For many months a charming illustration of a fairy child and a kookaburra has graced the walls of the Library’s Cowen Gallery in the exhibition Once upon a time: a world of children’s picture book art. The decoration is based on an illustration by Victorian artist Ethel Jackson Morris (1895–1985), who published her first book at just seventeen. 

Once upon a time exhibition
The illustration in the Once upon a time exhibition. Andrew Lloyd, photographer

Ethel Morris Jackson published her first book All among the fairies in 1909. The publication was underwritten by her father, James Jackson Morris. The family owned several properties including a successful Jersey stud at Clarendon Eyre, a well-known property in Bulleen near the Yarra River, and Morris Jackson’s childhood home, also called Clarendon Eyre, in Malvern.

The cover page for 'All among the fairies '
The cover of All among the fairies

Supported by her family Ethel studied painting and drawing at the National Gallery School Art School from 1910 until 1920. During this time she exhibited with the Victorian Artists’ Society alongside other notable fantasy illustrators such as Harold Gaze and Ethel Spowers. In 1915 Jackson Morris contributed decorations and an illustration to Dame Nellie Melba’s gift book of Australian Art & Literature.

The illustration in Dame Nellie Melba’s gift book
The illustration in Dame Nellie Melba’s gift book.

1921 was a high point of Ethel’s career; she held a solo exhibition of her work at the Fine Art Society’s Gallery, Melbourne and released a gift book The White Butterfly and other fairy tales. The illustrations and stories in the book were compared with May Gibbs, ‘We fall in love as deeply with fairy-tales of Ethel Morris Jackson, as with the quaint adventures told by Miss Gibbs” (Adam McKay, Sydney Sunday Times, December 1921, p. 23). The public and critics welcomed the Australian flavor of Ethel Morris Jackson’s fairy world.

In May 1922 Morris Jackson travelled overseas. She visited Paris and in London she attended classes at the Royal Academy of Art. It may have been this period that she met her future husband, Captain John Overton, who she later married in Sydney in 1930.  Ethel settled in Sydney after her return home in 1923, and while she continued to describe herself as an artist, the record thus far remains silent on her later career.

The fairy child and a kookaburra decoration is based on the original work, ‘Wood Nymph and the Kookaburra’ by Jackson, which is held in the Scholastic Dromkeen Children’s Literature Collection.

Written by Ann Carew, Exhibitions Curator.


Bronwyn Wilson, Ethel Morris Jackson – a significant acquisition for Dromkeen, in The Dromkeen Society Bulletin, December 2008, page 5.

Exhibition of water colour and pen-and-ink drawings by Ethel Jackson Morris, 8th November to 19th November, 1921, exhibition catalogue.

Robert Holden, A Golden Age, A Treasury of Australian Children’s Fantasy Classics, Pymble, N.S.W,  Angus & Robertson, 1992





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