Katharine Susannah Prichard first voted in the 1906 federal election. Victoria had not yet given women the vote at a state level, but women were able to vote federally. She had just turned 23, and she didn’t dare tell her father that she voted for the Labor party. He had just been in a mental institution after suffering severe depression, and she knew he would take her vote very badly. He was a conservative, railing against a minimum wage and welfare in his newspaper columns.
Katharine had met a visiting socialist earlier that year, Rudolf Broda, who believed Australia was a beacon of hope for the world. Australia was one of the most progressive countries in the world, opening up the vote to women and about to hand down the court ruling establishing a living wage that could keep a family in the necessities of life. She was very taken with Broda and his pot-belly and enthusiasm. He was an optimist who believed a better society could be achieved through reform. He was an early influence pushing her to the left.
By the end of her life, Katharine had to contend with an Australia which was not a beacon of hope for the world when it came to a more just and fair society. She lived the last twenty years of her life under a government of the newly formed Liberal Party, most of them under her nemesis Robert Menzies. (Yet the Liberal Party of those years, in my understanding, cared deeply about avoiding corruption and guarding against deep inequality and poverty. The party of Menzies is not the party of Morrison.)
At the pivotal 1949 federal election in which the Liberals came to power, Katharine’s friend Dr Alec Jolly stood as the Communist Party candidate for the seat of Swan. Although he was a Midland councillor, the council forbade him as a communist candidate from hiring the town hall. So he held the rally outside his house on Great Eastern Highway. Anti-communist protestors came to disrupt the meeting, singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in unison as loudly as they could. Katharine was the celebrity guest, declaring ‘In this most critical period of Australian history, is up to all of us to use our courage and common sense to fight the gang of millionaires, warmongers, unscrupulous politicians, and their henchmen.’ They’re words which seem relevant in our current period too.