First published by Penguin in 1989 THE FORTUNES OF MARY FORTUNE wasn't the easiest book to track down. In fact it took a lot of driving across the Goldfields region of Victoria to get my hands on a copy, which is somewhat appropriate given that the Central Goldfields is one of the locations that Mary Fortune wrote so much about.
THE FORTUNES OF MARY FORTUNE is edited by Lucy Sussex who is undoubtedly the expert on a woman who deserves a wider audience and considerably more acknowledgement for both the quality of her writing as well as for her historic place in Australian literary history.
From the book blurb: "Little is known of Mary Fortune. She kept her identity secret by writing under the names of Waif Wander or W.W.. Arriving in Australia with her young son, she supported herself by writing about life on the goldfields and in the cities. She became Australia's first female writer of crime fiction."
The book is made up of a series of stories that Mary Fortune wrote - Part One is subtitled The Memoirs: Twenty-six years ago or The Diggings from '55. This is made up of stories that set in Arrival in Melbourne, Kangaroo Flat (now a suburb of Bendigo), Buninyong (now a suburb of Ballarat), Chinaman's Flat and Inkerman in and around the general area of Maryborough Victoria.
The second part of the book is subtitled The Journalism - Fourteen Days on the Road, Looking for Lodgings, How I Spent Christmas, Down Bourke Street, Towzer and Co, The Spider and the Fly.
Each of these stories evolve around crimes and people, detection by observation and interaction, whilst being firmly set in the time and the place. You get such a wonderful feeling of the goldfields, the difficulties of living in such harsh circumstances, and the people - the miners and the shopkeepers, the police and the criminals. You also get a real feel for the thinking / the prejudices and the humanity of the people involved. You're also allowed very small glimpses of the life of Mary Fortune herself, albeit dressed up / disguised just enough as she did with her own identity.
There's nothing like a quest in life, and there's something very satisfying about a quest involving Australian literature by a little known pioneering literary woman. If you've not read any of Mary Fortune's work then I can highly recommend a quest to track down a copy of THE FORTUNES OF MARY FORTUNE.