Passionate Friends: Mary Fullerton, Mabel Singleton & Miles Franklin

passionate friends sylvia martin miles franklin mary fullerton
Image: Queer Oz Folk Facebook.

Passionate Friends: the friendship between Miles Franklin, fellow writer Mary Fullerton and Mary’s life-long companion Mabel Singleton.

Nearly 70 years after her death, her classic novel My Brilliant Career and the annual Miles Franklin Award ensure the literary legacy of Miles Franklin lives on.

However, her friend Mary Fullerton, although widely published during her life, is little-known today. Suffragettes Mary Fullerton and Mabel Singleton met in Melbourne in the early 1900s and fell in love. However, Mabel was married and in 1911, gave birth to a son. But following the death of her elderly husband, Mabel and Mary spent the rest of their lives together. They moved to London in 1922.

Miles Franklin

In London, they began a lifelong friendship with fellow expatriate Miles Franklin. When she returned to Australia, the three maintained their friendship via snail mail.

Author Sylvia Martin based Passionate Friends on the papers of the three women held by the Mitchell Library. Miles Franklin donated over 800 letters between herself and Mary Fullerton to the library. She also encouraged Mary’s sisters to gift her diaries and family correspondence. However, that only occurred after one of the sisters censored letters she thought ‘unsuitable’.

Although Mary’s and Mabel’s relationship was obviously lesbian, Sylvia Martin did not possess ‘proof’. Deniers of queer history will accept the fact a woman once passed a man in the street as proof of her heterosexuality. But claim she’s a lesbian and you better have video footage and signed affidavits from multiple crowned heads of Europe

However, Sylvia Martin discovered that Mabel’s son and daughter-in-law also contributed to the Mitchell Library collections: a box of previously unknown love poems written by Mary for Mabel from 1910 until the 1940s.


Take me by the hand love
Take me by the hand
Touch is more than word love
To make me understand.

Kiss me on the face dear
Kiss me on the brow
There is revelation
Where is puzzle now.

Speech has tried to tell me
Eyes are but a veil
Touch me with your hand love
Else my life must fail.

Touch will find it surely
What other senses miss
Tell me with your hand love
Tell me by your kiss.

Sylvia Martin uncovers one of Australia’s great love stories — but a story previously little known. I’d tell you more except Sylvia has already told it so well, so check out the book.

Passionate Friends is published by the Queer Oz Folk imprint of independent publisher Interventions. Find more publications and retail outlets at Queer Oz Folk Facebook.

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