A small pilgrimage: walking last month in Melbourne along North Road, Katharine Susannah Prichard’s childhood territory

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Tom Henry Prichard was Katharine’s dad, and he died in 1907. I go looking for his grave on a clear and mild April day. I already have a photograph of it and his burial record thanks to Lois, the extremely helpful Cemetorian. But I wanted to stand in front of it, the same spot Katharine would have stood many times, the place in the ground where his remains have lain for 108 years.

I have the number of the grave, but there are scant markers, and I walk in circles around the deserted cemetery for half an hour until I narrow down the G block of the Church of England section. I miss it in my first lap. Instead, I come across the grave of “Rolf Bolderwood”, buried a couple of rows away, a far more successful writer than Tom managed to be. I mumble each name to myself the second time along, and that’s how I find myself mumbling Tom’s name; it’s only after I say it that I recognise it. His inscription is difficult to read, and the stone is flat to the ground. His wife, Edith Isabel, who died in 1922, is buried there too, and there is an inscription for Alan, killed in action in France in 1916.

I stand there and think of the day he was buried in the winter of 1907, and how Katharine and Edith and Alan and Nigel were all standing right where I stood. I take photos of the neighbouring graves, both also from 1907. I can’t think what else I should do, and so I leave.

After the quiet of the cemetery behind high brick walls, the noise of North Rd is particularly harsh. It’s a dual carriageway with a stream of cars in both directions and no pedestrians around. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like in the 1890s. On the map, the cemetery looked practically adjacent to the house Katharine and her family lived for a decade, but it’s actually a decent walk, maybe fifteen minutes. I see almost nothing which could date from her time. But then suddenly I come to the two old houses before Frederick St, one where Katharine’s best friend, Hilda Bull, lived, and one where Katharine lived. Katharine’s house has a sign warning not to knock on the door and to please respect their wishes.It is an old brick house, rather unremarkable. Being on the corner, I get a glimpse over the high fence of a rusting tin shed. Could it be the original one? The one where Tom hung himself? It’s hard to know; my architectural ignorance is immense. I take some quick photos, but don’t want to attract anyone’s attention.

Another couple of blocks along North Rd, I come to the the site of her grandfather’s house. It’s a church now, old enough in its own right. There aren’t any traces of Clareville, the house Katharine lived in 1887-1888 when she arrived with her mother and brothers from Fiji. The next street, Fraser St, is named after his grandfather, and across the road from it is an angling club, which is very apt as his love of fishing is one of the few facts which has come down to us about him.

I’m not sure if my pilgrimage has achieved much. Places hold the past in different ways, and this busy road doesn’t hold the past much at all. I may have gained the wrong impression of her childhood territory; there were still paddocks in her time and no cars. But I’ve walked the same ground she walked, and that feels important. It makes my research and writing a little less abstract, a little more grounded.

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About Nathan Hobby

At work on a biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard for a PhD at the University of Western Australia. Also a novelist and librarian. View all posts by Nathan Hobby

4 responses to “A small pilgrimage: walking last month in Melbourne along North Road, Katharine Susannah Prichard’s childhood territory

  • melindatognini

    I always feel there is something special about this kind of experiential research, to physically be where someone else has been. Thanks for sharing yours with us, Nathan.

    Like

  • MST

    This is a lovely post. Maybe your pilgrimage will add nothing concrete to your research, but if it ‘merely’ adds to your own life experiences as something worth doing then that seems reason enough.

    Like

  • Nathan Hobby

    Thanks Mindy and Michelle! I think you’re both right about the importance, even if it’s not quantifiable.

    Like

  • pscottier

    Interesting, Nathan. The idea of a pilgrimage; walking one’s way to an understanding, or even revelation, is a combination of the physical and spiritual (or intellectual) that still holds value.

    Thanks for visiting my site; it has led me to this one, which I will visit again. Hardly a pilgrimage, but a nice discovery!

    Like

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