Child of the Hurricane, KS Prichard

There are no covers of this book on the web, that I could find, so I had to photograph my own, which as you can see has plastic over the dustjacket, courtesy of my father I guess who gave it to me 10 years ago. First edition, very good condition, I hope the kids look after it.

Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969) was born in Levuka, Fiji during a tropical storm. ‘..natives gazed in awe at the baby the hurricane had left in its wake, “Na Luve ni Cava,” they exclaimed. “She is a child of the hurricane.”‘ This sets the tone for this autobiography, which for all that KSP is a competent writer, reads like a journalistic colour piece.

Thirty years earlier, Prichard’s father’s family had migrated to Australia on the same ship, the Eldorado, as her mother’s family, the Frasers. My mum’s family, the Nixons, came to Melbourne the same year, 1852, on the Castle Eden (Out of Plymouth. The Eldorado sailed from Liverpool). Both the Prichards and the Frasers stayed in Melbourne (the Nixons went up to the gold fields at Maldon) and began inter-marrying.

KSP never asked her father about his young years. He said that he was “apprenticed to a saddler and ran away when the job didn’t suit him.” In any case he read widely and began writing. Around 1868 – and Prichard is infuriating in not dating much of what happens in this book – Tom “went adventuring to the South Seas, and returned to Melbourne after many years”, perhaps 15, during which time he had owned and wrecked a schooner and “become a person of some importance” on Fiji as editor of the Fiji Times.

KSP’s mother, Edith Isabel Fraser was born in Melbourne and was brought up in the Fraser family home, a rambling. colonial style house in ‘North Road’ (probably East Brighton). She would have been in her teens, maybe 15, when Tom left and approaching 30 when he returned to marry her. They lived on Fiji for another three or four years, during which time Edith bore three children, Katharine, Alan and Nigel, and then returned to Melbourne, initially to the welcoming Fraser house, and had more kid(s).

I’m not interested in all the cute things young Kat did as a child, just the influences that made her a writer, and her father’s restlessness which spoiled her education. In the late 1880s (I’m guessing) Tom Prichard was editor and feature writer for the Sun, the family lived near grandmother’s, and KSP began school. Tom’s next job was in Launceston, Tasmania. The family lived well, and happily – illustrated by excerpts from The Wild Oats of Han (1928), clearly the story of her childhood, and I think, her first novel, though not the first published. When that job failed, the Prichards were sold up and returned to Melbourne, again, to live on the charity of the family, until eventually Tom found work again.

KSP’s first short story had already “appeared in the children’s page of a Melbourne newspaper” and on her return to Melbourne, another, That Brown Boy, won a prize.

Although Father did not take my efforts at story writing at all seriously, Mother began to give me books to read which, no doubt, she thought would develop any literary talent I might have.

She gave me Tennyson’s Idylly’s of the King, Keat’s Endymion and other poems, Longfellow’s Evangeline, Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh, Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies, Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, some of Scott’s and Dicken’s novels, Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.

There is no mention of her reading let alone being influenced by the generation of Australian women writers who preceded her, although by the 1890s Tasma for instance was very well known with Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill (1889); Ada Cambridge was also writing in Melbourne; as were Catherine Martin and Mary Gaunt; Rosa Praed was well known, at least in England; and you’d think the wonderful Clara Morrison (1854) by Catherine Helen Spence was still around.

And with the turn of the century we have Barbara Baynton and Miles Franklin. But only minor novelist and poet Mary Fullerton gets a mention, later on, when they meet in connection with the suffrage movement.

After a spell at home helping Mother with a new baby (Bee/Beatrice) KSP wins a scholarship to South Melbourne College, for two or three years up to matriculation (Miles Franklin was angry about her schooling). She was happy at school and did well, editing the school magazine in her final year (following on from ‘Elsie Cole‘ whom I had to look up). The following year, instead of preparing for university, she again stayed home, with her mother who was ill, and then at age 19 “I went off … to be governess to a doctor’s children in South Gippsland [at Yarram, east of Melbourne]. It was an adventure into life, away from books.” This was to be the location for her first published novel, The Pioneers (1915).

My next governessing took me to a station in the back country of New South Wales. The story of this was told in Letters from the back of Beyond, written on the station … the New Idea paid £20 for them. A fabulous sum it seemed in those days…

The Letters are nothing if not a revelation of how young and foolish I was. They even referred to the aborigines* as “niggers”, unforgivable to my way of thinking later, and showed no understanding of the rights of working people, merely reflecting a station-owner’s attitude towards strikers..

You get the impression that KSP, much as did Nathan Hobby half a century later, thought her ‘life’ was worth three volumes, and so we make our way easily through becoming a journalist, travelling, working in London, the onset of the War, meeting Hugo Throssell VC and then, all of a sudden, the second and third volumes, marriage, Perth, novels, communism, Hugo’s death, must be be packed into a final chapter.

An entertaining read, informative about her early years in a chatty way but which left me wishing she’d at least written the second volume, about her middle years and the literary and political theory which informed her writing.


I know you all want to know. I checked in with Nathan Hobby and he wrote back: “The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard due out April [2022]. Currently in proofs, takes many months to print a hardcover .. I must have read CotH more times than any other book in my life”

.

Katharine Susannah Prichard, Child of the Hurricane, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1964. 266pp.

see also:
Nathan Hobby’s review (here)
Other KSP reviews, AWW Gen 3 page (here)
That Brown Boy (here). The Federalist, Launceston, Sat 15 April 1899, by ‘Katharine Tudor’


*Aborigines – should be capitalized. See Blak, Black, Blackfulla, Jack Latimore, the Age, 30 Aug, 2021

33 thoughts on “Child of the Hurricane, KS Prichard

    • I don’t know how it is for the writers, but all I’m reading at the moment is writers’ lives, fictionalized and non-fictionalized (if there’s any difference). I’ve been listening to Fear of Flying today while I work and it’s difficult to imagine what Prichard would have felt about that level of self-absorption.

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      • I have a vague idea that I started FoF and gave up…
        But it’s not just self-absorption. Probably because I wish i knew more about my parents’ lives, I thought I would do a private memoir for The Offspring, and really, it’s hard. I’ve had an interesting life, but even so, it’s difficult to remember everything that someone else might think is relevant or interesting, and then there’s the problem of what weight to give certain events and relationships and how to weigh the truth of things as well. As for working out what influences there might have been, I’m clearer about what *didn’t* influence me…
        And then, as you say, the whole self-absorption side of it becomes unendurable.

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  1. I agree about wishing to know more about our parents’ lives. Then it sprung into my head that in his retirement dad did write a short memoir, just for us boys, and all I can remember now is how angry it made me. Still, you probably should write something for the offspring, maybe a series of essays about different things you did (or thought).

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    • I had cause to reread my post on The Second Place this morning and this quote from the book has been in my head since…then I read your post again and the comments, and it seems like the quote was meant to be put right here…
      “I believe that as a rule children don’t care for their parents’ truths and have long since made up their own minds, or have formulated false beliefs from which from which they can never be persuaded, since their whole conception of reality is founded on them.”
      I wonder if our desire to know more about our parents lives or grandparents, is more about us than about them, therefore we will always be disappointed/angered/upset by what we learn. We’re searching perhaps, for our origin story rather than theirs?

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    • I couldn’t get a grip on that rushed final chapter at all. It’s possible she originally finished at the end of the War and her publisher told her to add something about her married life (which ended with the suicide of her husband while she was away in Russia). Then again, she was 80 when it came out and maybe she just ran out of steam.

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  2. On writing your own memoir, I found some attempts by Mum on her computer after she died, but she didn’t get very far. Some interesting tidbits, but I think it’s really hard for all the reasons Lisa says, and also, perhaps , because it’s hard to be honest about things that are important to understanding your life but that might hurt others?

    I was interested in your comment “There is no mention of her reading let alone being influenced by the generation of Australian women writers who preceded her”. I wonder if that was part of the old cultural cringe. Or, she may have read them but didn’t think they were worth commenting on? A mystery that may never be answered – then again, Nathan might have found references by her to Aussie authors elsewhere. We’ll have to wait and see!

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    • I’ve asked Nathan in the past, and at that stage he agreed there was no evidence (of KSP reading Australian women). It’s really not possible that she was unaware of them, though of course they wouldn’t have been included in any reading she did for school. (In fact it’s quite possible that no Australian woman author was read in Australian schools, or universities, before say the 1980s).

      KSP’s friendship with Hilda Bull/Esson and Nettie Higgins/Palmer connected her pretty firmly to the Australian literary scene, but on my reading she pretty much glosses over it (the lit. scene, not the friendship).

      Nathan was expecting this post, so if he’s not too disappointed by it I assume he’ll comment sooner or later.

      Did you read That Brown Boy? I corrected the OCR but was unable to delete unnecessary blank lines. As I say, the story was in the Launceston Federalist (and I don’t know if that was Tom’s old paper) but it references the Sun, which was Tom’s paper before Launceston, but I couldn’t find it.

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  3. It’s interesting that she uses this memoir to reflect on what she found unacceptable about her previous attitudes, as revealed in her letters – I feel like it’s quite rare for people writing their memoirs to be that self-aware and brutally honest.

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    • Although they didn’t unemploy her I think the station owners were unhappy with the ‘Letters’, for the opposite reason, that the stuff she wrote put them in a bad light. By the time she wrote this she’d been 50 years a Communist and was probably quite unhappy with or embarrassed by her young unthinkingly conservative self.

      Nathan Hobby, who I’ve referred to here, has just got his PhD (here in WA) with a biography of KSP. We have all known him for years as a blogger, though he has gone quiet since he and his wife had kids. His book when it comes out next year will tell us a lot more about her, including I guess whether those lines you refer to were a response to criticism.

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  4. Ah I always want to read about an author on writing, literary influences etc – a shame she didn’t get to that. I recently bought a book by KSP’s biographer about being a biographer!

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    • I can’t imagine who that biographer might be. The only one I know is her son Ric Throssell. Though Nathan Hobby whom I’ve mentioned a few times above wrote his thesis on the subject of writing a biography, as well as actually writing a biography!

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  5. I once had a friend who lived in Fiji for a time while he mom was a visiting professor. They traveled for years like that before I met her when she was 15. She recalled that the biggest problem with living in Fiji was that every day you have to come home and wipe mold off of everything. As an adult, I’m now wondering how anyone could breathe if there was mold everywhere, but when I was a teen it made sense. Fiji is nothing if not humid all the time.

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  6. It’s not easy to read The Wild Oats of Han in its serial form, but it was worth it, but it made me wonder if that’s how KSP also read other Australian women writers.

    I suspect the women’s magazines regularly published their work in serial form. As I was trawling my way through the editions to find the next instalment of TWOOH, other stories tempted me as I flicked by. Only a very few would have gone on to become published authors with actual books.

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  7. Like you, I would be most interested in the parts of her life that leaned towards the writer-ly, but I suppose there are other readers who would be least interested in that. I still have her trilogy on my shelves to read. It was on the list for this year, but…it might not happen in 2021 after all. It’s wonderful that you have that lovely edition and so carefully tended to with its cover as well.

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    • I really love books as objects, but I buy them more or less at random so it’s always a pleasant surprise when they turn out to be collectible (my brother gave me a couple of similar vintage Australian hardbacks for my birthday. I imagine that he went to rather more trouble than I do).
      As for writerly, Nathan’s comment below is apposite.

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  8. Thanks for the review, the link, and the update Bill!
    You raise some really good points about Child of the Hurricane. KSP thought Beatrice Davis at Angus and Robertson liked it (because she accepted it for publication) but a note in the files records Davis’s disappointment at its ‘ordinariness’. KSP evades a lot of the important things and belabours a lot of trivia. Yet I think it’s a fascinating document. On the Australian writers, she did read My Brilliant Career soon after it was published and the influence is clear on her serial A City Girl in Central Australia (1906, New Idea). Worth a mention in this autobiography, I think. But really she wanted to write about her father. It would have been too painful to try to write at length about Hugo and his death, so I guess she left it where she did – took her thirteen years to write that much.

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    • Thanks Nathan. I think you’d have struggled if you didn’t find it “fascinating”. I found her father really frustrating. KSP seems to hint that she did too. He seems to have been very complacent/smug about those years KSP missed school and stayed home to care for her mother. On the other hand, being forced into the real world may have been the making of her as a writer – compared with say Nettie Higgins/Palmer, who did go on to uni, which seems to have made her too academic, a critic rather than a writer.

      I would really like a compendium of newspaper/magazine stories written by famous Australian authors. I don’t think any of MF’s have ever been published separately though I suppose you will tell me there’s a collection that includes The Brown Boy and A City Girl in Central Australia.

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  9. I hadn’t heard of KSP before, but I enjoyed getting to know her a bit.
    My husband’s family are Frasers. I wonder what caused one group of Frasers to sail to Australia and another to sail to Canada… I would love to know things I can never know.

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  10. […] …for all that KSP is a competent writer [this autobiography] reads like a journalistic colour piece. …You get the impression that KSP …thought her ‘life’ was worth three volumes, and so we make our way easily through becoming a journalist, travelling, working in London, the onset of the War, meeting Hugo Throssell VC and then, all of a sudden, the second and third volumes, marriage, Perth, novels, communism, Hugo’s death, must be  packed into a final chapter….An entertaining read, informative about her early years in a chatty way but which left me wishing she’d at least written the second volume, about her middle years and the literary and political theory which informed her writing. (Review here) […]

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