Dorothy Hewett in 1977

Katharine’s friendship with Dorothy Hewett is intriguing. Hewett (1923-2002) started out in awe of Katharine as a young Perth poet and playwright who joined the Communist Party. But Hewett began to have doubts about the party as the atrocities committed by Stalin were revealed and the Soviet Union cracked down on dissident writers. Katharine stayed loyal to the Soviet Union; Hewett criticised it and then left the party altogether. Katharine was in her 80s by then and frail; she’d already had one stroke. Hewett didn’t want to be the death of her from a political argument, and so stopped visiting her in Greenmount.

When Katharine died in 1969, Hewett finally said all the things she’d been leaving unsaid in a brutal obituary that accused Katharine of willing her own creative death after the suicide of her husband. The obituary made Katharine’s son, Ric Throssell, so angry he vowed to write his own account of Katharine’s life – and he did, the first biography of Katharine, Wild Weeds and Windflowers (1975).

But Hewett made peace with Katharine in her heart and wrote a much more appreciative tribute to her on her 100th birthday in 1983 called, ‘Happy birthday Brave Red Witch!’. It was fascinating to find Ric’s notes on his interview with Hewett in about 1972; he jotted down how he wasn’t looking forward to talking to her, but he seemed to have been enchanted by her and the conciliatory things she had to say by then.

Hewett’s own biographical legacy is complicated, and her daughters Kate (named after Katharine) and Rozanne Lilley have written about their experiences as teenagers of sexual abuse by visitors to their house in their respective books Tilt and Do Oysters Get Bored?.

The story of Katharine and Hewett’s complicated friendship is told in The Red Witch chapter 38 ‘Hardliner’.