Dirk Hartog’s plate and the Christ Church Grammar centenary: myth-making and official “history”

The Dodgy Perth team loves a good conspiracy. So we were delighted to find one about the upcoming 400th anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s trip to Western Australia, and the famous Hartog Plate which wil…

Source: Is the Hartog Plate a hoax? – Dodgy Perth

Today marks 400 years since the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog was meant to have left a plate behind on an island off the coast of Western Australia. I was intrigued to read Dodgy Perth’s post a while back asking questions about the truth of the event – questions I did not hear asked on the radio coverage today as WA puts on a celebration.

Of course, outside the academy, anniversaries are an exercise in myth-making, not a chance to critically consider the original event. This is the irony of the state and institutional use of “history”.

Gallipoli is an obvious example, but on a much smaller scale, I’m reminded of Christ Church Grammar School in South Yarra, Melbourne. Katharine Susannah Prichard taught there in 1906 or 1907. An intriguing appendix to Colin Holden’s history, Crossing Divides, discusses the confusion around the foundation year of the school. The historical record clearly shows it was 1898, and yet in 1957:

A parish paper states that Christ Church Grammar School originated in an earlier school that functioned between 1859 and 1872, but gives no details and does not identify any historical source to back this claim. Then in 1976 the school treated that year as its centenary. Once again, no historical source was indicated to back up this identification.

I have this rather funny image of hundreds of schoolkids in 1976 dutifully engaging in “historical” busywork and ceremonies to celebrate the centenary, when it seems to have been completely made up. The past needs celebrating (or commiserating) and anniversaries should be marked, but all of it should be based on good history.

(And, by the way, if anyone connected to Christ Church is reading this, no-one’s answered the two emails I’ve sent to your school about Katharine Susannah Prichard. You should be excited to be connected to such a major writer!)

Katharine Susannah on Twitter!


It’s rather speculative to imagine what Katharine Susannah Prichard would make of Twitter. She had a mixed relationship with technology. She flew in an aeroplane in 1916 when that was novel and dangerous, and travelled by motorbike and car around Western Australia with Hugo in 1919. Late in life she came to enjoy the wireless but disliked the advent of television and lived without many of the “modcons” of the postwar era.

I hope she wouldn’t mind that I’ve created a Twitter account for her, “Katharine S. Prichard”, https://twitter.com/KSP1883. After enjoying snippets of Samuel Pepys’ diary, as well as the tweets of Vita Sackville-West and C.S. Lewis, I decided Twitter would be a wonderful platform to serve up morsels of Katharine’s writing. 140 characters does not give room for context or nuance, but I believe it can give people a flavour of her writing and encourage them to seek out her books.

I’ll be tweeting quotes from across her oeuvre. The idea is to keep it entirely in her own voice.  Where there’s room I’ll give the name of the work as a hashtag, and I’ll also give the year of publication. It’ll often be a case of me live-tweeting whatever work of hers I’m reading at the moment, hence the wild veering across the years so far.

Even the profile for a Twitter account has to keep within the 140 character limit, so I was so pleased to find just the right words to fit the limit from a late article by Katharine, “Some Perceptions and Aspirations” (Southerly, 1968):

My work has been unpretentious: of the soil. Telling of the way men & women live & work in the forests, back country & cities of Australia.

Please come and follow her!

A working writer: N’goola and Other Stories by Katharine Susannah Prichard


Post #5 in my Australian Short Story Festival series

Katharine Susannah Prichard published two books in the 1950s – Winged Seeds, a goldfields novel, at the beginning of the decade in 1950, and N’goola and Other Stories at the end of the decade in 1959. It was a difficult decade for Katharine -she felt the sting of Cold War persecution as a Communist; her health was poor; her only son was living overseas and then interstate; and the writing projects she had envisaged in 1950 did not work out how she hoped. N’goola brings together this decade of troubled writing. There’s much in it which surprised and interested me. Continue reading

Kiss on the Lips and Other Stories by Katharine Susannah Prichard: a review


Post #2 in my Australian Short Story Festival series

Katharine Susannah Prichard’s first collection of short stories, Kiss on the Lips, was published in 1932, the same year as her collection of poetry, The Earth Lover and Other Verses. It came at the height of her career, soon after her three great novels – Working Bullocks (1926), Coonardoo (1929) and Haxby’s Circus (1930) – as well as her underrated “children’s” novel Wild Oats of Han (1928). It was the last book she was to publish before the devastation of the death of her husband, Hugo, in 1933.

It’s a diverse collection, spanning two decades across genres, landscapes, readerships, and quality. The book offers no guidance to readers, not even an acknowledgement of previous publications, and I can imagine some of them feeling bewildered. Continue reading

Angela Carter: Far from the fairytale | Books | The Guardian

The otherworldly figure conjured after her death in 1992 doesn’t do Angela Carter justice. Her biographer Edmund Gordon attempts a more accurate portrayal of a complex, sensual and highly intellectual woman

Source: Angela Carter: Far from the fairytale | Books | The Guardian

This is a great article in the Guardian from Angela Carter’s biographer, Edmund Gordon. He does a splendid job of creating a capsule biography of her in the article, giving a sense of her whole life in a few thousand words, while making it interesting to read and illuminated with revealing moments. This must be so hard to do after coming to know her life so well in its details and agonising over any summary, given any summary will tend to distort by simplification or omission.

He describes the mythology she has been reduced to and sketches something of how he reinterprets Carter. It takes insight and courage to successfully and fairly reinterpret a life. And there’s a pressure on biographers to do so – because if you’re not offering a new interpretation, why are you writing? (In this case, though, it is the first biography of her.) Another point of interest for me: how will he be received as a man writing about a woman?

Visible and invisible biographers: a quick response to David Marr

Sue at Whispering Gums has given a great overview of David Marr’s Seymour lecture, “Here I stand”. He focused on the biographer’s craft, and he said so many things of great relevance to me, but I’ll just engage this comment:

Marr spent four years (I think) on the project, meeting with [Patrick] White, visiting places he’d been, meeting people he knew, and so on, but he is not in the book. Editors today, he said, would “tell me to get in there”, to write of his adventures in research. He described this style as “quest biographies”, and he doesn’t (generally) like them. They “inflict their homework on readers”

I love biographical quests; they’re how I came to biography. For my Master’s thesis , I wrote a biographical quest novel (“The Remains”) and a dissertation on aspects of the genre, including the influence of its non-fiction counterparts. From AJA Symons Quest for Corvo to Laura Sewell Matter’s “Pursuing the Great Bad Novelist” and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – and not forgetting Martin Edmonds Dark Night: Walking with McCahon, which I’ve just started – I’ve encountered some superb non-fiction biographical quests.  Continue reading

Windlestraws: Katharine Susannah Prichard’s forgotten novel


This year is the centenary of the publication of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s second – and possibly worst – novel, Windlestraws. Continue reading