Significance Assessment 2005

Assessment of Significance of the Wenz Collection of Books, Forbes, NSW
Prepared for Forbes Shire Council by Dr Stephen Gapps (MPHA) Consultant Historian

1.0 Historical Background

1.01 Brief Chronology of Paul Wenz and Hettie Dunne
Wenz born in Rheims, France.
1879-1889 Wenz at school and then military service. Meets Andre Gide at school. Enters family business, a wool-buying company.
1891-1892  Wenz in Algeria for experience running a colonial property.
1892  Wenz moves to Australia.
1893-894  Wenz works and travels in Australian pastoral areas.
1895   Wenz visits New Zealand and Pacific. Spends time looking for La Perouse shipwreck in Queensland.
1896   Wenz visits Europe and then decides to move permanently to Australia. Possibly met Hettie Dunne on return voyage. Living on Nanima Station with view to purchasing.
1897   Dunne and Wenz engaged. Nanima purchased and property expanded.
1898-1898  Dunne and Wenz honeymoon to Hong Kong, Japan, United States, Mexico, to France. Return to Nanima.
1900-1904  Dunne and Wenz work at Nanima. Dunne and Wenz visit New York. Wenz publishes under ‘Paul Warrego’ collection of stories Al’autre bout du monde.
1905-1907  Dunne and Wenz mostly at Nanima working on property.
1908  Wenz publishes Diary of a New Chum. In Sydney they meet Jack London and Lawrence Hargraves.
1909-1910  Dunne and Wenz travel through Asia to France, the return to Australia with their eldest nephew Jean Wenz.
1911  Wenz translates Jack London’s Love of Life.
1812  Wenz goes to South America. Back in Sydney Wenz and Dunne meet Roald Admundsen, polar explorer. Jean Wenz returns to France. Wenz and Dunne ski in the Snowy Mountains.
1913  Wenz and Dunne travel extensively through New Zealand, South America, West Indies, Asia and to France and then England.
1914-1918  Getting ready to return to Australia War breaks out and Wenz and Dunne assist the war effort in France. Wenz works with the Red Cross. Dunne goes to London in 1915 and works with the Red Cross making parcels and serving the Australian canteen. Wenz takes an interest in the repatriation of blind soldiers. At War’s end he proposes an Australian mission to Morocco.
1919  Wenz is interpreter for Australian mission to Morocco, establishing wool and mutton trade links. Several of Wenz’s stories published. Wenz and Dunne arrive back in Sydney and return to Nanima after six years.
1920-1923  Life at Nanima. Wenz publishes more stories, including a collection of war stories. Dunne closely supervises the property and efforts to expand to dairying.
1924-1925   Wenz and Dunne travel extensively overseas through Asia, Africa, Europe.
1926-1927  At Nanima. Wenz continues writing. They travel to Sumatra, Singapore, Malaysia, Indo-China, Colombo to France.
1928-1929  France, and then back to Australia via Perth. Wenz meets Nettie Palmer. Le Jardin des Coraux published in France, reviewed by Palmer in The Bulletin. Wenz writes to his friend Joe Krug that life is difficult at Nanima and the property is mortgaged. He notes too that station life is boring.
1930-1932  Wenz and Dunne at Nanima, but many trips to Melbourne and aroundthe countryside by car. Wenz continues writing and corresponding with authors. Sends L’Echarde to Chris Brennan.
1933-1934 Wenz and Dunne travel again to France. Wenz’s books included in Melbourne Centenary Book Exhibition.
1935  Nanima hosts French dignatories. Wenz andDunne visit Queensland for relief from ‘lumbago’. In his letters Wenz increasingly gloomy over world political situation.
1936-1938  Nanima’s economic prospects looking up. Wenz corresponds with Miles Franklin, exchanging books for review. Miles Franklin and Frank Clune visit Nanima. Wenz and Dunne travel to France again.
1939-1945  Wenz and Dunne return. Wenz increasingly ill and dies 23rd August. Dunne is ‘heartbroken’ but determined to ‘continue on’ at Nanima and manages the property during the War years.
1946-1949  Nanima affected by returned soldiers land legislation. Dunne decides to leave Nanima and retire to Sydney.
1950-1959 Dunne lives at Hotel Pacific in Manly leaving Nanima in care of manager until her death in 1959. Wenz and Dunne’s collection of books dispersed – Forbes Historical Society taking ‘about 700’ with others going to the Mitchell Library.

1.02 Historical Outline of Paul Wenz, Hettie Dunne and their books

Hettie Wenz nee Dunne and Paul Wenz at Nanima in the 1930s. Photo possibly by nephew Denis Wenz.

Paul andHettie were both born in 1869 on different sidesof the globe. However, they both had something in common – family pastoral interests. Their lives were to merge through the increasingly global connections of colonialism in the late nineteenth century. Paul Wenz’s father commenced a wool-buying business in Rheims, France in 1859. The company commenced business with Australia in 1878, withtheir own wool buyers in both Sydney and Melbourne.[1] Hettie’s full name was Harriet Adela Annette Dunne. She was born in South Australia into a Grazier’s family.[2]

The story of Paul Wenz is relatively well known.[3] Born into a wealthy French Protestant family, he went to an exclusive school in Paris and was then introduced into the family wool-buying business. After various overseas ‘investigative ventures’ for the business, Wenz settled in Australia with a sum of money and apparently with ‘instructions’ from his family to purchase a property – but to visit France every four years.[4]

Wenz seems to have taken the Australian outback to heart and decided to learn station work and ways thoroughly, rather than manage from afar. His experiences as a jackaroo formed a theme in much of his work and the basis of his novel Diary of a New Chum, first published in 1908.

In 1896, while travelling by ship on his second visit to Australia – the voyage to ‘permanently’ settle there – Wenz met Hettie Dunne. From the amount of books in the Wenz Collection that Hettie Dunne bought into their combined library, Paul would have met a well-read and educated woman. Perhaps they met because Hettie spoke French – one of the books in the collection was a school prize awarded to her for her progress in French language.[5] The fact that Hettie was from a grazier’s family may have been significant as well. Unfortunately, the life of Hettie Dunne is less well documented that her husband Paul.

After arriving in Sydney Paul spent time ‘courting’ Hettie who was then in Melbourne. He also built up the station at Nanima before bringing Hettie there. Paul and Hettie were married in 1898, both aged 29. Wenz continued to oversee his family’s wool-broking agency in Melbourne.

Around 1900 Wenz began publishing stories in French magazines under the pseudonym Paul Warrego. 1905 saw Wenz’s first book published A L’autre Bout Du Monde: Aventures et moeurs Australiennes, a collection of sixteen short stories, published in France in French. In 1908 Wenz published Diary of a New Chum in Melbourne.

Wenz wrote and reviewed other author’s work,and translated into French as well. Most of his own work was in French, yet it wasn’t until 1929, when Nettie Palmer wrote in The Bulletin calling for his work to be published in English, that Wenz began to receive a wider English language audience. Ultimately five of his books were published in French with Australian themes. Wenz familiarised France with the classic late nineteenth-early twentieth century Australian outback, in relatively simple language.

The Wenzes worked hard at their property at Nanima, though still travelled overseas a great deal after their marriage. Hettie’s journeys with Paul through Africa and the trans-Siberian railway were quite remarkable for a woman of this time. They travelled through South-east Asia, the Pacific, South America, Africa and Europe extensively.

When the First World War broke out Paul and Hettie were in France and became very active in the War with the Red Cross, at times ferrying wounded during the bombardments. [6] The Wenzes returned to Australia in 1919 and put a great deal of energy into their Nanima property. Paul Wenz wrote extensively from around 1900 till his death in 1939. He remained relatively unknown in Australia, primarily because he chose to write in French.

Hettie survived Paul and lived in ‘retirement’ in Sydney from 1950 to 1959. She was described as being ‘young’ and vibrant even at the age of 80.[7]

In the 1990s the re-publishing of Diary of a New Chum, with ‘other lost stories’ and a selection of Wenz’s correspondence with famous literary figures, created a revival of interest in the life and work of Paul Wenz.[8]

There has been a deal of historiography on Paul Wenz, as he represents a rare figure in Australian literary traditions and in the story of Australian multiculturalism, particularly in regional Australia.[9] Wenz’s associations with other literary figures and important historical characters, such as Lawrence Hargraves, have been emphasised as part of his significance for Australian literary history, as well as Australian history in general. The fact that Wenz was based for thirty years on a rural property in mid-western NSW has always been slightly incongruous to such a well-read literary figure. However, this apparent incongruity is one of the key factors of the importance of Paul Wenz to Australian history.

The influence of Henry Lawson and the Bush Balladists  of 1890-1910 is always present in Wenz’s writings on Australia.[10] Never an outstanding author in his own right, Wenz’s work, as Frank Moorhouse notes, ‘has more to say to us than it’s literary intention’. [11 ]Wenz is part of the Australian Bush literature tradition that is so significant to Australian history, not only in its depictions of the Outback, but in its creation of the Outback in the Australian imagination. The fact that a worldly Frenchman and his worldly Australian wife were part of this is quite important to Australians’ social, cultural and historical understanding.

The place of Hettie Wenz in ‘Wenz’ historiography is sadly overlooked. Hettie appears to have been at home at Nanima just as much as with dinning and conversing with Jack London or Miles Franklin. The role of Hettie in Paul’s literary successes has never been investigated. For someone who read and spoke French and obviously knew a great deal about the Australian Outback, her input into Wenz’s work may have been quite significant. In his published letters Paul often notes his own ‘limitations’ with Australian vernacular or customs, even his English. How much work had Hettie to do with helping Paul here?

The life and work of the Wenzes is a reminder that Australian national memory is founded on cultural diversity and that rural Australia is not always a masculine story of struggle and hardship.

1.03 Paul and Hettie Wenz Book Collection

According to Merrill Findlay’s extensive and detailed catalogue of the collection there are 691 books in total, of which around 100 are in French.[12] Findlay has noted all annotations and inscriptions on the books and, perhaps surprisingly, many are marked as Hettie’s. The collection has been consistently referred to as the ‘Paul Wenz Collection’ or the ‘Wenz Library’. However, at least half the books in the collection are Hettie Wenz’s.

The earliest dated book is 1832 and the latest 1937. The range of the collection is vast and includes an array of diverse titles that reflect the Wenzes broad literary, scientific and travel interests. From items such as Heroes of the west: biographical sketch of modern history (1902) to Wilson’s tales of the borders andof Scotland (1887), to A practical treatise on petroleum (1890), the Wenz collection is an insight into the formation of Paul and Hettie’s tastes, ideas and desires to travel far from Nanima.

Some of the titles are quite mundane, though obviously useful for such world travellers. The Highlands of Scotland: time & fare tables of approaches from all parts and steamer & coach routes in the district (1890) sits alongside such authors as Thackery, Conrad, Voltaire and Shakespeare.

If they were not travelling, Paul and Hettie would have been reading about travel. Their library has many titles that could have either inspired them to travel to exotic locations or helped them reminisce. Early ‘tour guides’, such as Treves’ The cradle of the deep: an account of a voyage to the West Indies (1910), Henry Walsh’s Bonhomme: French-Canadian stories and sketches, (1899) or Michael Shoemaker’s The great Siberian railway from St Petersburg to Peking, (1903) are typical of many travel books in the collection.

The collection also holds many classic nineteenth and early twentieth century literary works, with authors such as Byron, Conrad, Dickens, Hardy, Hugo, Kipling, Maugham, and Stevenson. There are also several volumes of ‘classics’ by philosophers, writers and playwrights, such as Virgil and Shakespeare.

Other titles include ‘classic’ historical works such as Lord McCaulay’s History of England. Archaeological and Mythological titles such as Pitt’s The Tragedy of the Norse Gods show the wide and eclectic nature of the collection.

There are also at least two books that hold valuable semi-autobiogaphical information, such as Paul’s Books I have read, a personal notebook and Hettie’s Birds I have seen – a notebook’. As Merrill Findlay has noted, some of the older books were acquired from the Alliance Francaise Bibliotecque and some were purchased on the Wenz’s travels. Some have notes from people who gave Paul and Hettie books as gifts. Very few have no inscription or annotation at all.

From the dates, titles andvarious inscriptions of the volumes at Forbes library it seems certain the Wenzes’ collection grew from books they brought together when they were married and moved to Nanima. Some books are inscribed ‘Hettie Dunne’ and dated before their marriage and several are inscribed ‘Paul Wenz, Rheims’ prior to 1886. Hettie was obviously well educated and bought with her to Nanima books that she had won as prizes at school. Paul appears to have bought with him to Australia certain ‘classic’ reference texts in French, such as Histoire de L’Europe et particulierement de La France de 1610-1789.

Interestingly, after Paul’s death, Hettie refered to the collection as ‘her books’, adding weight to the suggestion the collection is, and was thought of as a shared collection by Paul and Hettie.

When Hettie died in 1959 her will stipulated that the trustees of the Mitchell Library receive ‘such of my books as they or their representatives may select for the purposes of the Library’. In July 1959 the secretary of the Forbes District Historical Society ‘bought back a sizeable collection of books from the library at Nanima for Forbes Public Library’. Importantly, according to a local newspaper report, this was ‘in addition to about 700 which the Forbes Council recently obtained from the estate, after the Mitchell Library of NSW had first taken over the main portion of the late Mr Wenz’s remarkable collection’.[13]

There is a unnamed and undated report in the Forbes Library Wenz file that suggests Wenz first donated books to the ‘Peyton Bridge School Library’, a school near Nanima. [14] Another article in the Forbes Advocate suggests he donated land for the Peyton’s Bridge school and ‘founded a library there’. [15] It is unclear whether the ‘Nanima Library’ referred to is Peyton’s Bridge library or the Wenz library on the property Nanima.

Hettie’s will also stipulated that all French language books not selected for the Mitchell Library be sent to the ‘Fathers of the Catholic Mission at Yule Island’ (Papua New Guinea) [16]. It is unclear whether these volumes were, indeed, sent, or whether they are the French titles still in the Collection.

The files in the Mitchell Library that dealt with the transfer of books to the Mitchell (then the Public Library of NSW) shed a deal of light on the break up of the Wenz Collection after Hettie’s death in 1959.

Interestingly, the Public Library of NSW (PLNSW) representative estimated there were 2,000 volumes at Nanima when he visited on 11th June 1959. The representative selected;

approximately 650 volumes for the PLNSW. These consisted of French classics, a quantity of Australiana of value, and a general assortment of books on a variety of subjects.

The representative continues;

For the Missionary Fathers at Yule Island I selected approximately 190 volumes. These were all in French and of no interest to the PLNSW. Approximately 1,160 books were not selected. [17]

The Public Library valued the books they received at 150-300 pounds.

Several interesting points arise from this file. According to notes from the Perpetual Trustees company directing Hettie’s will, all of the remaining French books in the collection were meant to go to Yule. This did not obviously happen, as there are titles in French at the Mitchell and at Forbes Library.

There appears to be approximately 540 books unaccounted for. If there were 2,000 books originally, and if the Mitchell received 650 (plus a ‘box’ from Christies – which may have been 30 volumes, as a count of the titles listed in the Mitchell file makes 682 rather than 650), and if 190 went to Yule and 690 remain at Forbes, there are approximately 540 books that not accounted for. [18]


In the only published mention of the Wenz Collection, Maurice Blackmann describes Paul Wenz’s library as ‘a library of the great writers’. This is not correct on two counts; the Wenz Collection is not solely a collection of ‘great writers’ but includes many travel books, etc. It is also, in great part, Hettie’s collection.

Wenz mentions the books he was reading at the time in several letters. It would be interesting to collate all these and see if they survive in the current collection. There is also a Books I Have Read scrapbook at the Forbes museum. Although this is an important tangible link with the collection, unfortunately it is not complete and only covers a short time-frame.

Interestingly, Paul Wenz described his own reading as ‘a hotchpotch, a Bombay curry’. He wrote to friend and French author Andre Gide and suggested to Gide he would ‘be shocked at my (Wenz’s) intellectual nourishment… some Bret Harte, some Tristan Bernard, some Shakespeare and some Leon Frapie!’.


1. Letter from Claude Gonin, Wenz’s nephew, April 1993. Forbes Historical Society Archives. On Paul and Hettie’s marriage certificate, Paul described his father as a ‘Wool Merchant’. Hettie described her father as a ‘late Grazier’.

2. Marriage certificate of Paul Wenz and Hettie Dunne, Forbes Library Archives Wenz File.

3. Wenz has an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Oxford Companion to Australian literature. His life and work is outlined in many newspaper articles and several French works including Jean-Paul Delamotte’s Paul Wenz: A la Recherche du Ecrivain Perdu. The re-publishing of probably his most famous book, Diary of a New Chum also includes an outline of his life and some of his correspondence with significant historical individuals.

4. According to Erica Wolf in ‘Paul Wenz and Australia’, Le Courrier Australien, 1969.

5. One of the collection books, Mildred’s mistake: still-life study is inscribed in French; ‘Presenter a Mademoiselle Henrietta Dunne …. Pour la progres dans la langue Francaise, Francoise McDowell’ (1877).

6. Forbes Advocate 22nd November 1918.

7. Letter from Claude Gonin, Wenz’s nephew, April 1993. Forbes Historical Society Archives.

8. Paul Wenz, Diary of a New chum and Other Lost Stories, Maurice Blackman editor, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1990 (1908).

9. Frank Moorhouse describes Wenz as having an ‘exceptional place in our literary history’. Frank Moorhouse, ‘Reading Paul Wenz’ in Diary of a New Chum and Other Lost Stories (1990), p1.

10. Maurice Blackman ‘A French-Australian Writer’ in Diary of a New Chum and Other Lost Stories (1990), p13.

11. Frank Moorhouse, ‘Reading Paul Wenz’ in Diary of a New Chum and Other Lost Stories (1990), p1.

12. Merrill Findlay ‘Paul and Hettie Wenz Collection – Catalogue of Titles, Forbes Library, NSW’ 2004.

13. Forbes Advocate 7th July 1959. The article also notes Wenz’s collecting habits and his ‘souveniers and antiques from all over the world’ which it described as ‘little short of a museum’.

14. Forbes Library Wenz file. Na, Nd., circa 1980.

15. Forbes Advocate nd circa 1960 Forbes Library Wenz File.

16. According to Merrill Findlay

17. ‘Wenz Collection’ Mitchell Library File.

18. Paul Wenz letter to Andre Gide 24 September 1911 in in Diary of a New Chum and Other Lost Stories (1990), p146.

Leave a Reply