Happy 133rd birthday, Katharine Susannah

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It’s Katharine Susannah’s birthday today. She’d be 133 years-old, were she alive. To me, she’s currently 27, as I’m in January 1911 with her. (She has aged ten biographical years since her last birthday.) I’m in this silent period of her life. I know of various things which happened to her, but there’s no primary personal material from the time itself. Her state of mind in October 1910 will remain a mystery to me. She left Melbourne for a “brief holiday” in Sydney, but ended up sailing to the USA, staying a few months, and then onto London, not returning home for five years. I have some theories, but I have to be rather tentative about it all. In celebration of her birthday, here’s a photo from 1915, low resolution, poor quality, but one which I only recently unearthed and which gives a different angle on the young Katharine Susannah Prichard. She’s carrying lavender; she had been cultivating an association with lavender for some years since playing the role of Sweet Lavender in a play in Yarram in 1904. The photo comes from “an appreciation by one of her friends,” Sumner Locke, in Everylady’s Journal, April 1915. Sumner Locke was the vibrant  young novelist who died in childbirth a couple of years later. It’s one of December’s tasks to uncover and tell of their friendship as two aspiring writers in pre-war London.

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Toyo by Lily Chan

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In 2005 I met Lily Chan in a writing group in Perth and she shared some early chapters from her work-in-progress, Toyo. Like many books, it involved a long journey for Lily, but I was thrilled when it was published by Black Inc in late-2012 and won the 2013 Dobbie Literary Award. Four years late, I’m finally reviewing it. Continue reading


The Unknown Judith Wright

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Georgina Arnott The Unknown Judith Wright (UWAP, September 2016) Review copy provided by the publisher.

Georgina Arnott’s The Unknown Judith Wright examines the first twenty-one years of Wright’s life. It reveals crucial aspects of the Australian poet’s life which have been obscured or misrepresented, particularly in the one full-length biography of Wright – Veronica Brady’s South of My Days (1998)  – and in Wright’s memoir, Half a Lifetime (1999). The first half of the book focuses on Wright’s ancestry and childhood. The second half focuses on Wright’s university years and their formative influence, downplayed by Wright and Brady. “The thrust of the Judith Wright life narrative, told with small variation by the subject herself and Veronica Brady,” writes Arnott, “is so strong that aberrant details, counter winds and inconsistencies have had a way of being left out.” (149) Arnott gets the tone just right in approaching the previous auto/biographical work on Wright. Even though she offers a significant reinterpretation of Wright, she does so with an obvious respect for the poet and not in a spirit of attack but of patient scholarship. Continue reading


Dark Night by Martin Edmond: a review

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Dark Night: Walking with McCahon Martin Edmond (Auckland University Press, 2011)

Dark Night is a profound work of creative non-fiction. Edmond retraces – quite literally – the steps of the New Zealand painter, Colin McCahon, following the route he took as he had a breakdown and went missing in Sydney for a day and a night. It has elements of a biography of the late artist and criticism of his work; an autobiography of Edmonds; a narrative of Edmond’s observations of the streets and haunts of Sydney; and reflections on religion, art, history, and the authentic life. It is not a biographical quest in the archival sense I’m used to using the term; but it is a biographical quest of a different kind. The life of McCahon becomes a lens for Edmond to examine the world. He writes well, observing acutely while never over-writing, and with genuine insight into the questions of existence.


Cyril Cook & the Lost Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard

Your KS #15: Cyril Cook & the Lost Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard

Source: Your KS #15: Cyril Cook & the Lost Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard | Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – home

One of the most interesting things to happen in my research this year has been the discovery of “lost” letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard and new insight into the circumstances of Cyril Cook’s 1950 thesis on Katharine. It was my AS Byatt’s Possession moment, and I wrote about it for the KSP Writers Centre newsletter; read about it on the KSPWC website!

 


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!

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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!