You know that I am fascinated by intertextual geography. So, for instance, last month’s AWWC subject, Ada Cambridge, on her first excursion into the bush, was caught up in exactly the same loops of the Murray River in 1870 as Tom Collins (Such is Life) a decade later.
Ernestine Hill (1899-1972) is one writer who intersects many others. The journey around northern Australia she describes in The Great Australian Loneliness criss-crosses the paths of a number of notable Australian writers and books. She hitches a lift with Michael Durack, father of Mary (Kings in Grass Castles) and Elizabeth (“Eddie Burrup”), in northern WA (and later becomes friends with both, and her son Robert maybe becomes Elizabeth’s lover); she hears about the Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls in a pub in Marble Bar, and their epic walk home to Jigalong; Daisy Bates owned a cattle leasehold near Jigalong, to which she had famously driven cattle south from Roebuck near Broome, 900 kms north (“3000 Miles on Side-Saddle”); Hill later catches up with Bates at Ooldea in outback South Australia and does the work on Bates’ papers which leads to the publication of The Passing of the Aborigines; four or five years earlier, Katharine Susannah Prichard had been at Turee Creek, a couple of hundred kms south west of Jigalong, writing Coonardoo; later, Hill and Henrietta Drake Brockman travel in Hill’s ex-army amoured personnel carrier to Kalgoorlie to catch up with KSP who is there writing her Goldfields trilogy.
Then there is the mystery of who did Kim Scott’s aunty (Kayang & Me) see driving an apc across the Nullabor to meet with Daisy Bates? Hill’s condemnation of Aboriginal slavery in the WA pearling industry; Chris Owen’s excoriation of the Duracks’ complicity in Aboriginal massacres in Every Mothers’ Son is Guilty; Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis’ account of her family coming in from the desert (Pictures from my Memory) – she was at school for a while at Karalundi mission where Daisy, one of the Rabbit Proof Fence girls was working, in 1972; and of course, Robyn Davidson’s journey by camel across the desert (Tracks) whose beginning and end points, Alice Springs and Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay, mirror those of Hill, who started from Hamelin Pool and ends her account two years later riding a camel into Alice Springs.
This is all by way of an introduction to my review this month of The Great Australian Loneliness on the Australian Women Writers Challenge site. Read on …
Buried in Print and I are read-alonging Katherine Susannah Prichard’s Goldfields trilogy in which, Nathan Hobby in his recent biography of Prichard says, KSP made a serious attempt to tell the Aboriginal side of the story, as well as that of all the white (mainly) men who rushed out to Southern Cross, Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie and beyond, into the dry, mostly scrub country east of Perth, in search of gold.
Interestingly, her POV in book 1, The Roaring Nineties, at least, is a woman, Sally Gough who insists on accompanying her husband, Morrie. Sally, while camped at Hannan’s (Kalgoorlie) in 1895, makes friends with an Aboriginal girl who is the mistress of Morrie’s then partner, Frisco [the young woman, Maritana, is left with Frisco, off and on, by her older husband in return for food]; and she is later rescued while suffering typhoid on a trek north (to the new Darlot discovery), by Maritana’s mother Kalgoorla and is returned to Kalgoorlie in the care of Kalgoorla’s tribal group.
Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields is Wangkatja country, of the Western Desert peoples, though immediately to the south (and east) was/is the smaller Ngadjunmaya nation (map).
Prichard, who researched this work in the 1940s, explains that men prospecting as far north as present-day Laverton had antagonised the locals by polluting their waterholes and stealing their women, and that isolated prospectors would quite often come under attack.
In Chapter XXVI, Sally hears of a prospector, ‘Mick Gerald’ who has discovered ‘a mountain of gold’ a couple of hundred miles north east
He and Bill and Syd Parry struck a big quartz hill … and called the place Mt Catherine… further on [they] discovered another reef which they intended to register as Daisy Bell.
While they were out prospecting, natives raided the camp, and speared the pack horses. They went out after the natives and met Ned Robbins who had struck the far end of the Daisy Bell reef and pegged a lease there. Ned went with them to settle with the natives.
[Back in Kalgoorlie ‘Gerald’ and the Parry’s register their claim to Daisy Bell, cutting Robbins out]. Robbins swore to get even with them.
He gave information to the police about that massacre of the blacks. [Mick] Gerald and Bill Parry were arrested. Syd Parry [subsequently] gave himself up.
The Coolgardie Miner came out with an article drawing attention to the ill-treatment of natives by certain unscrupulous prospectors. “Blacks had been killed wholesale”, it declared, “without regard to age or sex. Infants had been taken from their mothers and the brains battered out of their tiny bodies with rocks, innumerable outrages were perpetrated on the women and the unfortunate savages slaughtered ruthlessly.”
It was easy enough to find that story again, in Trove, in The Coolgardie Miner of 12 Feb 1895, and days following. Interestingly though, there is no massacre at that time/location on the Newcastle University ‘Colonial Frontier Massacres’ map (here).
Prichard had changed the names of the miners just slighty, so that ‘Mick Gerald’ was actually Michael Fitzgerald and ‘Ned Robbins’ was ___ Robinson. The words Prichard used above, “without regards to age or sex etc.” are Robinson’s (“The Mount Catherine find”, The Coolgardie Miner, 16 Feb 1895, p.6).
The Mount Catherine find was made on 7 Jan 1895. But a couple of weeks earlier, according to the Miner
a raid by blacks took place at the camp at Eucalyptus, where a part of the party was stationed. The natives stole a great quantity of provisions, clothes, ammunition etc. and speared a horse. On the return of the prospectors (who here consisted of Fitzgerald and the two Parrys) they started in pursuit of the n*ggers and tracked them to where their trail joined that of a big tribe. It was deemed prudent to go on to the Pendinni camp, find reinforcements and horses, and then proceed in pursuit of the thieves. [Robinson joins them]
The pursuit was continued until after New Years Day and what occurred in that time is not clearly stated. The party however, recovered none of the stolen goods.
When Robinson returns to the site of the massacre with the police, they are only able to find two bodies, of two young men who have been shot. The police charge Fitzgerald and the two Parrys with murder, with the case being heard by the Resident Magistrate at Coolgardie on Mon 25 Feb., 1895. Only Robinson gives evidence as to the events leading to the deaths, and the defendants are discharged. Robinson is arrested and held overnight, before he too is discharged.
It is interesting that Prichard would include this story in her work. And sad too that its publication in 1895, and its republication by Prichard, had so little effect on the Australian public, who even today are largely happy to accept the myth of ‘peaceful settlement’.
By the 1940s there was some sympathetic writing about ‘Aborigines’ – Prichard was clearly angry about the taking and rape of Aboriginal women, which she approaches first in Coonardoo (1928) then again here; Daisy Bates was in the newspapers from the early 1900s on, with her anthology, The Passing of the Aborigines coming out in 1938; then there’s Ion Idriess – Drums of Mer, Man Tracks, Nermaluk; Xavier Herbert, Capricornia (1938); and Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land (1941).
Ernestine Hill brings up Aboriginal slavery in The Great Australian Loneliness (1940), but Prichard’s The Roaring Nineties seems to be the first – outside of actual newspaper accounts, of which there are plenty – to include a massacre.
References: Katherine Susannah Prichard, The Roaring Nineties, first pub. 1946 Coolgardie Miner (WA : 1894 – 1911) – Tue 12 Feb 1895, Page 3, ‘THE LATEST FIND’ (here) Sat 16 Feb 1895, Page 6, ‘THE MOUNT CATHERINE FIND/THE PROSPECTORS ARRESTED ON SUSPICION OF MURDER’ (here) Tue 26 Feb 1895, Page 3, ‘THE MT CATHERINE TRAGEDY/THE PROSPECTORS DISCHARGED’ (here) Sat 2 Mar 1895, Page 6, ‘RESIDENT MAGISTRATES COURT/ALLEGED MURDER’ (here) – a full transcript of the evidence from the trial.
see also my posts: Australian Genocide, Sydney NSW, 1779 (here) The ‘Battle’ of Pinjarra, Pinjarra WA, 1834 (here) Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here) Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Cocanarup Station, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here) Kimberley Massacres, 1886-1924 (here) also in WA: Flying Foam Massacre, in the Pilbara, 1868 (here) Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)
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.
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 …
Trucking is always ‘going round in circles’ for the simple reason that you like to get home occasionally, though I suppose if you didn’t mind ‘boring’ you could just go out and back. The other reason for ‘going round in circles’ is that I keep thinking I’m getting on top of my blog reading and writing, and then I’m not.
The road above, 180 kms of (well maintained) dirt is emblematic of both. It is the road to a mine I was sent to after being sent mistakenly to another mine in a completely different direction 600 kms away; and it is the, or very close to the, route – there wouldn’t have been a road back then, just wheel tracks – taken by Katherine Susannah Prichard when she went to Turee Creek station, where she wrote Coonardoo.
I’ve written about this a few times. I’m always conscious of the books I’ve read which populate the roads I travel. This trip just past, I loaded at a mine on the coast north of Geraldton (let’s reference Lisa’s recent review of The Islands) came back to Geraldton (The Fringe Dwellers, The Merry Go-Round by the Sea) and headed west through Mullewa (False Claims of Colonial Thieves), following the now defunct Northern rail line (May Holman) through Mt Magnet, Sandstone (I could reference Daisy Bates all through here) to Leinster, 900 kms and a day later, where I was asked ‘Why are you there?’ (“Because you sent me written directions.”), and was redirected to a new mine, of which I had never heard, 260kms mostly dirt road north west of Meekatharra, itself 450 kms away and a third of that dirt (map).
KSP wrote “I travelled four hundred miles beyond the end of the railway” and her son, Ric Throssell, added in his biography that by ‘end of the railway’ she meant Meekatharra, where the Northern line turns east to Wiluna (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence). But as I have written, and discussed with Nathan Hobby, 400 miles takes you way beyond Turee Creek, 150 kms beyond present day Newman. I wonder if she actually took the train to Mullewa – there is a line north from Northam, outside Perth, and her husband’s home town – and was met by a truck from Turee Creek there. But that’s another story.
Assuming she trained to Meekatharra and went the last 300 km/200 miles from there by truck then the route they would have followed, the Ashburton Road, is the one I took to Abra Mine, about 50 kms south of Turee Creek.
To close that particular circle, I am currently reading Nathan’s new biography of KSP and am scheduled to have it read and written up by 6.00 am AEST next Wednesday. And tomorrow I have another trip.
It took me three hours, out of phone range the whole time, to follow that dirt road to Abra all the while wondering if there was a turnoff I had missed and when I came over the last rise and could hear chatter on the CB you can imagine my relief. Before I move on, wild camels are relatively common in the outback but you don’t often see them. I had to pull up while these three got themselves off the road.
For much of the trip I listened to State of Terror by Hilary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny. Penny is apparently a well known Canadian author of crime fiction set in Quebec. State of Terror is a mediocre thriller notable only for what it says about Clinton – that she as Secretary of State was a mixture of Wonder Woman and an Enid Blyton heroine (ie. no adults get in the way of solving the crime); that immediate past President Eric Dumb, sorry Dunn, was a Russian asset; that the US has moved so far to the right that left-over elements of the Dunn administration would be willing to set off a nuclear warhead in the White House; that the Russian Mafia was founded and is still headed by the Russian President, and so on.
All the Friday posts are stories, or extracts from stories, written by the authors mentioned.
Christos Tsiolkas (M, Aus/Vic), Barracuda (2013) Marina J Lostetter (F, USA), Activation Degradation (2021) – SF Louise Erdrich (F, USA), The Plague of Doves (2008) Abigail Wilson (F, USA), Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey (2020) – Regency Romance Ian Rankin (M, Sco), Exit Music (2007) – Crime John Banville (M, Ire), Snow (2005) – Crime/Hist.Fic. Hilary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny (F, Can), State of Terror (2021) – Crime Henning Mankell (M, Swe), Before the Frost (2002) – Crime Terry Pratchett (M, Eng), Hogfather (1998) – SF/Fantasy
Doris Lessing (F, Eng), Shikasta (1981) – SF (Still! But I’m at the end) Ada Cambridge (F, Aus/Vic), A Mere Chance (1882) Nathan Hobby (M, Aus/WA), The Red Witch (2022)
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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’
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.
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 …
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.
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 …
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.
Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Pioneers, first pub. 1915. Revised edition (pictured) Rigby, 1963. Kindly loaned to me by Lisa/ANZLL.