The quest to find out about Wandu, the house Katharine Susannah Prichard and Hugo Throssell lived in 1919, led to some interesting discoveries last month, some of which I wrote about for my column for KSP Writers’s Centre – it’s now up on their website.
There was a grand old house in Greenmount called ‘Wandu’. A teenage girl accidentally shot the surveyor-general there in 1915. Katharine Susannah Prichard rented it in 1919. Then, for decades, it was a guest-house and social hub for the district. I wrote a piece on it for my monthly KSP Writers’ Centre column; I’d love to uncover a photo of it.
UPDATE 11 OCTOBER 2017
I’ve uncovered a photograph, under the alternative spelling ‘Wandoo’. It’s not quite as grand looking as I imagined, but here’s a 1931 ad for the house Katharine and Hugo lived in when they first moved to Perth.
I wrote a short review of Katharine’s 1948 novel, Golden Miles, for my monthly column in the KSP Writers’ Centre newsletter and it’s now up on the centre’s website.
The Guardian has an interesting article today on the rise of “comic-book biographies”. It notes an important antecedent – Art Spiegelman’s Maus – which I read and enjoyed for a unit I was tutoring last year. That was the story of the author imagining his father’s unimaginable Holocaust story; it had elements of autobiography as well as biography. This is different – comic-book treatment of key scenes in the lives of famous figures like Einstein. It sounds like a good thing, but more the equivalent of historical fiction than biography-proper. To the extent that the creators have moved beyond the historical evidence to imagine the scene more fully, they are fictionalising. It reminds me of my surprise / irritation that great biographies are often adapted as “biopics” rather than documentaries. I like biopics, but the filmic equivalent of a biography is surely the documentary, with its weaving together of sources rather than the fictionalised illusion of a fully-realised world offered by a feature film.
I have a two-page memoir called “Archaeologist” in the new special issue of Westerly. It’s a free download in pdf or epub from https://westerlymag.com.au/issues/westerly-crossings/.
Editors Amy Hilhorst (UWA) and Owen Bullock (University of Canberra) write in the introduction:
This special issue of Westerly is a collaboration between the creative writing students of the University of Western Australia (UWA), and those from the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI), based at the University of Canberra (UC). It aims to showcase and celebrate the creative and critical work conducted by current or recent postgraduates, and undergraduates, at these two institutions. Reaching across the Nullarbor from west to east, this issue offers a snapshot of some of the best writing from the respective corners of Australia. In curating this material together, we aim to foreground the connections and contrasts in the stories of our students. These short stories, novel excerpts, essays and poems have been commissioned by co-editors who are also completing postgraduate study. It is, then, an issue for students and by students, and aims to give readers an insight into the exceptional standard of work being written in the postgrad study rooms, shared offices and library carrels of UWA and UC.
I’m looking forward to reading the other contributions. Many of the UWA writers are part of the Words and Thoughts postgrad creative writing group with me.
I wrote my piece just after my son was born in 2015. I was suddenly taken with a desire to remember my childhood. I was originally imagining an entire book-length memoir of occupations I have dreamed of / abandoned / actually done, including not just archaeologist, but the Phantom, lawyer, pastor, novelist, counterhand, librarian, and biographer. But I only wrote the first one; its another book that I’m not going to write just yet.
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!
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…
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!)
The otherworldly figure conjured after her death in 1992 doesn’t do Angela Carter justice. Her biographer Edmund Gordon attempts a more accurate portrayal of a complex, sensual and highly intellectual woman
This is a great article in the Guardian from Angela Carter’s biographer, Edmund Gordon. He does a splendid job of creating a capsule biography of her in the article, giving a sense of her whole life in a few thousand words, while making it interesting to read and illuminated with revealing moments. This must be so hard to do after coming to know her life so well in its details and agonising over any summary, given any summary will tend to distort by simplification or omission.
He describes the mythology she has been reduced to and sketches something of how he reinterprets Carter. It takes insight and courage to successfully and fairly reinterpret a life. And there’s a pressure on biographers to do so – because if you’re not offering a new interpretation, why are you writing? (In this case, though, it is the first biography of her.) Another point of interest for me: how will he be received as a man writing about a woman?
Mick fits very much at the ‘documentary biography’ end of the spectrum. It is a restrained, detailed biography, avoiding not just speculation but also, largely, interpretation, instead collating and arranging sources into a chronological account.
If I start to feel I’ve not done enough this year at the halfway point, I can at least remind myself that I have read and reviewed Suzanne Falkiner’s 900 page biography of Randolph Stow – and now you can click the link above to see my review on the Westerly website! The actually amazing feat is that Falkiner wrote it in four years. (At least that’s what I wrote down from her speech at the beginning of the year.)
Probably every Western Australian whose ancestors arrived in the nineteenth century can claim a connection to Stow. I discovered a new one from reading the biography which did not make it into the review: he and I are from the same clan. My paternal grandmother was a Sewell, and so was his mother, both descended from the two Sewell brothers who came out from England in the 1830s. I think Stow and my grandmother were fourth cousins. She wouldn’t have liked his books; she may well have been aware of the connection, as she knew more family history than she told.
On the other side of my family, as I’ve mentioned before, his grandmother boarded with my maternal grandmother’s family in Subiaco around the time of World War Two. I asked my (still living) Granny what she remembered of Stow’s grandmother, and she said that Mrs Stow would keep feeding the chickens rhubarb leaves, which really upset my Granny’s mother. (Oh, that’s getting confusing.) I’m afraid that’s the closest to a literary anecdote I can offer.
My colleague Heather Delfs responded to my tweet about my review of this 900 page book with “I hope the gist is ‘just no’. 900 pages seems excessive.” I’m torn on this issue. Stow is interesting and important enough to warrant 900 pages of the right kind, though 900 page biographies are enough to put me off, too. My KSP biography will run to 900 pages if I get to the end of her life. Crucially, I want to see it published in three volumes of about 300 pages, each with their own narrative trajectory. It’s the way I would prefer to read long biographies.
Just in time for the election, my column over on KSP Writers’ Centre website:
Those who find themselves sick of politics during this election campaign would have been wise to not admit it if they were visiting Katharine Susannah Prichard. Katharine’s old journalist friend, Freda Sternberg, was visiting in 1944 and said, “I’m not interested in politics.” Katharine snapped back, “No sane person is entitled to say that.” (KSP to Ric Throssell, 18 Sept. 1944)