The Road to Turee Creek

Journal: 074

Turee Creek is where Katharine Susannah Prichard wrote Coonardoo in 1927. We won’t really take the road 130 kms of dirt track there, but I had to check my load anyway so thought I would pull up and take the photo just to give you an idea of what this country’s like. That signpost on the Great Northern Hwy is itself nearly 100 kms from the nearest town (Newman), which didn’t exist in KSP’s time, and 300 north of the next, Meekatharra, so Turee Creek is pretty remote.

This is all Martu country, the northern and western-most of the Western Desert peoples whose country extends east and south from here all the way to Ceduna on the south coast, on the other side of the Nullarbor in South Australia

If you remember back a couple more posts before the KSP autobiography, Daisy Bates‘ station at Ethel Creek (100 km NE of Newman) was in the heart of Martu country. She must have begun her studies of Aboriginal languages there, as when she arrived, a decade later, at Ooldea, west of Ceduna and 3,000 km from Ethel Creek, she found the people speaking a similar language. She (and husband Jack) came this way by buggy, 500 kms or so, in 1900, to get to the coast at Carnarvon, so she could catch a boat to Perth.

As did the Martu children, Mollie and Daisy, walking north thirty years later, 1,200 kms, to get home after being kidnapped by police working for the ‘Chief Protector’ (They probably hitched a lift with a camel train around here, but they’d already walked through hundreds of kilometres of this country, making about 20 km a day.)

I wrote more about the confluence of notable women in this remote area, years ago, in Ventured North by Train and Truck, and mentioned another, my favourite trekker/writer Robyn Davidson who, in crossing half the country by camel, from Alice Springs to Shark Bay in the 1970s, passed through just two communities, Docker River on the WA/NT border and Wiluna, crossing the Great Northern Hwy somewhere between this turnoff and Meekatharra.

As it happens, my next trip after taking the Turee Ck photo, last weekend, was up the coast to Karratha (see map below). And I had on my CD player Randolph Stow’s The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (1965) which is a fictionalisation of his childhood on family properties in and around Geraldton. I’m sure I have a copy somewhere, so I’ll review it later (“soon”), but it is a stunning evocation of place and time (roughly 1935-55) and of course I passed through a lot of the places he describes, from the river flats at Greenough, south of Geraldton, with its horizontal trees to the Murchison River crossing 100 km north where the family picnicked waiting for the flooded river to carry away the old timber bridge (it’s higher now, and concrete).

This is Yamaji country (see ‘We were not here first‘), home to poet Charmaine Papertalk Green, John Kinsella, the location of Nene Gare’s The Fringe Dwellers), and where Alice Nannup whose biography I reviewed ended up, in state housing controlled by Gare’s husband. Stow, at the squattocracy end of Geraldton society, grows up not quite oblivious of the Comeaways and Nannups, but warned by his mother to stay clear of them, and his language is clearly reflective of how the adults around him spoke. Right at the end, he refers for the first time to ‘the Yamaji’, indicative maybe of a growing awareness.

The last book on this literary tour is Ernestine Hill‘s The Great Australian Loneliness (1940) which I still haven’t reviewed, and must. The journey which Hill chronicles begins at Shark Bay, and heads north. At Cossack (a port town since replaced by Karratha and Dampier) she discusses Aboriginal slavery in the pearling industry – a claim studiously ignored, despite the popularity of the book – then moves on up the coast, cadging a lift with Mary and Elizabeth Durack’s father up near the NT border. At one stage, hearing of the Rabbitproof Fence girls, maybe at the Marble Bar pub, she comes south to Jigalong to speak to them before resuming her journey.

My delivery was to the Burrup Peninsula (Murujuga) which contains 40,000 years of art history and which we, of course, use as an industrial site for the natural gas industry. I took a great photo at dawn with the methane flaming off in the background, but I pressed video and it’s beyond me to extract one frame. I was still unloading when a load came up, roadworking machinery from a few hundred kms south, on the road into Exmouth. I had that on in the afternoon and the following evening, Tues., I was home (and up to chapter 61 of Roots which I’m reading with Liz Dexter and Buried in Print).

I should mention one other book which I listened to somewhere in there, if only to see if Melanie/GTL will add it to her recommended bys. That is Faking It by Jennifer Crusie (sic). It’s a fun Rom-Com about an artist, Tilda, who has been brought up in a family of art forgers (and is plump and attractive). She teams up with Davy, a reformed con man, to steal back paintings her late father had her paint under an assumed name. There’s lots of complications as you might expect, but the most interesting is that she likes Davy but doesn’t like sex. Davy’s sense of entitlement is a bit wearing, but how she works through that provides a bit of meat to what is otherwise the usual substanceless nonsense.

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Recent audiobooks 

Nikki Gemmell (F, Aus/NSW), The Book of Rapture (2009)
Erica Jong (F, USA), Fear of Flying (1973)
Alex Haley (M, USA), Roots (1976)
Jennifer Crusie (F, USA), Faking It (2002) – Rom.Com.
Randolph Stow (M, Aust/WA), The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (1965)
Olivia Campbell (F, USA), Women in White Coats (2021) – NF
Jo Nesbo (M, Nor), The Snowman (2007) – Crime
Jennifer Crusie (F, USA), Faking It (2002) – Rom.Com.
Peter Temple (M, Aust/Vic), The Broken Shore (2005)
Philip K Dick (M, USA), Counter-Clock World (1967) – SF
Kate Grenville (F, Aust/NSW), The Idea of Perfection (2002)

Currently reading

Mudrooroo (M, Aus/WA), Tripping with Jenny

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”

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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

Coonardoo, Katharine Susannah Prichard

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week, Part II, 17-23 Jan. 2021

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Lisa Hill/ANZLitLovers, for this our second year looking at the writers of Gen 3, has produced a scholarly take on what is probably Katharine Susannah Prichard’s best known and most important novel.


c5b3363f5556b3f32f816ae4abb9da0e ANZLitLovers LitBlog

I’ve departed from my usual practice in reviewing Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo from 1929: I’ve read other opinions about it, both before and after reading it.  I also re-read Mairi Neil’s post about the play Brumby Innes and its place in the history of Australian drama because Prichard first used the theme of the novel in the play.

I did this additional reading because this work has a contentious place in the history of Australian literature.  Coonardoo is the first detailed representation of Indigeneity in Australian fiction, but the author was not Indigenous herself. Read on …

Katharine Susannah Prichard in the 1940s and 1950s

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week, Part II, 17-23 Jan. 2021

intimate-strangers

Nathan Hobby’s biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard, with the working title The Red Witch, is due out from MUP later this year. While completing his PhD with the very meta topic of writing about writing a biog of KSP, he was a frequent blogger. Getting the book finished and being the stay at home father to two young children slowed him down a bit, but let’s hope as the nappy haze dissipates we see him back here more often.


Nathan Hobby, a biographer in Perth Nathan Hobby

Katharine Susannah Prichard spent the 1940s working on her Western Australian goldfields trilogy, which finally appeared as The Roaring Nineties (1946), Golden Miles (1948), and Winged Seeds (1950). It’s a saga that tells the story of the development of the goldfields through the fortunes of one family, and interwoven with folklore, historical events, and technical descriptions. It is Katharine’s attempt at writing faithful to her communist convictions … Read on …

The Pioneers, Katharine Susannah Prichard

KSP writes in the preface to the 1963 edition: “Notes for The Pioneers were made in 1903 when I was twenty and living in South Gippsland. But it was not until 1913, in London, that I was able to take six months off earning my living as a journalist to write the story …”. The novel, her first, was published in 1915 and was a success. Nathan Hobby, whose Prichard biography is at this moment at the printers, has more to say about the book’s origins here.

She goes on: “It grew from the yarns and gossip I heard at Port Albert, Yarram, Taraville, and my wanderings in the lovely ranges beyond them. The Wirree river referred to may be recognised as the Tara, which was an escape route for convicts from Van Dieman’s Land [Tasmania] in the early days.” And hence we may infer that Wirreeford stands in for Yarram.

For the benefit of foreigners, Gippsland is that part of Victoria to the east of Melbourne and south of the Victorian Alps (map, Yarram out to the east, near the coast). It is hilly, damp, fertile and green, home once to enormous eucalypts, their range now greatly restricted by clear felling for farming and timber milling. Though, as I remember from my childhood there, the sandy coastal regions feature mostly scrubby paper barks. South Gippsland is Gunai country, though Prichard doesn’t pay the original inhabitants much attention. The Gunai were dispersed by a series of massacres of which you may read more here.

The Pioneers is historical fiction covering the early days of white settlement, which began, in this area, in the 1840s. Miles Franklin claimed in the 1930s (I can’t locate a source for this statement) that she and Steele Rudd were the progenitors of a uniquely Australian school of fiction dealing with the lives of ordinary families in the Bush, which she distinguishes from the ‘mateship’/Lone Hand/ Bulletin school (Gen 2); from the urban modernism and social realism of the years between the Wars (Gen 3); and from earlier ‘upper class’ novels of bush life, such as those by Henry Kingsley and Ada Cambridge (Gen 1).

I have written before that in the 1970s, John Hirst and Judith Godden posited that the myth of the Independent Bushman/Lone Hand (“the Australian Legend”) had been ameliorated in the 1930s by the general adoption of a Pioneer myth. Miles Franklin was a big part of that, but it is clear that The Pioneers, which predates MF’s re-flowering as a writer of pioneer fiction by a couple of decades, must earn KSP at least co-progenitor status.

That said, The Pioneers is more Robbery Under Arms than All That Swagger, but with an admirable dash of Independent Woman thrown in, and some lovely descriptive prose.

The novel begins with Donald and Mary Cameron making their way inland from ‘Port Southern’ into hilly, forested country. Donald is a Scot and Mary is Welsh. Sticking closely to ethnic stereotypes, Donald is as well known for being tight-fisted and Mary tells stories about fairies. I’m not sure that without the notes we’d know where or when we are. It is clear that the couple are pioneers, squatting on uncleared land in the bush but the nearest we get to locating ourselves is the arrival of escaped convicts from Port Arthur/Hobart Town over the water (though that’s hardly specific as Mary Bryant for instance escaped by boat as far as Jakarta).

A few months later .. A one-roomed hut, built of long, rough-barked saplings, ranged one above the other, and thatched with coarse reddish-brown bark, laid on in slabs, stood on the brow of the hill not far from the dray’s first resting place.

A light under the door indicates a restless night and in the morning Donald emerges with a bundle wrapped in a shawl, his son Davey. Unlike most pioneer families, that’s it for issue and Davey remains an only child.

The convicts above are important because they arrive when Donald is away, but Mary, apparently unafraid, helps them, making of one a friend for life, who when he returns a few years later with his daughter Deidre, becomes the local schoolmaster.

Donald prospers. Davey and Deidre grow up side by side. A little township forms. A bushfire sweeps through while Donald is away (again) and Mary is saved by the Schoolmaster. The pioneer side of the story declines in importance and instead, as we concentrate on the second generation we get into Walter Scott territory with villainous publicans, rival lovers and cattle rustling.

Deidre watched Davey going out of Narrow Valley in dim starlight of the early spring morning, the mob, hustled by Teddy and the dogs, a stream of red and brown and dappled hides before him.

I’ve read a few KSP’s – Working Bullocks, Coonardoo, Haxby’s Circus that I can think of – and I’ve generally found her prose awkward, stilted. That is not the case here. Perhaps as is so often the case, her first book was her best book. The descriptions flow. The action flows. It’s a good story, well told.

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Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Pioneers, first pub. 1915. Revised edition (pictured) Rigby, 1963. Kindly loaned to me by Lisa/ANZLL.

For other KSP reviews see AWW Gen 2 page (here)