Mabel Forrest did not grow up with a londing to become a writer, nor did she have 'a message' which inspired her to try to right the wrings of society through her writings. She wrote 'for bread', to earn a living and economic independence for herself and her daughter. She had been deceived into marriage, ill-treated and eventually deserted by her first husband John Burkinshaw, whom she divorced in 1902. Within a few months she married John Forrest, fifty-six years old, who was prepared to accept the role ef protector to the thirty- year-old Mabel, and adoptive father to Kathleen, aged eight. John Forrest died in 1921.
To Mabel Forrest writing verse and stories had been a favourite pastime for most of her life, and she set about making her hobby into a professional career. She decided to write for the 'general reader' in the pages of newspapers and magazines. To ensure that editors would continue accepting - and paying for - her work, she wrote at first what she believed would please or interest her chosen audience, gradually extending her range of subject matter and genre in accordance with perceived demand or editorial advice. She planned and carried out her programme so successfully that for thirty years she was acclaimed by critics and fellow-writers as well as ordinary readers, and during the twenties Mabel Forrest was recognized as a 'celebrity'. She inspired genuine affection as well as admiration in those she described as her 'literary admirers', from whom she received hundreds of letters every year. In 1921, when the Queensland Authors' and Artists' Association was founded, Mabel Forrest was one of the four founding Vice-Presidents, and the only woman on the committee for the first two years (at least). In 1930 she was described as Queensland's 'Civic Poet', and in 1933 as the State's 'Unofficial Laureate'. In 1927 she was invited to join the London Society ef Authors after the release of Hibiscus Heart
, the third of her novels published in England. In Queensland Mabel Forrest was elected a Life Member of the Queensland Press Institute in 1933, as a 'token of recognition' of her 'standing in the world of literature'.
Early examples of her verse and short stories have been traced in the Stanthorpe Border Post
, The Queenslander, the Sydney Bulletin,
the Melbourne Australasian
and the Brisbane Courier
, during the period 1895 to 1901. From 1902 until 1934 she contributed poems, stories, journal articles and leader articles in a wide variety of publications in Australia, New Zealand, England and the U.S.A. Nine novels were published in serial form in various papers and journals in the eastern states, and one of these later became Mabel Forrest's greatest publishing success. The Wild Moth
, serialized in the Melbourne Age
in 1914, was published in England by Cassell in 1924. The first edition sold out within three weeks of release and was immediately reprinted. A new edition was published in 1927. During 1925 The Wild Moth
was adapted by Charles Chauvel to make his first film, The Moth af Moombi,
hailed as 'an All-Queensland production'.
Beginning im 1893, Mabel Forrest's published books include five volumes of verse or verse and prose; one volume of short stories; five novels published in England, one novel published in NSW in the Bookstall series; and the letterpress for a special Brisbane booklet in the Art in Australia
series. In addition, Forrest verse and stories appeared in severed anthologies as well as the Queensland School Readers and School Papers. Between 1924 and 1932 she had averaged one published book each year.
In April 1930, when Mabel Forrest's most successful occasional piece "The City Ball", was read at the Opening Ceremony in Brisbane, the Great Depression had already begun to affect the lives of Mabel Forrest and her family.
The professional achievement of Mabel Forrest was that she fulfilled her determination to earn for herself and Kathleen financial independence through her writing. She succeeded in making her hobby a career. But the last five years of her life are in tragic contrast to the days when she was at the height of her literary and social success. Mabel Forrest, suffered financial difficulties, chronic illness and mental depression, and attempted suicide in December 1934. She died in Goodna Mental Hospital in March 1935. Her name has not rated even a mention in recent books and articles on journalism, women writers and poets, but a study of her life and works suggests that Mabel Forrest deserves to be remembered with her contemporaries in the literary history of Australia.