Jungfrau, Dymphna Cusack

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By coincidence I’m reading Jungfrau straight after All Passion Spent. Both are modernist works by women authors, both pose the question, Should intelligent women marry or pursue careers? (and both see the question as either one or the other), APS came out in 1931, Jungfrau in 1936, both writers were in their thirties, but…

Sackville-West was at the height of her powers, living not just England but in Bloomsbury, and with a number of novels over the previous decade under her belt; Cusack (1902-1981) so ten years VSW’s junior, was in Australia, a school teacher, first out west in Broken Hill then in Sydney, with limited exposure to the modernist movement sweeping England, Europe and the US. And this was her first novel. And then there’s class – Sackville-West was the daughter of a baron and the wife of an MP; Cusack was the daughter of store keeper, Catholic, and though employed, was much closer to the Depression which amongst other things, depressed wages and limited the distribution of new books.

Sackville-West’s writing is sublime, Cusack’s is awkward. Lady Slane in APS finds herself married at 18, steamrolled by her parents and her husband, but as she comes to love Henry she willingly subsumes her self for the sake of their children and his career. Only after their long marriage ends with his death does she allow her real self to emerge. I think by presenting the story in this way Sackville-West is asking: Is this what you would do? It’s certainly not what she did herself. Cusack’s three women are already in their mid to late twenties, in careers, unmarried, none of them Vicereine of India surrounded by servants, but living small, comfortable lives in bed-sits in inner Sydney. Their question is: How do I deal with love?

The three women are Thea, a dreamy, pretty teacher, Eve, a doctor and devout Catholic, and ‘Marc’ (short for Marchesa) a red-headed, bohemian, psych student/social worker. Thea is friends with Terry who wants to marry her, but she is in love with a 49 year old English professor. Eve is friends with another doctor, John. Marc, may be ‘loose’, or maybe she just flirts a lot; Eve is angry that she doesn’t wear a bra. Cusack adopts the point of view of whichever protagonist she is dealing with at the time.

Eve is actually quite a sympathetic character and her rigid Catholicism creeps up on us. Thea is the ‘jungfrau’ of the title, virginal and childish (Cusack makes too much of the Swiss mountain of the same name, having Eve come up with a clumsy metaphor about a lover taking the trouble to ‘climb’ Marc only to find other men had been up before him on the funicular railway).

A lot of the early part of the book is setting up discussions about relationships. Each of the women take their job seriously but what they are talking about and thinking about here is their relationships with men. Eve, who works in a maternity ward, has opinions very similar to Miles Franklin’s (and Cusack’s next novel was written jointly with Franklin) – that chastity is to be valued and that the consequence of marriage is endless child bearing.

Thea has chaste little meetings with her professor in the grounds of the uni and is consumed by her growing infatuation. Marc meets an Antarctic explorer at a party, becomes close to him, and says she will sleep with him before his upcoming two year expedition, but, only if he has complete faith in his ability to trust her –

“There’s only one worthwhile relationship as far as I’m concerned, and that’s the chosen companionship of two perfectly free people. We’d never have that till you had faith – in both of us.”

Eve goes from an exhausting shift on the wards to mass and reflects on chastity (to contrast with what follows). Thea has one perfect night with the professor. Marc has dinner with her explorer. We’re at the halfway point, and the novel is about to change direction.

Thea drops round to Eve’s to ask for help, she’s pregnant. Eve is devastated, spends a sleepless 24 hours crying at Thea’s loss, and planning how to help her have the baby. They meet. Thea is incredulous. The help she wants is an abortion, which Eve is morally unable to perform.

Thea drifts, for weeks it seems, then goes to Marc who arranges for her to see an abortionist, but she loses her nerve at the last minute and runs out of his office. Jungfrau is apparently “the first psychological exploration of women’s sexuality and aspirations” in Australian fiction, and the remainder of the novel deals mostly with Thea’s internal monologue.

A decade later Cusack gave up modernism for social realism, writing with Florence James the gritty war-time (WWII) story of women working and quite actively sleeping with one or more men, Come in Spinner. In that novel, and in a number of others of that time, there is a “backyard” abortion which ends in the death of the pregnant woman.

So does Cusack answer the question I ascribed to her at the beginning? I think she does, partly anyway. Single women clearly should work. But. They also are driven to pair bond, and that means marriage, eventually.

 

Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau, first pub. 1936 (in the Bulletin), Penguin Australian Women’s Library, Melbourne 1989. Introduction by Florence James. The cover painting is by Grace Cossington-Smith, “Interior with Blue Painting”, 1956.

see also:
Australian Women Writers, Gen 3 Page (here)

The Passing of the Aborigines, Daisy Bates

From the time she arrived in Western Australia in 1899, Daisy Bates wrote and lectured about the Aboriginal peoples she lived amongst and whose languages and customs it became her life’s work to record. The Passing of the Aborigines came about when in the 1930s Ernestine Hill persuaded Bates, and spent some time working with her, to get her papers into a form acceptable to a publisher. If I have my facts right, this work was initially serialised in newspapers as My Natives and I in 1936.

Hill’s work was completely unacknowledged, and the edition I have, a 2009 reprint, continues that tradition by failing to list any earlier edition or publishing history, or even the sources of the individual stories. I can only imagine that Bates’ work is now out of copyright. Trove (the website of the National Library of Australia) has the initial publisher as Murray, London, 1938 (up till now I had thought 1944) followed a year later by Putnam, New York.

Trove also shows there is another work by Bates, not published until 1985 (Bates died in 1951) The Native Tribes of Western Australia edited by Isobel White*. Bates early on adopted the name Kabbarli, meaning grandmother, which name was apparently recognised by the Aborigines of all the many language groups with which she worked. Using ‘Kabbarli’ as a search term on Trove brings up 2,920 Australian newspaper articles, giving some idea of how widely her journalism was syndicated. She was also well known overseas, but I don’t know how to demonstrate that.

The Passing of the Aborigines is a collection of stories written by a dedicated, adventurous, literate and thoroughly old-fashioned woman, describing her life with Aboriginal people, from Broome in 1899 where she lived and worked in a Trappist monastery, to nearby Roebuck Plains where Jack Bates managed a cattle station; droving cattle south to the head of the Ashburton R. (near present-day Newman) where she had her own property; touring the Pilbara by buggy; living in a tent on the reservation for the remnants of the local Noongar (she says Bibbulmun); touring the Murchison goldfields north of Perth with AR Radcliff-Brown; living on the islands in Shark Bay where seriously ill Aborigines were brought to die; years touring all of Noongar south-west WA; getting an unpaid position as ‘Protector’ at Eucla, maybe the most remote township in the world, jammed under the cliffs, between the Southern Ocean and a thousand kilometres of desert; travelling by camel buggy for 2 weeks to briefly enjoy the limelight with the Science Congress in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, coinciding with the outbreak of WWI; before returning to the Nullabor, still unpaid, this time on the SA side, to a number of camps west of Ceduna, before finally, in 1919, ending up at Ooldea, a watering stop on the trans-Australia rail line (map), and the southern hub of continent-wide Indigenous trade routes, where she stayed 16 years, until she was well into her seventies.

Nothing more than one of the many depresions in the never-ending sandhills that run waveringly from the Bight for nearly a thousand miles, Ooldea Water is one of Nature’s miracles in barren Central Australia. No white man coming to this place would ever guess that that dreary hollow with the sand blowing across it was an unfailing fountain, yet a mere scratch and the magic waters welled in sight. Even in the cruellest droughts, it had never failed. Here the tribes gathered in their hundreds for initiation and other ceremonies.

In the building of the transcontinental line, the water of Ooldea passed out of its own people’s hand for ever. Pipelines and pumping plants reduced it at the rate of 10,000 gallons a day for locomotives. The natives were forbidden the soak …

Within a few years railways engineers had drilled through the clay bottom of the water table and rendered it all saline.

This a beautifully written book which contains a wealth of stories and information nowhere else available. Its big problem is that it contains ideas which present day Aboriginal people repudiate. Firstly, the idea behind the name itself; secondly, the encroachment of the ‘circumcised’ (Western Desert Group) tribes of the centre into the country of the ‘uncircumcised’ groups in south west WA and out along the Bight; and thirdly the widespread practice of cannibalism and particularly of the eating of infants. (With the caveat I was unable to google any discussion of this book, by Indigenous writers or white.** )

Bates frequently mentions the “last Aborigine” of a particular region or tribe. It is clear that, as the 1905 Aborigines Act under which she was employed in Western Australia, anticipates, she believed that Indigenous people with white blood would be absorbed into the white community. My searches brought up the following quote: 

They did not anticipate a need to manage an emergent, fertile, and anomic half-caste populace, too black for the mainstream white community to accept as equals, but too white to be regarded as Aborigines (D. Tomlison, thesis, 2008)

I’ve read nothing else about circumcised and uncircumcised, but Bates believed that the circumcised – in effect the Western Desert Group – represented a later wave of arrivals from the north and east. Bates believed that right up to white settlement, the Noongar (of south-west WA) were being pushed westwards. Certainly it seems the groups east of the Noongar, around Kalgoorlie and along the Bight have been largely overtaken by Western Desert peoples.

 I’m not going to talk about cannibalism, and neither is anyone else probably.

Bates as an Australian ‘explorer’ and scientist (anthropologist) should be more widely recognised. The Passing of the Aborigines is a fascinating work by a fascinating person and an important and largely unrecognised record in our national history.

 

Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines: A Lifetime spent among the Natives of Australia, first pub. 1938, Benediction Classics, Oxford, 2009


*The bulk of MS 365 is the manuscript of Daisy Bates’ work “The native tribes of Western Australia”, written during her period of service with the Western Australian Government from 1904 to 1912. It comprises 99 “folios” split between Sections I to XIII. Each page has been item-numbered within the “folios”. Many of the drafts have been annotated by A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, a British social anthropologist (53 boxes, 2 fol. boxes). Trove (here)


** Anita Heiss doesn’t mention Bates in Dhuuluu-Yala. JJ Healy in Literature and the Aborigine in Australia contrasts Bates’ despair and practicality with English writer Grant Watson’s fear and mysticism (after the two travelled together with AR Radcliffe-Brown in 1910). See my post on Heiss and Healy (here)


Further to my discussion with Sue (Whispering Gums) after my previous post, I noticed in Wikipedia this reference to the ongoing use of her materials: The collaborative work of digitising and transcribing many word lists created by Bates in the 1900s at Daisy Bates Online provides a valuable resource for those researching especially Western Australian languages, and some of the Northern Territory and South Australia [Western Desert Group]. The project is co-ordinated by Nick Thieburger, who works in collaboration with the NLA “to have all the microfilmed images from Section XII of the Bates papers digitised”, and the project is ongoing.


Two typical newspaper stories about Bates:

In “The Desert Farewell” Bates is leaving her camp at Ooldea, forever she thinks, to work on this book in Adelaide, and here, 6 years later, “Abos. Await ‘Kabbarli’, she returns, to live out her years destitute in a tent in the desert.

 

AWW Gen 3 Week Summary

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

Grace Cossington Smith
Artist: Grace Cossington Smith

Another successful ‘Gen’ week negotiated – thank you all, readers and writers – without the benefit of holidays this time, as I drove from Perth to Albany (WA) to Goulburn (NSW), picked up my new trailer somewhere in the wilds north of Windsor, outside Sydney, ran empty to Melbourne, had a day off to visit mum, loaded, and here I am in Adelaide, Sunday night, ready to top up in the morning and head home.

Each time we do a Gen week, I find surprising both the gems we discover and the major works we fail to get to. My list of the major works of the Australian Women Writers Gen 3 period, from the end of WWI to the end of the 1950s, would include –

Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney (trilogy)
Katharine Susannah Prichard, Coonardoo and Working Bullocks
Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney and For Love Alone
M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built
Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher and The Timeless Land
Miles Franklin, All That Swagger
Kylie Tennant, Ride On Stranger and The Battlers
Cusack & James, Come in Spinner
Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers

I think that’s close to chronological order. Anyway that’s a pretty powerful list and we didn’t get to any of them. Yet I’m happy with the books we did cover and I think between us we chose books that illustrated the principal themes of Gen 3 – Modernism, Social Realism (Socialist Realism for Communists) and Pioneering. And the hidden gems? Well definitely Zora Cross and Dorothy Cottrell.

So, in the lead up to and over the course of AWW Gen 3 Week we saw the following reviews/posts –

Eleanor Dark, The Little Company, ANZLitLovers
Ruth Park, A Fence Around the Cuckoo, Travellin Penguin
Dora Birtles, The Overlanders, Luvvie’s Musings
Drusilla Modgeska, Exiles at Home, wadh
Cathy Perkins, The Shelf Life of Zora Cross (biog.), The Resident Judge
Monday Musings on Christina Stead, Whispering Gums
Dorothy Hewett, In Midland Where the Trains Go By (poem), Brona’s Books
Jean Devanny, Sugar Heaven, ANZLitLovers
Myrtle Rose White, No Roads Go By, wadh
Mena Calthorpe, The Dyehouse, Brona’s Books
Dorothy Cottrell, The Mysterious Box, Jessica White
Park & Niland, The Drums Go Bang, Whispering Gums
Monday Musings on Christina Stead (2), Whispering Gums

There are more reviews in the AWW Gen 3 page, as many as I can find that we’ve done over the years, including most of the ‘major’ works above, plus ‘Related Posts’ particularly the many posts Whispering Gums has done on 1930s writers, plus all the major literary prize winners (that I can dig up) for the period.

Christina Stead and Miles Franklin have pages of their own – Franklin (here) and Stead on ANZ LitLovers (here). Let me know if you do an AWW Gen 3 (or 2 or 1) review, or have done and I’ve missed it, and I will add it to the appropriate page. I’m currently working on a big post(s) on Daisy Bates and her The Passing of the Aborigines but I might let it rest for a while before I put it up. And then there’s Ernestine Hill, more Stead, more Eleanor Dark, Dorothy Cottrell’s The Singing Gold to find, so much to do!

At this stage I’m thinking we’ll do more Gen 3 next year and I’d like to take the time to look a little closer at the boundary between Gen 3 and Gen 4. I’ve tended to conflate Gen 4 and Baby Boomers, but just as much of ‘our’ music is by people ten years older than us, eg. The Beatles, so, I think, many of those writers we regard as ‘oldies’ like Tom Keneally, David Ireland and Thea Astley probably properly belong by style and subject matter in Gen 4.

Thank you all again, and it’s back to ‘normal’ reading for a while, well until a challenge catches my eye or ANZ LitLovers Indigenous Writing Week sneaks up on us again.

The Drums Go Bang, Ruth Park & D’Arcy Niland

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

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The Drums Go Bang, a joint memoir of their early married life in Sydney during WWII (which is not mentioned) by writers Ruth Park and D’Arcy Niland, has been one of my favourite books these last 50 or 60 years (my review). Sue/Whispering Gums has reviewed it for AWW Gen 3 Week


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Volume 1 of Ruth Park’s autobiography, A fence around the cuckoo, … was published in 1992. The drums go bang, written collaboratively by Park and Niland, was published in 1956 and covers the first five or so of these years to just after the publication in 1948 of The harp in the south. Read on …

The Mysterious Box, Dorothy Cottrell

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

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Jess White, author of Hearing Maud, currently doing a writer-in-residence gig in Munich, and valued contributor to Gens 1 and 2 has for Gen 3 come up with the romantic figure of once well-known best-selling author, Dorothy Cottrell.


Jessica White Jessica White

Cottrell was born in Picton, NSW in 1905 and contracted polio five years later. She spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. This didn’t stop her from attending art school, moving to her uncle’s farm and becoming a crack shot with a rifle, eloping with her uncle’s bookkeeper to Dunk Island, moving back to Sydney to make money from her drawings, and then to American to escape the tax office. Read on …

The Dyehouse, Mena Calthorpe

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

 

Mena Calthorpe was one of many writers in this period to join the Communist Party She left, but remained a passionate socialist and this informs the writing of The Dyehouse (1961). Brona of Brona’s Books has written a perceptive account of this important work which has been brought back to the notice of the reading public by Text Classics.


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Written with unerring skill and insight, The Dyehouse is a masterly portrait of postwar Australia, when industrial work was radically transformed by new technologies and society changed with it. Mena Calthorpe—who herself worked in a textile factory—takes us inside this world, vividly bringing to life the people of an inner-Sydney company in the mid-1950s: the bosses, middlemen and underlings; their dramatic struggles and their loves. Read on …

 

 

 

No Roads Go By, Myrtle Rose White

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

No Roads Go By

Twenty years ago this week, Gee had finished year 12, done a very good IB as it turned out and was with me in the truck. We went up to Moree and Brisbane then back to Sydney. My next load was to Moomba in northern South Australia and she had to finalize her university preferences, so I dropped her off to catch the bus to Melbourne from outside Central Station, and went off to load.

My diary for 12 Jan 2000 says that we booked her on Greyhound for $48; I dropped my front trailer at a transport yard in Strathfield; and most concerningly, that when I fuelled up I topped up my radiator which was “leaking from tap – lower RH side”. The following morning a 20 ft container was craned on and I was on my way, over the Blue Mountains – I stopped at Lawson PO to pay some bills – and out through Dubbo.

Slept at Emmadale, got fuel at Little Topar, roadhouses in the desert either side of Wilcannia, topped up my radiator again, found the alternator belt was broken. Got one in Broken Hill.

The customer, Keith Thompson, a famous trucking operator from Castlemaine, Vic, told me I was running late, which was true, and that I would have to go “the short way” on dirt roads via Tibooburra, instead of the long way round on bitumen to Port Augusta and up the Strezlecki Track (map).

The road to Tibooburra was mostly gravel, just the tops of the hills bitumenized. There I turned west onto a dirt road out to Cameron’s Corner – where the borders of NSW, Qld and SA meet, “walked around corner marker to all 3 states. Much evidence of Millenium celebrations”. Slept.

The only map I had was a map of Australia. I was following a faint dotted line which should take me past Merty Merty Station. The ‘road’ itself on the SA side was just wheel tracks in the sand through the scrub. Up I would go, veering left up each sandhill, turn back to the right at the top, and down onto a claypan baked hard in summer, look for the opening on the other side, occasional mobs of cattle to keep me on my toes. For three hours. You can only imagine my relief when I came on a very old sign post pointing to Merty Merty, a few miles on my left and Innaminka 110 on the right. I pressed on, guessed that I should turn right onto the Strezlecki, towards the columns of thick black smoke, was soon at Moomba – where I waited 8 hours due to the crane being broken down. Then, back south, towards the distant Flinders Ranges and civilization, “9.00 pm. Tea, Elsewhere Pub, Lyndhurst. 2 stubbies!”

This is the country of No Roads Go By (1932), the fictionalised memoir of a young woman whose husband took her and their young child from Adelaide to manage a cattle property in remotest outback South Australia in the years leading up to WWI. Myrtle White’s “Mrs Brown” is a city girl like the more famous Mrs Aeneas Gunn of We of the Never Never (1908) though White’s ADB entry says she was born in a tent near Broken Hill and brought up in rural Barossa Valley. White quotes Boake’s famous poem to push the connection: Out on the wastes of the Never Never/That’s where the dead men lie!

I have written elsewhere that Gen 3 had two new streams – (urban) Social Realism and Modernism – and also that many authors, particularly men, continued with the Gen 2 themes of nationalism and bush realism verging on romanticism. But during the Gen 3 period women writers, and indeed rural women generally, made a concerted effort to carve out for themselves a place in men’s bush myths. And they did this by promoting a new myth (in the original sense of archetype rather than falsehood) of the equal partnership of women with men as settler/farmers.

In the 1970s [historians such as] John Hirst [and] Judith Godden recognized that the myth of the independent bushman had been ameliorated by the general adoption of a Pioneer myth, where men tame a hostile environment to carve productive farmland out of unwelcoming bush; a myth which incidentally validates their right to be seen as the creators, and therefore the valid owners, of this land. Although it is sometimes argued that women are absent here also, Jemima Mowbray shows that during the Centenary and Sesqui-centenary celebrations of the 1930s women actively asserted their place in the opening up of the Australian bush to settlement. While Mowbray agrees with Godden that ‘the middle-class virtue of domesticity is the primary virtue celebrated within the Pioneer Woman myth’ (2006, p.4 of 20) she also emphasizes that popular representations of pioneer women show that they, as much as the men, were forced to overcome the loneliness and hardships of pioneering. (That’s me quoting from my thesis The Independent Woman in Australian Literature, 2011)

One (literary) outcome of this movement was the satirical Pioneers on Parade (1939), by Miles Franklin and Dymphna Cusack (Miles believed she, as Brent of Bin Bin, and Steele Rudd had invented the genre of Pioneering Lit.). But I’m afraid I’m yet to read it.

This Australian myth, or story, of women sharing the hardships and responsibilities of farming equally with men continues to need to be asserted right up to today – and was for instance, part of Michelle Scott Tucker’s stated motivation for reevaluating the role of Elizabeth Macarthur in the opening up the Australian wool industry.

So No Roads Go By plays, or played, an important part not just in selling the romance of the outback, in which all Australians like to believe, but in asserting women’s role in what is often pictured as an almost totally male domain. Although, like Gunn, she mostly plays the frail little wifey.

There is not much to the story, but it’s competently written, and White had a few other books published on the back of it. Interestingly no people or places are named, so her husband is The Boss and her daughter, Little’un. If the station itself is not Merty Merty, then it’s pretty close. One ‘lost’ stockman is clearly drinking at the Tibooburra pub.

She endures shocking heat in primitive houses, with dust storms, rolling sand dunes, a rabbit plague, and seven years of nothing to eat but beef and dried vegetables. Is pregnant two times, more than a days travel from the next house let alone the next doctor, and so must must spend months in ‘the city’ (Adelaide).

Little’un is quickly at home in the bush, but the two sons born during the course of the book are sickly. The author herself never seems comfortable, not surprisingly, with the help unreliable and The Boss away mustering for weeks at a time. The stockmen seem to be mostly white, and the local Indigenous people* are barely mentioned. Late in the book White says that there is very little evidence there ever were any.

 

Myrtle Rose White, No Roads Go By, first pub. 1932, illustrated by Elizabeth Durack 1954, this edition (pictured above) Angus & Robertson, reprinted 1956

see also:
Jemima Mowbray, Examining the Myth of the Pioneer Woman (pdf here)

I was motivated to find this among my father’s books after Sue/Whispering Gum’s recent post, Random thoughts from the mid-1930s (here). Sue is also contributing two Monday Musings on Christina Stead to AWW Gen 3 Week. The first is (here).


*The people of this area are probably Wadikali (or Evelyn Creek mob) of the wider Yarli language group, but I can’t find websites for them under these names.