The Red Witch, Nathan Hobby

Back in 2015, when MST told me she had started a blog, Adventures in Biography, I started following the people she was following – Whispering Gums, ANZLitLovers, Nathan Hobby (then A Biographer in Perth), The Resident Judge, Stumbling through the Past, Historians are Past Caring (Marion Diamond and my favourite blog name ever). They were kind enough to follow me when I started blogging and soon, mostly of course through WG and ANZLL, I had met all of you.

It has been a great privilege to follow the progress of Michelle (MST) and Nathan as their books, first Michelle’s and now Nathan’s, in 2015 only a gleam in their eyes, have made it through to publication.

Before I link to my review on the AWWC site, I want to update you on my ongoing interest in Prichard’s trip to Turee Creek in 1926 to gather the material for the novel Coonardoo, which I first wrote about in one of my earliest posts Ventured North by Train and Truck (1 Jul, 2015).

From The Red Witch I get that KSP’s husband, Hugo Throssell, had worked on neighbouring station Ashburton, in the Peak Hill region, before WWI. And it was the Ashburton Road, past Peak Hill that I travelled last week, taking me to within about 50 km of Turee Creek. Nathan writes, “Joe Maguiure [Turee’s owner] described the location of Turee in a letter to a British newspaper: ‘We are just 198 miles from Peak Hill, our nearest post office. Our nearest neighbour is 80 miles away, our nearest railway 267, and nearest port 300 miles …'”

I can only imagine Maguire was prone to exaggeration. And that Prichard was mistaken when she wrote (and her son Ric later repeated) that she “travelled four hundred miles beyond the end of the railway” (Meekatharra according to Ric, who was at the time aged 4) in the station’s T-model Ford Truck to reach Turee Creek.

The distance from Meekatharra to Turee is near enough 320 km (200 miles). Peak Hill is roughly half way, so 100 miles. The nearest ports, Carnarvon or Onslow (KSP went home via Onslow), might be “300 miles”, they’re about 400 km/250 miles as the crow flies.

I was hoping Nathan would find something to clear up this little obsession of mine, but sadly, not.

The-Author-3-225x300 by Bill Holloway

A comprehensive literary biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969) is long overdue. We, Nathan’s fellow bloggers, have waited long years through his PhD, fatherhood, being taken up by Melbourne University Press, and finally a year’s delay due to ‘Covid’, for this month to arrive. We have learnt a lot about Prichard in the meanwhile, but that doesn’t compare with finally seeing the book in the hands of readers. Read on …

16 thoughts on “The Red Witch, Nathan Hobby

  1. LOL I’ve just had a thought… you could set up a consultancy offering writers who want to use an outback WA setting, a comprehensive service for checking the distances in their stories. With a sideline in photos!
    Re that letter to a British newspaper… I can remember my correspondence with my uncle in London, and his bemusement at the distances I would quote when sharing news about my various travels here. He was an educated man, and of course he knew that whereas you can walk within a day to the next English village there were vast distances between habitations, but still, I think English people have no real conception of what it’s like outside the cities here. They like to think of Australia as ‘odd’ and those distances are one of the things that make us ‘odd’, so I think there’s every likelihood that a newspaper might exaggerate a little.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’d do it for free (though Jane Harper is welcome to pay me a small stipend). Australian distances are astonishing, so I’m not sure why Maguire felt the need to exaggerate them.


  2. I’ll go over to AWWC this arvo. Was out walking this am and am tired now. Enjoyed your personal intro. I remembered when this strange guy suddenly appeared in our AusLit cybersphere but he proved to be real! Not only that but a good sparring partner!

    I remember Historians are Past Caring. Great blog name as you say.


      • We certainly won’t have men in our reading group, because of the sort of group we see ourselves. But my Jane Austen group has had men and they are always welcome. And, the litblogosphere should always be a place which welcomes all who want to engage in respectful but energetic discussion about literature and culture.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I read your other post but will comment here, as I get notifications when someone replies here but have to do an email follow with the AWW website. The part that stuck out to me in your post was the suicide, which I am thinking about a great deal because in the U.S. May is National Mental Health Awareness month. Not only did she discover he was dead by suicide after reading a NEWSPAPER, but that she felt he may have died due to her writing. I feel like a whole book could be written there, perhaps by a mental health professional.

    I was watching a news story this morning with a mother whose daughter died by suicide and how surprised people were. The daughter had been Miss America, she was beautiful and popular and bubbly. But she had depression that she pushed aside so people wouldn’t judge her. She had attempted suicide in her twenties and died by suicide age 30 this past January. The mother talked about how she didn’t feel guilty because she knew her daughter had support and was getting everything she needed from those around her, including the mother.

    It reminds me of my friend from grad school who died by suicide about ten years ago. His wife had a PhD in mental health psychology, he had been hospitalized many times, etc. Everyone knew he wasn’t well, he had a support system, and yet this illness won.

    Yes, I feel bad that Prichard had that guilt and probably didn’t know what to do with it during that time period.


    • I’m sorry. Hugo Throssell’s suicide is such an old story with us that I didn’t really think through the consequences of retelling it. It was acknowledged that he was suffering depression from his war service but I can’t imagine he was offered any treatment or support. Prichard suspected something because she asked him to hold on while she was away. As it happens she was en route from Russia to London when he died, there was no telegram waiting for her on arrival and so she had to learn of her husband’s death from the newspapers.

      And no, I don’t imagine Prichard received any support either, though her sister my still have been in London (I don’t remember now what Nathan says other than that her correspondence lover McCrae stopped writing).


      • It’s okay, I was just surprised that the whole thing could happen in such a cold way. I know that news sources try to keep victims’ names private until the family is notified, but given how slow communication could be during Prichard’s life, she wasn’t afforded that opportunity.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Australian distances are already so remarkable to someone who’s grown up in the UK that I can’t understand why they would be further exaggerated! There was an article in the news during our recent local elections about the challenges of administrating an election in a single seat that’s six times bigger than mainland Britain (Durack?). That is already quite impressive without further hyperbole!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Lou, I missed replying. Sorry! All outback electorates are enormous. For years the Country Party, now Nationals, used that as an excuse to have fewer electors per politician, which of course enabled them hold power (usually with the Liberals – our name for the right wing arseholes party) with a minority of the vote. This anomaly was only abolished for the Western Australian upper house one or two elections ago.

      Durack is a famous name in WA, a long established ‘upper class’ cattle station family. But I imagine (hope) their involvement in Aboriginal massacres will soon lead to the name being changed.


    • I have been perplexed ever since I read the “400 miles” in KSP’s biography. Even more so after reading Maguire’s distances.

      Elsewhere in the biography (and in her life) KSP travels by train with Wirths Circus, including between Northam (near where she lived) and Mullewa which is a logical stepping off point for Turee Creek. But her son (aged 4 at the time) wrote Meekatharra and that’s what everyone else is sticking with.

      Nathan has been posting every day recently (on his blog and in Facebook) a KSP A to Z. T was for Turee and Nathan says a researcher has been at Turee Creek and is writing about Coonardoo. Maybe he will clarify these distances.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve left a comment on the review page, but wanted to add that my request for an ILL for Prichard’s letters was just returned to me the other day as not being available. It is in the Toronto system, but I’m not sure when I’ll be there next. (Hopefully soon!) Will let you know how it goes, although, obviously, there are plenty of other great Australian options for me in the meantime!


    • Australian Lit is full of great options. What puzzles me is that Margaret Atwood writes, and you sometimes write, as though Canada had no fiction before MA invented it. I know that’s not true, but who are your Catherine Helen Spences, Miles Franklins, Joseph Furpys, Henry Lawsons, KSPs and so on? What is Canada’s history of Suffragism? I know your provinces amalgamated in some odd way, but you and Naomi never refer to it or to the history of Canadian nationalism.
      In the meanwhile, I’m glad we have interested you in Australia’s literary history.


      • Maybe there are more well-known Australian writers in those time periods than Canadian writers? In those time periods, “we” mostly have people who came here from England and wrote as English people, even when they wrote about Canada. Maybe the only writer like that, with international recognition, would be L. M. Montgomery with Anne of Green Gables! Or Mazo de la Roche, whose Jalna series was made for TV (she lived in England for awhile too). Okay, now I’m remembering Stephen Leacock who was born here and wrote many humourous sketches (Simon at Stuck in a Book would be so mad that I forgot SL for a moment, but SL’s not as popular with everyone else, as he is with Simon-hee hee.) After Newfoundland joined in 1949, one sees a nationalist kind of literature developing in the 50s and 60s, but most of those names are not known internationally (maybe Michael Ondaatje, Robertson Davies, Timothy Findley? maybe not?). Other than Atwood, I’ve written a lot about Alice Munro (stories), Mavis Gallant (stories), and Margaret Laurence, who were also instrumental, and there are certainly other key women writers in the same period that MA began to write and publish but many of them were poets and/or were not as prolific or public. Her contemporary Marie-Claire Blais from Québec remains key in French, and there were poets like Phyllis Webb and Leonard Cohen (one you don’t know, one you do). Poet Gwen McEwan was a contemporary of Atwood’s too, but she and Marian Engel died young (and Margaret Laurence sooner than she should have). Earlier on BIP, I wrote about Ethel Wilson’s books and Gabrielle Roy’s, but I suspect they’re not known overseas. Other MA contemporaries, prominent fellas: Mordecai Richler, Timothy Findley, Hugh MacLennan, Al Purdy. I’m thinking that island thing might have worked to your advantage! I’m hoping if I can secure a couple of “your” writers, I’ll be able to build from there for a better understanding, with some reference points.


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