Throssell, Hugo - 1914 - slwa_b2425052_2

Hugo Throssell, 1914, photo: State Library of WA. https://encore.slwa.wa.gov.au/iii/encore/record/C__Rb2425052


It was uncanny to see Katharine’s husband, Hugo Throssell, as the lead story on the WAToday website today. He was one of many whose lives were destroyed by the Great War and his death in 1933 can be seen as the long term consequence of the trauma he suffered at the front. Kudos to WAToday for examining the impact of war and placing history on its front page. But it was an article which got several things quite wrong. I was going to leave it at a fairly irenic comment at the bottom of the article – but they still haven’t approved the comment nine hours later, so now I’m feeling annoyed.

It’s tiresome to point out misspellings of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s name; they’ve always occurred and they always will, but for the journalist to spell it ‘Katherine Susannah Pritchard’ shows carelessness. The bigger problem is that one of the journalist’s main biographical sources for Hugo seems to be a research student tweeting highlights of the Hugo Throssell biography, Price of Valour. The book itself quotes and paraphrases slabs of text without referencing them, as well as offering quite a simplistic interpretation of Throssell’s life. The tweets seem to misinterpret an already problematic book; the article then amplifies these mistakes further.

To quote from the article:

The couple married and moved to Northam, where in mid-1919 Throssell gave a speech to local Peace Day celebrations where he stated that war had made him “a pacifist and a socialist.”

“He was a war hero, highly educated, came from an upper middle class family, won awards in sport. So the impact of his renunciation of the war and embracing socialism was a great shock,” Bridges said.

The decision to speak out cost Throssell dearly. He was disbarred by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia – now the RSL – and his business prospects never succeeded, spiralling into debt as he bought up blocks of land and the economy dived during the Great Depression.

  • They didn’t move to Northam. They moved to Greenmount in the Perth hills.
  • Hugo was not ‘disbarred’ by the RSL in 1919 – or any other time. He continued as the soldiers’ representative on the land board right up to 1931. Senior members of the RSL at that stage pushed for his resignation from the board – but that was because he was too occupied with his own real estate dealings to represent the soldiers properly. It’s a stretch to say it was the 1919 speech; he hadn’t made any more political speeches since 1920.

My bigger concern is something I don’t blame the journalist or story for – and that’s the state of Australian culture. Anzac Day has taken on religious significance and remembering war heroes has become central to popular history while the great writers of our past who have shaped and interpreted our nation in profound ways are largely ignored. I await a front page story for Katharine Susannah Prichard in her own right.

(Update: some corrections have been made to the article in response to my feedback – good on the journalist for that.)

  • I wrote a post on Hugo and Katharine’s experience of the Great War here.