing thin and pages are falling out. They hold a special significance to me. They remind me of the wholesome life that is built on simple pleasures, natural resources, loving relationships and strong faith.
They remind me of growing up on dad's farm in the bush.
They remind me to be child.
I love the way that Laura speaks so honestly and candidly about her thoughts and feelings growing up; the tensions she had with her older sister, her imagination and romantic longings, her stubbornness and resourcefulness, her courage in hard times. The way she explores the many places her parents settle barefoot and wide eyed, battles with the harsh seasons, resolves to think and act freely and independently -

And I hold her words to my chest when she reads Tennyson's Maud for the first time, strays in a paddock of lush violets, when she longs after a papoose - and I say in my heart, I know I know I know.
www.pamelasmithhill.com - courtesy of Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, Mansfield, MO

This is a photo of Laura Ingalls Wilder by a trickling ravine - there is something haunting and enduringly beautiful about it... I wish I could sit on a nearby rock and talk to her about the old arching trees and singing birds surrounding... She would tell me about the earth she has tred, and I'd tell her about mine.

I would tell her of the widest blue sky, of prairies of red dirt and grey gum trees, of sun that burns land and skin, birds that sing and laugh and peck, and shoreline of cool relief, healing waves.


  1. A whole post of poetry, of hearing about your soul. Simply the best.

  2. I love this so much Emily. I am a Laura fan too and have the same book you show here. Mine is also from childhood, ancient and falling apart! I thought you summed up what's so great about these books perfectly. Now that I'm older I still love to read them. They seem a wonderful antidote to today's world. They comfort me tremendously. Great bonnet too!

  3. This is such a lovely post. I love your bonnet! It's beautiful!! I am always drawn to the pioneer life. I must read these books.. So glad I stumbled onto your blog today. :) (Found you through Shell's blog.)

  4. Girlfriend, you pull off that bonnet with beauty & grace! Gorgeous. I loved reading your eloquent thoughts.

    Long life Laura!

    Love to you sweet sister!

  5. I don't know if you got the show "Little House on the Prairie" down under but this was a series based on the book you've loved. I so much enjoyed the television series though I've never read the book. The show depicted simple and upright living. A much needed example in today's television offerings but sadly it is no longer running.

  6. I loved that costume but unfortunately no-one had heard of Little House on the Prairie or Laura Ingalls...

  7. Oh gosh, that whole series is such a huge part of my childhood -- I can't wait for Gretchen to read it too!


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