In July of last year, my 11 year old daughter and I were privileged to be able to travel from our home in rural Australia to the United States. During our month long stay, we travelled from the beaches and deserts of California to peaceful Tennessee. We visited the prairies of Minnesota, the dairy country of Wisconsin, the beautiful New England State of Massachusetts, and the wonder that is New York City. And in all those places we met up with Charlotte Mason educators.
These families introduced us to the delights of America. We visited Disneyland. We ate fish tacos and hot dogs and barbeque and grits and Reuben sandwiches and Chicago pizza and hamburgers as big as your plate. We drank Starbucks coffee, and sweet iced tea and delicious Californian wine. We saw for the first time sweet little hummingbirds and a glorious cardinal and a prairie alive with wildflowers. It was a magical trip.
Yet despite all of the wondrous differences we encountered on our journey, my daughter and I were struck more with the things that were not so different. The families we visited all seemed like old and familiar friends. Not different, but the same. These families all spent time outside in nature. They all had totally swoonworthy libraries of delicious books. The children, while still being kids, were interested and interesting and charming and delightful. Their homes felt warm and inviting, with classical music and fine art and comfortable areas for relaxing. The families spent time together, reading and singing and talking and laughing and playing games. Although we came from halfway around the world, we were joined by that strong link that is the Charlotte Mason family.
In many ways CM in Australia is just like CM in America or Canada or the United Kingdom, and yet just as we could find differences between America and our country, you will find differences between Australia and yours.
More than 80% of Australia’s flowering plants, mammals, reptiles and frogs are unique to this land, along with most of the fish and almost half of our birds. You will be familiar with the kangaroo and the koala and the platypus and maybe the Tasmanian devil from Bugs Bunny, but do you know the bilby or the numbat or the bettong or the dunnart or the quokka or the quoll? When we looked at the Burgess Book of Birds, the English sparrow was almost the only bird we recognised. Our wrens are blue, our kingfishers are called kooraburras, our eagles are not bald. Most of the other birds don’t have equivalents here at all. When we go on nature rambles we are likely to visit bushland filled with some of the 1000 species of acacia (we call them wattles) or the 800 species of eucalyptus (we call them gum trees). We watch for two of the world’s most deadly spiders, and four of the world’s five most deadly snakes.
To fully implement a Charlotte Mason education in Australia naturally requires that we use Australian field guides, Australian natural history books, Australian nature study. But it also means substituting Australian poets, Australian artists, Australian composers. Naturally, as part of the world we enjoy art by Turner, Monet, Manet and Cezanne, but we also have our own artists – von Guerard, Heysen, St Gill, the Australian Impressionists, Roberts, McCubbin, Phillips Fox, Condor, and Rix Nicholas, as well as wonderful botanical artists like Ellis Rowan. Australian history is naturally different, as is Australian geography. We even have our own living books, every bit as good as those of America and the UK.
All of the required substituting of existing CM booklists has probably been the main factor holding back the implementation of Mason’s philosophy in Australia, but things are slowly beginning to change. Educational publishers have begun republishing out of print living books, and Australian copywork books using Australian handwriting fonts and UK English spelling are available for the first time. My friend, Ruth Marshall, has produced an Australian history cycle for the users of the Mater Amabilis curriculum, and I have attempted to do the same for the users of Ambleside Online. There are some great lists of Aussie living books. The long-running CM ANZ (Australia-New Zealand) Yahoo group has been joined by new and exciting Facebook groups. Australian CM bloggers are writing. Another friend, Tim, even dreams of a Charlotte Mason school in Melbourne. Be still my beating heart.
Until now, most Australians have used a Mason influenced curriculum, a few good books here and there, some time in nature, good art and music, combined with non-CM elements like workbooks and language arts programmes, but the internet has opened Charlotte Mason’s work up to the world, and I am confident that the time is coming when we will see more and more Australian graduates of an education that is Australian influenced but purely Charlotte Mason. I am excited to be a part of that.
If you’re like me, you’re always after some living book recommendations. Here are a few of Australia’s best:
- Storm Boy by Colin Thiele
- Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
- The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay
- Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
- The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson
- Poetry by C J Dennis for the youngest and by A B Banjo Paterson for the rest.
© 2014 by Jeanne Grant Webb