Home > 1950, 20th Century, Australian Literature, AWW Challenge, Dark Eleanor, Highly Recommended, Novel, Translation Tragedy > Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark – an intelligent comedy about a community doomed to disappear.

Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark – an intelligent comedy about a community doomed to disappear.

January 20, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark (1959) Not available in French (sadly)

This week is Bill’s AWW Gen 3, which means Australian Women Writers from Generation 3 and their books published between 1919 and 1960. See Bill’s explanations here

Since I don’t know much about Australian literature, Bill kindly made me a list of books that met the GEN 3 criteria. After checking out which ones were available on the kindle, I settled on Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark.

Great choice, if you want to know.

Eleanor Dark introduces us to the inhabitants of Lantana Lane, set in Dillillibill, a rural area of Queensland, the tropical part of Australia. They have small farms and mostly grow pineapples on their land that is not occupied by the sprawling lantana weed.

In this district it may be said with little exaggeration that if you are not looking at pineapples, you are looking at lantana.

You know what pineapples look like and this is lantana, a thick bush of weed:

Dark calls her characters the Anachronisms because they like farming and their small farms are against the flow of progress. Farming isn’t a well-esteemed profession.

We are not affluent people in the Lane. As primary producers we are, of course, frequently described by our legislators as The Backbone of the Nation, but we do not feel that this title, honourable as it is, really helps us much.

This hasn’t changed much over the last decades, has it? They work a lot and their income is uncertain and low. As Dark cheekily points out the three sections of the community which always keep on working whatever happens (namely, farmers, artists and housewives), are liable to get trampled on. Note the little feminist pique and the spotlight on housewives.

Only a few of farmers were actually born in Lantana Lane, several came from the city to live their dream of farming. We get to meet everyone, the adults, the children, the dogs, the utes and another weird vehicle named Kelly and finally Nelson, the communal kookaburra.

Each chapter is a vignette that either describes a family and their history, a special episode in their lives or a specificity of this part of Queensland. And what characters they are!

Cunning Uncle Cuth manages to stay with his nephew Joe without taking on a workload. Herbie Bassett let his contemplative nature loose after his wife died for there is no need to work for the material world when you can unclutter your life and enjoy gazing at nature. Gwinny Bell is a force of nature, a master at organization and obviously a superior intelligence. As the omniscient narrator points out, her skills are wasted in Lantana Lane.

I loved Aunt Isabelle, the older Parisian aunt of the Griffiths, who arrives unannounced, eager to live the pioneer life. Our communal aunt is an active, vivacious and extremely voluble lady of sixty-eight., says the Narrator, in the chapter Our New Australian. I loved her silly but kind behaviour. Her speech is laced with French mistakes in her English and French expressions (All accurate, btw. I seize the opportunity to tell my kind English speaking readers that the endearment mon petit chou refers to a little cream puff and not a little cabbage.) The most noticeable clue of her assimilation as a true Australian is that she will cry gladly: “Eh bien, we shall have a nice cupper, isn’t it?” Tea addict.

I laughed at loud when I read the chapter entitled Sweet and Low, about young Tony Griffith, his fife and his parents’ outhouse. I followed Tim and Biddy’s endeavours to grow things on their land and slowly take into account their neighbour’s agricultural recommendations.

The Dog of my Aunt is about Lantana Lane’s barmy characters, Aunt Isabelle’s arrival and her friendship with Ken Mulliner and I felt I was reading a written version of a Loony Tunes episode. Eleanor Dark has such a funny and vivid description of Aunt Isabelle’s travels to Dillillibill, her arrival at top speed on a Kelly driven by a wild Ken Mulliner that you can’t help chuckling.

Between the chapters about the people, Eleanor Dark inserted chapters about the place. There’s one about lantana and pineapples, one about the climate and cyclones, one about the serpents and one about the kookaburras and Nelson in particular. I wonder where the chapter about spiders went.

We understand that this tightknit community is in danger. The authorities are taking measurements to built a deviation, a bitumen road that will put them on the map. Pesticides invade agriculture, the trend is to create big farms. Eleanor Dark has her doubts about all these new methods and wonders what they will do to nature.

But this is a labour-saving age, and chipping is now almost obsolete. The reason is, of course, that Science has come to the rescue with a spray. The immediate and visible effect of this upon the weeds is devastating, though what its ultimate, and less conspicuous effects upon all sort of other things may prove to be, we must leave to learned research workers of the future.

Well, unfortunately, now, we know.

Eleanor Dark has a great sense of humour and Lantana Lane is a comedy. She mixes irony and humorous observations. She has knack for comedy of situation. She writes in a lively prose, a playful tone, shows an incredible sense of place and a wonderful tendency to poke fun at her characters. She points out their little flaws with affection and pictures how the community adapts and accepts everyone’s eccentricities. But behind the comedy, the reader knows that this way-of-living is condemned.

As usual, reading classic Australian lit is educational, vocabulary-wise. I had to research lantana, paw-paw, Bopple-Nut, pullet (although, being French and given the context, I’d guessed it was the old English for poulet) and all kinds of other funny ringing ones (flibbertigibbet, humdinger, flapdoodle…)

Visiting Lantana Lane was a great trip to Queensland, a journey I highly recommend for Dark’s succulent prose. For another take at Lantana Lane, read Lisa’s review here.

Note for French readers: Sorry, but it’s not available in French.

  1. January 20, 2021 at 10:56 am

    Thank you for this Emma. I’m really glad I was able to direct you to one that you enjoyed, without having read it myself. I hadn’t thought about Dark in relation to comedy. There is getting to be quite a list of books brought up by this Week that I must read.

    Liked by 2 people

    • January 20, 2021 at 8:00 pm

      I’m really lucky that this one was available in ebook. It’s easy to download and to be honest, the immediate dictionary helps a lot when I read.
      I hope you’ll read Lantana Lane, I’m looking forward to reading your take on the place and on the comedy.

      Like

    • January 20, 2021 at 10:32 pm

      Okay, just based on that list of vocabulary at the end alone I have to check this one out. Playful language is SO FUN.

      Like

      • January 21, 2021 at 2:01 pm

        Yes it is. And here, it’s associated to a playful tone but doesn’t discard serious matters. It’s great.

        Like

        • January 21, 2021 at 8:30 pm

          I ended up buying this book. Thanks, Emma!

          Like

          • January 23, 2021 at 8:09 am

            Great news! That’s the most rewarding part of blogging, when someone gets a book after reading one of my billet.
            Let me know what you thought about it.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. January 20, 2021 at 11:12 am

    This is great Emma. Love the humour, and I always love hearing words that are interesting to you.

    I grew up in Queensland with bopple-nut, but I think a lot of Aussies don’t know that one. Flibbertigibbet and humdinger – these are words I wouldn’t have known were Aussie or not. They are words I know well, “flapdoodle” not so much.

    But, besides all this, the novel sounds like another good and thoughtful one from Eleanor Dark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 20, 2021 at 8:03 pm

      A lot of the puzzling vocabulary ended up being tagged as “old English” in the dictionary. Sometimes old French too. I love observing and noting down funny looking words.
      Dark managed to mix comedy and thoughts about science and western civilization.

      PS: no Aborigenes in the book, though. I wonder where they were.

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 20, 2021 at 11:08 pm

        Probably are Old English! Probably many are Shakespearean, I wouldn’t be surprised.

        It wasn’t unusual for Indigenous Australians to be absent from books. Still isn’t . In some settings that’s realist, there are many Australians who have never met (knowingly at least) an Indigenous Australian.

        Like

        • January 21, 2021 at 2:03 pm

          I’m lucky e-books have instant dictionaries, it’s so helpful.

          Like

          • January 21, 2021 at 11:02 pm

            Oh yes, of course, it’s a great function isn’t it?

            Like

            • January 23, 2021 at 8:09 am

              Perfect when you’re not reading in your mother tongue.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. January 20, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    This is the second review of an Eleanor Dark novel I’ve read today, and I’m moved to go and check if I still have any of her Viragos on the shelves. She sounds worth exploring!

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 20, 2021 at 8:04 pm

      When I saw that it was a Virago Modern Classic, I was sure some readers had it on the shelf! Apparently, I was right 🙂
      It’s really worth reading and if you have it on the shelf, well, it’ll help with the TBR!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. January 20, 2021 at 5:33 pm

    I think I’ll like this one and the good news is that I already own it. I’m digging my way through the TBR list and making considerable progress.

    Like

    • January 20, 2021 at 8:05 pm

      You too! Dark seem to be in a lot of TBRs. I think you’d enjoy this one, the characters, the comic scenes and Jack, the barmy dog!

      Like

  5. January 20, 2021 at 6:21 pm

    Oh this does sound good, with some great characterisation. Luckily I have this on my tbr already.

    Like

    • January 20, 2021 at 8:07 pm

      Sounds like you could do a readalong with Karen and Guy!
      It’s a great escapism book for our times.

      Like

  6. January 21, 2021 at 1:21 am

    Thanks for the mention:)
    You will be pleased to hear that I have finally settled on a choice of author for this year’s ‘week’: Eleanor Dark Week will be in the last week of August to coincide with her birthday.
    PS Please remind me if I forget… I will be setting up an Eleanor Dark page with links to reviews of her books and I will want to add this one of yours, of course.

    Like

    • January 23, 2021 at 8:23 am

      Hi Lisa, end of August is good for me. I’m going to note this down in my blog events agenda.
      I think I’d like to read The Little Company.
      Buried In Print has reviewed The Little Company here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 23, 2021 at 9:27 am

        Ahh this answers the question I asked on Bill’s post about ED week – I will endeavour to read one too 🙂

        Like

      • January 24, 2021 at 2:38 am

        I chose it to coincide with her birth and death dates,,,

        Like

  7. January 21, 2021 at 4:12 pm

    I’ve not heard of Eleanor Dark and this sounds like great fun. The Backbone of the Nation sounds an awful lot like today’s Essential Workers.

    Like

    • January 23, 2021 at 8:26 am

      Farmers work hard everywhere and never make a decent income. It’s been like this since forever and yet, they feed all of us.

      And yes, they’re like today’s Essential workers.

      I wonder if this pandemic is going to change something in the way we buy things. I heard that here, small shops are doing ok, that people are thinking about buying more locally.

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 29, 2021 at 1:38 am

        It somehow never changes for farmers no matter where they are.

        It’s been mixed here, I’m seeing some small businesses go under, but others are doing better business than usual. It will be interesting to see if more value is placed on local shops.

        Like

  8. buriedinprint
    January 22, 2021 at 11:43 pm

    As you know (thanks for stopping by!), I read an Eleanor Dark novel too, also at Bill’s recommendation (of her in general, for the time frame), and I also enjoyed it. It sounds like there are some similarities in terms of family being at the heart of the story, a gift with setting a scene and allowing it to play out for us in a realistic way (what’s this story about a fife and an outhouse HAH), and an awareness of the importance of how we spend our working lives and whether we think or don’t think of the generations to come. I’m not even sure if it was Science that came up with the spray, I think it was industry, but either way, devastating of course. The Little Company, too, had unexpected connections with problems we still haven’t solved, yet, today.

    Like

    • January 23, 2021 at 8:30 am

      I see that The Little Company is available as an ebook and Lisa posted in an earlier comment that she’ll organize an Eleanor Dark week end of August.

      Planets are aligned: The Little Company it will be!

      Like

  9. January 23, 2021 at 9:32 am

    I really MUST read and ED book soon – she sounds wonderful. My grandparents and great-grandparents were of farming stock on both sides. It was hard work and no-one seemed to make any money from it. Both sets of grandparents left their farms mid-life to try more stable, less physical and less heart-breaking work. There was nothing romantic about it, so I’m glad Dark applies the realism school of writing to her stories. I really MUST read one her books soon!

    Like

    • January 23, 2021 at 12:31 pm

      Well, there’s Return to Coolami for the #1936Club event in April. It was published in 1936.

      When I hear people raving about going back to living in the country and grow their own things, blah blah blah, I always think “Fine but if this life were so wonderful, why this massive flight to the towns from farmers?”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. January 20, 2021 at 12:20 pm
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