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