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Eve Langley

In 1942, The Pea Pickers was published by Angus & Robertson in Sydney, garnering high praise for its freshness and poetic invention. A picaresque tale of two sisters who, dressed as boys, earn their living picking seasonal crops in Gippsland in the late 1920s, it impressed Douglas Stewart, literary editor of the Bulletin, with its ‘love of Australian earth and Australian people and skill in painting them’. The author, Eve Langley, was at that time incarcerated in the Auckland Mental Hospital, where she would remain for the next seven years, isolated from her estranged husband and three young children, and from her mother and sister, who were also in New Zealand.

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On a day which began with Eve finding her children ‘half naked and purple with cold … crying on their bed’, she was visited by a detective. He was there to ask questions because ‘La Gauss’, the old woman who let rooms to the family, had accused Eve’s husband of stealing. Langley let him know that she wrote everything down, including all of La Gauss’s lies, and that she would one day make a book of it. He is surprised that she could write of her life in these parts, and waves ‘his hand toward the ferns and gorse on the hill outside’. Eve replied, ‘The tragedy of life down here would amaze you. I have everything down sympathetically, and someday it shall be published.’

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