Tarella down a Rabbit Hole

Journal: 079

When Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969) went up to Tarella Station – north of Wilcannia in the deserts of far western NSW – in 1905 to be governess for a year, she was to find herself not the only writer sitting down to dinner each night. Tarella was owned by E. Quin, and his oldest daughter, Tarella, but universally called Ella, six years older than KSP, was already a published author.

This came up when I was reading KSP’s autobiography Child of the Hurricane but I was reminded of it more recently during a few drinks with KSP biographer Nathan Hobby, and decided to follow it up.

Searching on Trove for ‘Tarella’ brings up some references to the station (for instance, here) but searching on Ella’s pen name ‘James Adare’ brings up a number of stories published in the two or three years before KSP’s year on the station. So , for instance ‘How the Mighty are Fallen’, a funny story about a Bishop on an outback station who goes missing each evening (Queenslander, 30 Apr 1904).

KSP herself wrote a fictionalized and highly romantic account of her journey to and stay on Tarella, in the form of letters to her mother, ‘A City Girl in Central Australia’, serialized over six issues of New Idea the following year (1906). Sadly, Trove doesn’t seem to have New Idea, and the extensive AWWC story archive has no Prichard at all (She’s under copyright until 2039).

In her only mention of Ella’s writing, KSP is pretty dismissive, and there is no hint they ever compared notes. Tarella Quin subsequently had some children’s stories published plus two adult novels, A Desert Rose (1912) and Kerno: A Stone (1914),.

There was another ‘connection’ between Ella and KSP. Ella’s younger sister, Hazel was in the same year at PLC* Melbourne as Hilda Bull (and Nettie Palmer), and Hilda was KSP’s next door neighbour, best friend, and former primary school classmate. The Quin family had a second property on the edge of the Dandenongs, on the outskirts of Melbourne where they would often spend the summer – and in fact KSP returned home with them after the summer of 1904/5 – but it is not recorded that KSP knew the Quins prior to being employed.

Also in that PLC year was Ida Rentoul, the ‘fairy’ illustrator who went on to illustrate at least one of Tarella’s children’s books, Gum Tree Brownie and Other Faerie Folk of the Never-Never (1907). Years ago when I wrote about Ida’s older sister Annie, I gave her the writing credit for Gum Tree Brownie. Of course I no longer have the source for that. Annie Rattray Rentoul went on to Melbourne University and then returned to PLC as a teacher. A reader of that post gives this sad postscript to Rentoul’s life

Back in 1978, [unnamed] worked at Mont Park Psychiatric Hospital. There was a patient there named Annie Rentoul. Annie was mocked by the patients and some of the staff when she said that she was an author. She went everywhere with a huge handbag. The handbag was often hidden by other patients and uncaring staff, causing her great distress.

I spent weeks researching Annie’s claim of being an author. Ida Rentoul-Outhwaite was easier to find; she was a formerly well known children’s book illustrator. Eventually I found the information; Annie wrote the words; Ida painted the illustrations.

I remember being so excited and couldn’t wait to let Annie know what I had found, but … Annie had died a few days earlier.

I wept for this poor woman who was treated so unkindly in a huge mental health institution.

Madeline Keil, 8 Oct 2018

The last rabbit hole brought up by searching ‘Tarella’ that I want to mention is a quest by the Age (Melbourne) in 1933 to name The Fifty Best Australian Novels. This story was written up by Vivian Smith, in the Australian Literary Studies Journal, 1 Oct 1989.

Following a piece in the Age in Feb, 1933 on the Fifty Best Modern English Novels, readers were asked to write in with their 50 best Australians. Such is the sad state of our knowledge of our own literature, that the staff writer (editor?) begins with:

At first sight it would appear to be a difficult task to choose the fifty best Australian novels published since 1900. Memories of For the Term of His Natural Life, The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn, Robbery Under Arms and a few others float before the mind: one is tempted to conclude that fifty genuinely Australian novels have not been published. Such, however, is far from the truth. Here is a list of over forty novelists whose work, produced since 1900, may legitimately claim consideration on its merits as being more or less permanent contributions to English literature [my underlines].

Unexpectedly, the women appear to make the more impressive showing. Pride of place may perhaps be given to Katharine Susannah Prichard, who has claims to be considered our greatest present-day novelist.

No.s 1 and 2 on his list are KSP’s Working Bullocks and Coonardo; then, 3. M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built; 4,5,6 the three books of Henry Handel Richardson’s, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney; followed by 7. either Maurice Guest or The Getting of Wisdom; 8. Helen de Guerry Simpson “with her gigantic novel” Boomerang; 9,10. Dorothy Cottrell’s Singing Gold and Earth Battle; 11, 12. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career and Old Blastus of Bandicoot; and 13. Mrs Aeneas Gunn, We of the Never Never; before we get to any guys.

I’ll list the first 15 (authors) of the first letter writer, because they are interesting (ie. I largely agree with them): 1. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career; 2. Tom Collins [Joseph Furphy], Such is Life; 3. Louis Stone, Jonah; 4. Barbara Baynton, Human Toll; 5. AB Paterson, An Outback Marriage; 6. KS Prichard, The Pioneers; 7. HH Richardson, Maurice Guest; 8. Arthur Adams, The Australians; 9. Brent of Bin Bin, Up the Country; 10. Bernard Cronin, Bracken; 11. Ion Idriess, Madman’s Island; 12. Velia Ercole, No Escape; 13. FD Davidson, Man Shy; 14. DH Lawrence, Kangaroo; 15. DH Lawrence and Molly Skinner, The Boy in the Bush.

Yes, Vance Palmer does get a run, but well back in the field; and also Martin Mills [Martin Boyd] for The Montforts; Henry Lawson, Joe Wilson and his Mates; and Dulcie Deamer, As It Was in the Beginning; along with quite a few others now long forgotten. The two most prominent women to miss out were Rosa Praed, Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land (1915), and Ada Cambridge, Sisters (1904). Eleanor Dark, Christina Stead, Dymphna Cusack, Kylie Tennant were still a year or two away from sweeping all before them.

To end, one discursive correspondent who wins me with “a single book, a masterpiece in its way, Such is Life, by Tom Collins”, has the sentence which captured my search: “Prominent Australian novels of more recent years have been Deadman’s, by Mary Gaunt, Kerno, a Stone, by Tarella Quin, Boomerang, by Helen Simpson, Black Opal and Working Bullocks, by perhaps the ‘livest’ of our novelists, Katharine Prichard …”


You are no doubt wondering, where’s Dragan? He hasn’t rung me again, and perhaps really only had me in mind for covering the serious shortfall in drivers willing to put up with crossing the Nullarbor and the constant commitment to Covid testing and isolation that requires. We’ll see.

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Nathan Hobby, The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard, due out from Melbourne University Press, 3 May 2022.

PLC. Presbyterian Ladies College, Melbourne. See also: The Getting of Wisdom, Henry Handel Richardson

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18 thoughts on “Tarella down a Rabbit Hole

  1. Maybe Dragan knew we were talking about him on your blog. Woops. Are you saying you’re not doing any work right now? That seems impossible given that all I hear about his trucker driver shortages the world over.

    Posts like these make me wonder if in a different life you would have been a wonderfully interested research assistant of some sort. I’m not sure if you would care to sit and write the whole book, but you seem to like the digging around like an archaeologist that comes with finding more information about writers and piecing together their relationships.

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    • Dragan rang me in between writing and posting, got me to do a load 750 kms up the coast, another new mine, 50 kms off the highway down a dirt track. But I’ll be home soon and back at my desk.

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    • I do like digging around. Whether I’d stick at it long enough to be a reliable assistant is another matter. If I’d had enough money to retire early – and I thought I would at one stage. but a very localized property slump did me down – then I may have gone on to a PhD, and put my research skills such as they are to good use. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour as much as I enjoy writing them up.

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  2. I love the detailed work you do and am sure you could put together some of these posts into a book that would be very much appreciated! Which is what GTL is saying, isn’t it!

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    • Looking into background data like this gives me a different angle to come from. I do sometimes think of those postmodern books where an old author is given an imagined life. David Lodge wrote one on HG Wells and I think there was a new one, on Wells, out recently. I have one in mind about a trans-Australia road trip two WA women writers took in a strange military vehicle, meeting along the way Kim Scott’s grandmother and KSP (who’s everywhere at the moment) but that will probably end up as a blog post too.

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  3. What a very interesting post!
    I’ve found Tarella Quin in the Oxford Companion. Do you have it? If not, I’ll type out the entry in a comment, it’s not all that long.

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    • Thank you Lisa. Nice of you to say so. I’m home with the Oxford Companion now – “also wrote under married name, Daskien”; “reminiscent of Lewis Carroll” (!); short ‘appreciation’ of her life by Paul Depasquale (1981).
      Doesn’t make it into HM Green.

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    • I searched Trove on ‘Daskien’ and found that ‘Daskien & Hawkes sold 5 properties in the West Darling to the Cattle King, Kidman, for 100,000 pounds. But TM Daskien remained prominent in the area. One story about Daskien buying a racehorse from NZ. And a couple about Mrs Daskien, writing as Tarella Quin, having books illustrated by Ida Rentoul/Outhwaite. But no stories published as by Mrs or Tarella Daskien except an advertisement in1935 for The Other Side of Nowhere, by Tarella Daskiem (sic), “exquisitely illustrated by Ida Outhwaite”.

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  4. No idea how I missed this post Bill, except that it was peak Christmas party time when all my groups want to have Christmas lunch or dinner in the same week or so.

    This is a great post, with so many threads to follow. Your 1933 lists accord very much with some of the findings on my 1920s and 30s Monday Musings posts. I have so much material on that era in my files now, that I’m struggling to work out which ones I’ve used and which I haven’t but Bernard Cronin, Helen Simpson (on whom I’ve done a Forgotten Writers post) and co pop up frequently – as of course do Prichard, and those better known Aussie women.

    Tarella Quinn is in Debra Adelaide’s bibliographic guide, and is described as CHildren’s writer, novelist “Became a popular writer of fairy stories for children. Her imaginative and whimsical stories were accompanied by the illustrations of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. Also published under her married name of Daskein. Gumtree brownie was extended and reprinted 1918 with a forward by Ethel Turner.” It then lists her works: Gumtree brownie 1910; Freckles 1910; Before the lamps are lit 1911; A desert rose 1912; Kerno: a stone 1914; Paying guests 1917; Gumtree brownie and other faerie folk of the never-never 1918; The other side of nowhere 1934; Chimney town 1934.

    (BTW I used voice recognition to type in Adelaide’s info and Ida Rentoul Outhwaite was entered as “ida rental lose weight” Love it.)

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    • I often wonder why your comments have been so consistently ‘interesting’ over the years – or more accurately, your spelling – and now I know the answer, voice recognition. Nathan missed this post too, but I won’t hassle him. Well, I might mention it offhandedly when I see him pre-book launch.

      I’ve been running into Simpson, Dulcie Deamer and Velia Ercole off and on for a while now and I really should read their books. I wonder if they are available anywhere except the Mitchell. Don’t answer that, I’ll make a note to look them up.

      I already have Eliz (Lhuede) looking up ‘James Adare’ so we may see some more Tarella Quin on the AWW site.

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      • I’ll let you think voice recognition but I think it’s mostly auto correct and my thinking it’s entered what a typed not what it thinks I typed (or wanted to type). My editor mother would be horrified! Actually she used to email me little corrections on my blog … some typos but others grammatical (over which we’d sometimes have a tussle).

        I forgot to mention James Adare … that name rang a vague bell when you gave it but can’t recollect the context.

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  5. Possibly this won’t be of interest or use, but do you know about the Internet Archive? It’s not as helpful for me as it would be if I didn’t have to reduce my screen-time, but I still find use for it on occasion with essay assignments (to check a reference or to investigate an out-of-print volume by a certain author). Here’s the link to what they have for KSP that one can “borrow” online.

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    • Thanks for that. It has The Roaring Nineties which I was going to have to chase up through the library system. I’ll create an account and see if I can read it on my laptop – I don’t see why not.

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