We of the Never Never

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We of the Never Never
Author Jeannie Gunn, writing under the name of Mrs Aeneas Gunn
Country Australia
Language English
SubjectLife in the bush in Australia in the early 20th century
Set in Northern Territory, Australia
Publication date
ISBN 0 09 148321 2

We of the Never Never is an autobiographical novel by Jeannie Gunn first published in 1908. Although published as a novel, it is an account of the author's experiences in 1902 at Elsey Station near Mataranka, Northern Territory in which she changed the names of people to obscure their identities. She published the book under the name Mrs Aeneas Gunn, using her husband's first and last name. Over the years, newspapers and magazine articles chronicled the fortunes of the Elsey characters. Jeannie outlived all but Bett-Bett. [1]



Gunn was the first white woman to settle in the Mataranka area. Her husband Aeneas was a partner in the Elsey cattle station on the Roper River, some 483 km (300 miles) south of Darwin. On 2 January 1902 the couple sailed from Melbourne for Port Darwin so that he could take up a job as the station's new manager. In Palmerston (Darwin), Gunn was discouraged from accompanying her husband to the station on the basis that as a woman she would be "out of place" on a station such as the Elsey. However, she travelled south and her book describes the journey, settling in, and the difficulties of life in the bush. Jennie Gunn lived on the cattle station for about a year before her husband, Aeneas, died of malarial dysentery on 16 March 1903. Jeannie returned to Melbourne shortly afterwards and never returned to the Northern Territory. [1]

There is a replica of the homestead depicted in We of the Never Never at the Mataranka Homestead accommodation close to the township of Mataranka.

Publication history

We of the Never Never was first published in London by Hutchinson after being rejected by six publishers. [2] It was translated into German in 1927. [1] By 1945, 320,000 copies of the book had been sold. This novel, together with her other book, was adapted for Australian schools. [1] By 1990 over a million copies of the book had been sold. [3]


The book is regarded as being significant as a precursor of the 1930s landscape writers. Already in 1908 Australia was a significantly urbanised country and the book was seen to provide symbols of things that made Australia different from anywhere else, underwriting an Australian legend of life and achievement in the outback, where "men and a few women still lived heroic lives in rhythm with the gallop of a horse" in "forbidding faraway places". [3]

In 1988 the book was referred to as a "minor masterpiece of Australian letters" by Penguin’s New Literary History of Australia. [4]


The book was made into a film also called We of the Never Never in 1982 and shot on location in the Northern Territory - the setting of the novel.


Four of the stockmen from Elsey Station in 1933 who were characterised in "We of the Never Never": The Sanguine Scot, The Dandy, Mine Host, and The Quiet Stockman StateLibQld 2 106064 Characters from Aeneas Gunn's book 'We of the Never Never', 1933.jpg
Four of the stockmen from Elsey Station in 1933 who were characterised in "We of the Never Never": The Sanguine Scot, The Dandy, Mine Host, and The Quiet Stockman

Notable people who appear as characters in the book include:

Elsey cemetery

A number of characters from the book We of the Never Never are buried at the small bush Elsey Cemetery near Mataranka. [7] The turnoff to the cemetery is around 12 km to the south of Mataranka to the east off the main Stuart Highway. (The turnoff, which is signposted, is a little to the south of the junction of the Stuart Highway and the Roper Highway). The Elsey cemetery is around 7 km further on along the road (at location 15.079° S and 133.122° E). The cemetery itself is close to the location of the original Elsey station described in We of the Never Never.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 O'Neill, Sally (1983). "Gunn, Jeannie (1870 - 1961)". Australian Dictionary of Biography . Melbourne University Press. ISSN   1833-7538 . Retrieved 11 January 2008 via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  2. AustLit (n.d.). "We of the Never Never" . Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  3. 1 2 Forrest, Peter (1990). "They of the Never Never" (pdf - 14 pages). Occasional Papers (no 18). Northern Territory Library Service. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  4. Ramsey, Alan (10 April 1999). "Fighting for the Never Never". Sydney Morning Herald (print) - transcript at The Mail Archive. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  5. "Passing by". The News . XXVIII (4, 245). South Australia. 1 March 1937. p. 4. Retrieved 21 February 2019 via National Library of Australia.
  6. One of the descendants of John and Nellie McLennan, Sharon McLennan, began campaigning in the mid 1990s for compensation for Stolen Generation survivors in the Northern Territory. In recalling her family links to her great-grandfather, Sharon McLennan said that she was both proud of her Aboriginal heritage and also proud to be part of the story connected to We of the Never Never. She said she was proud of her great-grandfather, the '"Sanguine Scot'". She said, "He was one of those rare men that wasn't racists, who loved native people, as they were called then. He must have learned a lot from them." See Julie Power, 'We got that damn sorry from Kevin Rudd but that didn't touch most people', The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 May 2021, accessed 29 May 2021.
  7. Elsey Cemetery National Reserve.