Glimpses of KSP – Leon Brodzky, Robbie and Bachelor Girls in 1909

Leon Brodzky, from Find a Grave, added by Ray Cannata

[At the State Library of Victoria, I found some extraordinary letters between Leon Brodzky (pictured) and Hugh McCrae, friends of Katharine Susannah Prichard, which are remarkably frank about sex and dating in 1909. It’s such an underground subject that it gives some important background to the lives of twentysomethings at the time. Leon was in London and interested in another friend of Katharine’s – Ethel Robson, or Robbie. She taught Katharine about the ‘wicked ways of men’ and the risks of VD, revealing she had gonorrhoea. It was hard to delete this scene and I’m glad to be able to share it now.]

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Glimpses of KSP – Tarella Station

Another deleted scene from The Red Witch – when Katharine was working at Tarella Station as a governess in 1905, there was a visit from a young Anglican minister which found its way into the serial she wrote based on her time there.

Katharine’s father, Tom, had given her a commonplace book for Christmas in 1904, inscribing it, “‘Kattie’s album: Let here be written thoughts that live and burn.” Few of the thoughts written in it are her own, but the accretion of sayings and signatures from friends and family over the next couple of years contain a number of biographical clues.

In June, a young Anglican minister, Reverend Fred Newton, who had begun a church at Ferntree Gully near the Quins’ Melbourne residence, arrived at the station for a holiday to improve his health. He was one of five people to leave answers to a survey Katharine started in her commonplace book. To the question “What is life?” he responded in the negative, “Without God—a failure.” To the question “What is love?” he responded, “The summit of human happiness.”

In “City Girl,” Katharine plays out a strange flirtatious relationship between “Mollie, my eldest pupil” who is “all sunshine and storms” and the “young parson who is here with a lung.” Kit chaperones the pair on an excursion one weekend. When they stop and talk, Molly says she is possessed by seven devils and wishes she was dead; when the parson tries to console her she turns on him. “‘Be quiet!’ she chided strenuously. ‘You just want to catch cold and die—or go to Melanesia or some other black place. You’re a wicked man!’” As it turns out, the parson is sent to the Pacific Islands and Mollie is heartbroken. In real life, Newton returned to Ferntree Gully in September, his health much improved; he married in 1912 only to die in 1919 after a relapse.

One reason I find the Rev Fred Newton intriguing is because later in London Katharine spends the whole trip entangled with his brother, a singer. She kissed him once in a cab, then agreed with him there should be no more nonsense like that.

  • Glimpses of KSP series: this month is the first birthday for The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard and I’m marking the occasion with some posts throughout May offering random glimpses of KSP. During May you can buy a signed copy of The Red Witch directly from me at the discounted price of $45 with free postage (usually $10) to anywhere in Australia – the online shop is here.
  • Glimpses of KSP – Monty Miller

    Here’s another Red Witch deleted scene from the time of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s arrival in Perth in 1919.

    Rather than seeking out the writers of Perth, Katharine was launching herself into the city’s radical political circle. She and Hugo would come into the city on Sunday afternoons for the Social Democratic League meetings on the Esplanade, ‘the green flats beside the shining river where the people of Perth gather for such occasions’. Katharine made one of her first friends in Western Australia on one of these afternoons, an octogenarian radical named Monty Miller.

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    Glimpses of KSP – Anzac Day 1919

    Hugo Throssell statue in Northam in 2018, with my then toddler son, Thomas.

    I found this paragraph which I cut from The Red Witch due to the word limit. It’s more a glimpse of Katharine’s husband, Hugo Throssell, actually. I was intrigued by just how different this first Anzac Day was after the Great War – certainly lacking the solemnity of today.

    At first it seemed that Hugo was settling into his expected role of war hero. Anzac Day on 25 April 1919 wasn’t a public holiday in Perth and the commemoration was very different from the solemn ceremonies which now mark the day. In the evening, St George’s Terrace, the main street, was blocked off and ‘converted into a corner of Egypt’ for a fundraising event called ‘A Night in Cairo’, taking its theme from the middle eastern campaigns of the war. Costumed volunteers acted out an Egyptian wedding, funeral, and a court trial and guides took visitors to a replica of Cheops’ pyramid. Finally, at 8pm at the ‘Cosmograph Americano Esplanade Gardens’ a performance by a young dancer was followed by a lecture from Hugo in which he showed lantern slides of Egypt and Palestine. It was drizzling and attendance was down; the ₤700 raised for the Returned Soldiers’ Association was less than they hoped for.

    • Glimpses of KSP series: this month is the first birthday for The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard and I’m marking the occasion with some posts throughout May offering random glimpses of KSP. During May you can buy a signed copy of The Red Witch directly from me at the discounted price of $45 with free postage (usually $10) to anywhere in Australia – the online shop is here.

    The Red Witch turns one: some highs and lows of publishing my book

    It’s a year since The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard came out.

    I’ll always remember the night of my book launch at the UWA Tavern, my family and friends and colleagues and KSP fans gathered together. There were speeches from my supervisors, Tony Hughes d’Aeth and Van Ikin, who had been there with me all those years I was writing it. To my disbelief, Norman Jorgensen handed me a signed copy of KSP’s seven inch record on which she reads two of her short stories. It was such a generous gift. It was a surreal night – just before the event was due to start, I had a job offer over the phone which threw me off balance. I had been going to say no, because I couldn’t work full time, but in that evening when I’d finally climbed the mountain of the book it felt like everything was changing, opening up and that I needed to say yes.

    That launch was the first of many events, a busy, giddy couple of months. I was even interviewed by Phillip Adams, something I’d long dreamed of. I’d been rather selfishly worried he would retire before the publication of my book. But it happened, an hour long special with me and Karen Throssell, KSP’s granddaughter. We pre-recorded in the morning but, alas, there was no cosy chat with Phillip before or after – he was in a hurry. The reviews started rolling in and there were so many of them! I was grateful to be met with astute and generous reviewers, some of them writers I admire greatly. I had an online launch, compered by Lisa Hill of ANZ Litlovers with Karen Throssell launching and my publisher, Nathan Hollier, also speaking. I had another launch at Katharine’s house itself in Greenmount, now the KSP Writers’ Centre, a place which had been so central to the journey. Fittingly, the centre’s patron, Glen Phillips, launched the book; he’s been writing about KSP for decades.You can see in the photographs the golden autumn light. It was a perfect afternoon.

    As a bookend to the first launch, at the end of June the theological college where I’d worked for fourteen years had a combined farewell and launch for me and theologian Michael O’Neil spoke eloquently and appreciatively about my book.

    I had a week off before I started my new job and a long list of things I was going to do but instead, I came down with covid and a severe case of a bad review. Since then I have been holding in a very juvenile desire to swear on my blog at the eminent historian Sheila Fitzpatrick. (Maybe an acrostic poem, Gwen Harwood style?) I’d always wanted to review for ABR and be reviewed in it. Professor Fitzpatrick’s review in the July issue came on day two of covid, when I was at my sickest. Confined to bed, I got up when I heard the postie. And there I was, finally in the ABR. Her review was disdainful and it seemed as if she didn’t understand the conventions of biography and what my biography was trying to do; she didn’t even consider it on its own terms. I’ve always been an outsider to the academy – I don’t come from an academic family and my work doesn’t fit neatly into a discipline – and I felt my eight years of research and writing were crushed by an insider who had all the power. But reviews should be honest and it was no doubt the honest opinion of an expert in Soviet history, an aspect of my book which isn’t its strong point – nor its focus. The thing is, it never looks good to respond to negative reviews. You end up looking thin-skinned and perhaps a little ridiculous. Of course, if I’m honest, I am thin-skinned and thereby temperamentally unsuited to the public exposure of publishing a book.

    But other aspects of public exposure suit me. I love public speaking, love talking about my book and answering people’s questions. Due to the ongoing covid pandemic, I haven’t pushed hard to do more talks. I’m still wearing a n95 mask, trying to stave off repeat infections, and that’s something few people have sympathy with any more, let alone in a guest speaker. (If anyone is tolerating a masked speaker and can gather a few people to hear me talk about KSP, drop me a line!)

    I wrote to a friend, ‘I had told myself that being published would be enough, but I think I had my fingers crossed.’ I thought there would be invitations to literary festivals (there was one – Mandurah, thank you!) and a shortlisting or two. But like most books, mine has largely missed out on these things.

    A few years before I finished The Red Witch, a publisher told me that non-commercial Australian biographies sell between 200 and 1000 copies. It was a reality check and I was crestfallen. I read somewhere that David Marr’s biography of Patrick White sold 40,000 copies and there was a part of me setting that up as a benchmark. But here was this wise publisher recalibrating my expectations.

    The thing about climbing a mountain is the dilemma of what to do next. ‘Climb another one’. A higher one? No chance. Or at least not right now. I’ve had two false starts on new books. Both foundered on the lack of rich archival material – personal letters – to bring the subjects alive. I’ve got two other ideas I’m spending a long time choosing between; both of them have promise and both of them have problems. I don’t want to commit to starting and then stop again. Also, I have no time. I do have an article celebrating Elizabeth Jolley’s centenary out next month in the State Library of NSW’s OpenBook magazine.

    Thanks to everyone who has bought my book / read my book / come along to one of my talks / followed my blog – I appreciate it so much!

    To celebrate the first birthday of The Red Witch, during May you can buy a signed copy directly from me at the discounted price of $45 with free postage (usually $10) to anywhere in Australia – the online shop is here.

    Glimpses of KSP – A Relic

    I have two books and a record signed by Katharine Susannah Prichard, but I recently acquired my first item she once owned. It came up for sale on Ebay, a copy of Alfred Deakin’s The Federal Story, published posthumously in 1944. It was a reasonable price and I liked that it was a book which would have held significance for her. Deakin befriended her when he was prime minister in about 1908 and would sometimes walk into the Melbourne city centre with her. They shared a love of the novelist George Meredith and it was thanks to his letter of introduction that she got to meet her literary idol when she visited England. After her conversion to communism, she was easier on Deakin than other liberals and wrote an undistinguished play about him in 1951. At the time she knew him, she shared his middle-class progressive politics. She also had a melancholy appreciation for the autumn of his aging generation of mid-Victorians. They were fading away while she was burning brightly. She was filled with a sense of destiny as a talented young woman coming of age in a ‘new’ nation. There’s a second association for the copy – after her death, it passed to her old friend, Annette Cameron. The friendship was significant in Katharine’s life; Annette was one of her confidants. I wish I’d met Annette before she died and had been able to understand her better – but she was a private person and would have hated the idea of my biography. At the end of Katharine’s life she was urging her to burn everything, all of her papers.

    I’ve proudly added it to my KSP collection but I confess I have some ambivalence about whether I should have bought this book. I’m not inclined to read it, at least at this point. And I sometimes think that despite the significance some of us invest in provenance and the magical touch of a famous figure, it is perhaps illusory, or at least largely invisible. I shouldn’t think about these things so much, I suspect, that’s not what collectors are meant to do.

    • Glimpses of KSP series: this month is the first birthday for The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard and I’m marking the occasion with some posts throughout May offering random glimpses of KSP.

    Glimpses of KSP – May Day

    This month is my book’s first birthday and I’m marking the occasion with some posts throughout May offering random glimpses of Katharine Susannah Prichard.

    May Day brings to mind a passage in a letter Katharine wrote in 1956 to Mikhail Apletin, who worked for the Union of Soviet Writers in Russia:

    ‘To-day, I am sad, because I wanted to go to the celebrations of May Day in Fremantle, but friends who were to drive me could not go, and so I have spent the day alone in my wild hills. Writing to you and Oksana is a consolation. Our winter is beginning and torrents of rain have been falling.’

    I find it a poignant image of old age. She is 72, and despite her fame she finds herself alone in her cabin in the rain. Greenmount was an isolated place to live for a woman without a car.

    That same year, she published the pamphlet Why I Am A Communist, based on some newspaper columns she had written; Jeff Sparrow calls it ‘a gesture of loyalty to the Stalinist regime, at a time when the faith of many loyal Communist Party members was being shaken to the core’.

    Chubby Art Garfunkel

    Simon and Garfunkel were just playing in the car which reminded me of the rudest doctor I ever had. I can’t remember his name but it was 2003 and he was a middle-aged Brit who seemed a little bored. I’d finally got a job as a library officer after graduating from my BA into unemployment and I had to do a medical. It was my first appointment with him and he remarked, ‘Has anyone ever said you look like a chubby Art Garfunkel?’ No, actually, no-one had ever said that but years later when I told my wife, she thought that was hilarious and sometimes she has been known to call me ‘chubby Art Garfunkel’. This is mostly a compliment in her lexicon, as she likes Art Garfunkel and he was surely on the skinny side in his heyday. (Or this is what I tell myself.) He said working in a library wasn’t a very good job and I should be aiming higher. I wouldn’t be very busy and I could use my spare time to study for a real job. I am still studying, I told him, studying to be a librarian. As it turned out, working the front desk at one of WA’s busiest libraries did not give me any spare time at all.

    That medical practice, still going today with one of the worst Google ratings in the city, was run really badly. It charged a fortune, had a rude receptionist and always kept people waiting inordinately. I usually saw another doctor, a delightful Polish fellow. He was jolly and I think he was good at his job, but he was always running about an hour behind. I would get so frustrated waiting and ready to tell him I was never coming back, but then he would be apologetic and funny and I would come back the next time right up until I moved away.

    Mandurah Readers’ and Writers’ Festival

    I’m looking forward to appearing at the 2023 Mandurah Readers’ and Writers’ Festival on Saturday 14 January at 11:00am. I’ll be in conversation with author Dr Josephine Taylor about my book, The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard. It’s a free event but you do need to reserve a ticket; the event page is here. Kudos to the City of Mandurah for putting on this festival. If you’re near Mandurah, I would love to see you there!

    An A to Z of Katharine Susannah Prichard: Z is for… ZOYA ZARUBINA

    Black and white photo of an aged Katharine Prichard standing with another woman.

    ‘What are you possibly going to do for Z?’ you were wondering. And here I am finishing not with just a single Z, but a double Z, fittingly at the end of Katharine’s life!

    For a long time, there was a single photo on the State Library of WA’s catalogue labelled ‘the last photograph of KSP’ by the donor, her good friend John Gilchrist. During one Covid lockdown, I asked SLWA to digitise the rest of Gilchrist’s photographs, which they kindly did. It introduced some ambiguity – there was a second photo from the same moment, and delightfully spontaneous. I present it now; I used the other one in the book because Katharine has her eyes open in it.

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