Joe and Mary Wilson live an isolated life in the outback of New South Wales. Their infant son Jim begins to "take convulsions." Jim turns into a sickly child who appears to be "too old fashioned" to survive in this word. After the three-year-old boy has spent a month with his mother's sister, he and Joe begin the two-day trek home. The boy becomes ill while they are camping overnight, and Joe, terrified that his son is going to die, carries him to "Brighten's sister-in-law," who lives in the only homestead in the area. She nurses the boy, who survives.


Henry Lawson was an Australian short story writer whose innovative approach to writing is very similar to that of his Russian contemporary, Anton P. Chekhov. (However, Lawson was unfamiliar with Chekhov's work, which had not been translated into English at the time.) Lawson was one of the first writers to focus on the Australian outback and the people who lived there.

While he celebrated the Australian virtues of toughness and mateship, he also emphasized the country's harshness and its ability to damage the human spirit. Today's critics understand that he was writing about the "dark side" of the Australian experience.

"Brighten's Sister-in-Law" is one of a series of Joe Wilson stories that appeared in Joe Wilson and His Mates (1901), which along with Lawson's earlier collection While the Billy Boils (1896), contains the author's best work. Like Chekhov, Lawson never published a novel. Again like Chekhov, he was more interested in portraying character and interpersonal dynamics, than in developing plot.


First published in Joe Wilson and His Mates (1901).

Primary Source

The Penguin Henry Lawson Short Stories


Penguin Australia

Place Published

Ringwood, Victoria, Australia




John Barnes

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