Category Archives: Katharine Susannah Prichard’s writings

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

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

Boundary-rider?: the early Katharine Susannah Prichard on the edge of fiction and autobiography


I gave two papers on Katharine Susannah Prichard in July. The first was on 9 July at the Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference in Canberra and was called “History of a troubled autobiography: Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Child of the Hurricane”. I’m hoping to develop it further into a chapter of the critical section of my thesis and also as a standalone publication. It was a little scary presenting my paper to an audience of Australian literature academics, but they were generous in their responses and I think it went well. I have been encouraged toward some further reading in mid-century Marxist responses to auto/biography and Freudian thought.

My second paper was at the Limina postgraduate humanities conference at UWA on 29 July. The conference theme was “beyond boundaries,” and so I wrote a paper on the boundaries between fiction and autobiography in Katharine’s 1906 serial, “A City Girl in Central Australia.” I’d been looking at this serial for chapter six of my biography (“Outback: Tarella Station, 1905”), and it fitted neatly with some of the thinking I’d been doing for the paper on Child of the Hurricane. It’s pitched toward a general audience and I’m not reworking it for scholarly publication, so I present it here on my blog. Continue reading

Review: Potch and Colour by Katharine Susannah Prichard

Here’s my slightly tatty copy of Potch and Colour, Katharine Susannah Prichard’s 1944 collection of short stories. It’s the only copy I’ve ever seen – it’s not particularly rare or valuable, but it shows up less often than her better known books. I found this copy serendipitously in a secondhand booksale run by the library where I work. I wish it had the beautiful dust cover I have glimpsed at low-resolution in an antiquarian bookdealer’s catalogue (right).Potch and Colour 2

Katharine wrote some incredible short stories. I would go as far as to say that I think the form suited her better than the novel, even if she is not as remembered for it. This collection mainly includes stories originally published in journals after her first collection, Kiss On the Lips (1932), but the first appearance of some of them still needs to be established. One story, at least, is quite early – “The Bridge”; I found a newspaper copy of it on Trove from 1917 (unfortunately, it’s not one of her “incredible” stories; but it’s here, if you’re interested).

This collection divides into two types of story – goldfields “yarns” and the more substantial, realist stories, several of them about Aboriginal characters. The yarns are old-fashioned and entertaining enough with flashes of inspiration. They point the way to The Roaring Nineties, the first novel of the goldfields trilogy, which Katharine was already writing when Potch and Colour was published.  But it’s the other stories which impressed me.

There’s three particularly worth commenting on.

The first is “The Siren of Sandy Gap,” which manages to be both humorous and an astute critique of marriage. Susan, “a little woman, well over fifty,”  leaves her tight-fisted husband  George for the more jolly Dave. She “lives in sin” with Dave unapologetically but talks fondly to her ex-husband when he comes to beg her to return to him. When her new lover becomes morose and fights with her ex-husband over her, she runs off with a third, younger man. “‘I want to go away and have some peace and happiness in my life,’ Susan said. ‘They’ve no right to think I must just do what they say.'”

The second is “Flight,” a story which begins with a police officer charged with removing three “half-caste” (sic) Aboriginal children from their families. He doesn’t particularly agree with their removal, but his strongest feeling is not about the injustice so much as the embarrassment in the eyes of the locals as they watch him ride his horse with the girls. When he arrives at his house, the point of view shifts to his wife, who feels compassion for the girls, but of a very narrow kind – she feels strongly they shouldn’t have their hands tied for the night and sneaks out to untie them, telling them she’ll come back first thing in the morning to retie them. And then the point of view shifts to the girls themselves and the options that face them, untied as they are. It’s a traditional, beautifully crafted story which is devastating and prescient in its critique of the Stolen Generations policy.

The third is “Christmas Tree,” a poignant portrait of failed wheat farmers in Western Australia in the Depression. It’s one of the occasions Katharine gets the balance right between her politics and aesthetics, as she reveals the injustice of the banking system not didactically but through the eyes of one of its victims. Perhaps her husband Hugo’s failure as a farmer before World War One fed into her account. My supervisor Tony Hughes-D’Aeth tells me this story gets a mention in his literary history of the WA wheatbelt, forthcoming from UWA Publishing.

Katharine’s stories are not in print at the moment, though several “best-of” collections have been published – the ones containing just her short stories are Happiness, published in 1967, two years before she died, and Tribute (1988), selected and edited by her son Ric Throssell. Rather than a new selection or a reprint of one of the old collections, I think the best thing for the future would be a collected stories edition.  It could showcase her development as a writer and the themes which preoccupied her over different periods and show how substantial her body of short fiction is.

Link: Cooper, Cather, Prichard, ‘Pioneer’: The Chronotope of Settler Colonialism – Australian Literary Studies Journal

I was chuffed when my PhD co-supervisor, Tony Hughes-D’Aeth, gave a paper last year (partly) about Katharine Susannah Prichard’s novel The Pioneers. Now a version of that paper has been published in Australian Literary Studies; you can read it free during June before it goes behind the paywall.

Abstract: This essay considers three novels which each bear the word ‘pioneer’ in their titles: James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823), Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! (1913) and Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers (1915). The three novels, although moving widely across time and space, are taken as representative of the creative literature of settler colonialism. A model of reading settler colonial literature is advanced that draws on four distinct features found across the three novels. These are: a tendency to spatialise the historical time of settler colonialism within the geography of the novel; the condensation of settler legal anxiety into a legal drama in the text; the application of a generational structure to Indigenise the settler; and the recurrence in the text of a ‘primal scene’ by which the settler society remembers its foundational violence in repressed form.

Source: Cooper, Cather, Prichard, ‘Pioneer’: The Chronotope of Settler Colonialism – Australian Literary Studies Journal

Katharine Susannah Prichard’s “A City Girl in Central Australia”

For several months now, it’s been 1905 for me. In May of that year, at the age of twenty-one, Katharine Susannah Prichard set out to work for six months as a governess for the Quin family at the Tarella Station in far-western New South Wales. It was a critical season in Katharine’s life.

Source: Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – home | Your KS #11: “A City Girl in Central Australia”

My June column for the KSP Writers’ Centre is now on their blog. It’s about Katharine’s fascinating and largely forgotten serial “A City Girl in Central Australia” or “Letters from the Back o’ Beyond”. I’ve ordered in the microfilm of the magazine it first appeared in and next week I’m reading it again. (So far I’ve been reading it from my photographs of the clippings in Katharine’s papers.) It’s also going to be the subject of a paper I’m giving at the UWA Limina Conference at the end of July – “Boundary-rider: the early Katharine Susannah Prichard on the edge of fiction and autobiography”.


Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers, redux part 1


1963 edition of The Pioneers, lightly revised. The comic book style cover is a little unfortunate, but probably captures some of the novel’s spirit.

Two years ago I was trying to decide if Katharine Susannah Prichard was going to be the subject for my biography. I read Ric Throssell’s existing biography first and then John Hamilton’s recent biography of Katharine’s husband, Hugo Throssell. It seemed to me there was room for a new biography, but I needed to know Katharine was a writer I could work on for years. I’d read and loved Coonardoo years earlier, and now I tackled The Pioneers (1915), her first published novel. It was reading it in the arts courtyard at UWA between sessions at the 2014 Perth Writers’ Festival that I decided she really did seem the writer for me. Pioneers is little read today, and yet I found it engaging, an intriguing mix of generational saga and romance set in nineteenth century Australia. It was interesting even in its flaws and cliches, and had moments of beauty and drama.

Two years later, I’ve just finished re-reading it for different reasons. After a flash forward into World War I to prepare a speech, I’m up to 1904 in my biography, the year Katharine spent as a governess in Yarram, South Gippsland, 220km south-east of Melbourne. The tales and landscape of this country inspired her to write the novel nine years later when she was in London. Working out where to fit Pioneers in my story of Katharine’s early life is a challenge. Its writing in 1913 in London reveals much about her development as a novelist and her relationship to Australia, as well as glimpses of her politics and worldview at this time. Its publication and reception in 1915 mark a kind of climax in her story, the point at which she achieves the success she has been chasing since she set out to be a writer as a schoolgirl. (The plots of non-fiction aren’t as neat as fiction – the resolution of  her love life, her radicalisation, and the struggle to write a worthy follow-up to Pioneers form a second climax.) Yet this current 1904 chapter requires some discussion of the origins of Pioneers.

I was in Yarram for two nights last month, staying with Nicole and baby Thomas in a renovated presbytery which dates from the 1890s. It brought my biography alive to imagine Katharine walking past this house on her way to the showground where she was disqualified from the ladies’ trot for racing; or arriving at her first grown up ball, probably held at the Mechanics’ Institute next door to us. I also gained a sense of the land, the hills in the distance, the farm land denuded of trees, the isolation of the town and its nearby settlements, including old Port Albert. (All of this will require its own blog post, another time.)

In the 1960s, Katharine wrote to Len Fox that, “The whole story was woven about stories told to me by pioneers – and an escaped convict – it does not ‘belie its title’, but deals honestly with the pioneering period in South Gippsland from the coast about Tararille, Port Albert and into the hills region.” She complicates any attempt to pinpoint the historical and geographical basis of the novel by renaming all the places, but “Port Southern” is clearly Port Albert, and “Wireeford” is probably Yarram. If the novel is shaped by the contemporaneous conventions of historical fiction it’s only lightly, with some attempt to imagine the pioneering conditions and recount the growth of the area (particularly in an overview in chapter 18). Taking Katharine’s own account of the novel’s origin, it’s more as if she’s shaped the tales of the area she heard to fit the conventions of the romance and the generational saga, the genres she was actually writing within.  (The point of comparison in her oeuvre is her late goldfields trilogy, which similarly weaves in the tales and folklore of a place, but does so within a framework of historical events, from a visit by the premier to the impact of the wars and the depression.)

Pioneers is very relevant to her year in Yarram regardless of how I come to understand her later use of it, and I will be writing about it as one of three biographical “origins” of the novel I’m aware of so far – the other two being her viewing of McCubbin’s painting The Pioneer (also completed in 1904 but not exhibited until a few years later) and the November 1902 Pioneers’ reunion of the many descendants of her Prichard grandparents, who’d arrived in Victoria fifty years earlier.

A journalist’s conversion: Subtle Flame, Katharine Susannah Prichard’s final novel


It’s with some sadness I’ve finished reading Katharine Susannah Prichard’s final novel, Subtle Flame (1967). I still have to go back and read two earlier, obscure novels (Windlestraws and The Moon of Desire) in the rare book room of the library, but, chronologically, I’ve come to the end of the line in my long running reading project. Continue reading

Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Wild Oats of Han: some notes on its publishing history


Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Wild Oats of Han, her memoir of childhood published as a children’s novel, has an interesting publishing history. In the foreword, Prichard writes that it was written in 1908, which predates any of her other published novels. Continue reading