Katharine Susannah Prichard Underground: Ten Weeks in Kalgoorlie, 1941

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This is a paper I presented at the Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference in Perth, July 2019. The conference theme was ‘dirt’.

Literature and politics were always interacting in the life and work of Katharine Susannah Prichard. The clash and confluence of the two are both apparent in her ten week research trip to the gold-mining town of Kalgoorlie in 1941. The tensions in this moment in Australian history are suggested by the fact that much of our knowledge of Prichard’s trip is thanks to the files kept by two government agencies—one, the Commonwealth Literary Fund which was giving her money; and the other, the intelligence service which was surveilling her. The trip encompassed two forms of dirt—the ‘dirt’ of a mining industry and the ‘dirt file’ being kept on Prichard as a dangerous radical. Continue reading

Year five of my quest for Katharine Susannah Prichard

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You can’t really see it, but I’m holding a copy of my thesis and the “PhinisheD” mug on the day of my submission. Of course, I’m not really finished  – not even the thesis, which will probably come back with corrections after examination!

It’s five years today since I officially started my biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard. This is starting to be a long time. The decade was young when I began and now it’s finishing. In fact, I was beginning just at the start of the centenary of the Great War, and I submitted my PhD thesis on Katharine’s early life in late June, just before the centenary of Armistice. My thesis lasted the length of the Great War; the whole biography – extending the story to the end of her life – will take somewhat longer. Continue reading

‘Red Witch’: my speech on Tuesday

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I’m giving a talk called ‘Red Witch: the life and work of Katharine Susannah Prichard’ at Cambridge Library in Floreat on Tuesday 11 June 2019 at 10:30am. It will be an overview of her rich and dramatic life with time for questions afterwards. It’s free but places are limited so you need to book –  call the library on 9383 8999 or via email at library@cambridge.wa.gov.au.

It will be interesting to return to Cambridge – I had my first library job there from 2003 to 2005.

Photo: KSP (1949) by D. Glass, from National Archives.

 

Australian literary biography in 2018

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At the moment I’m working on the 2018 bibliography of Australian literature for the Journal of Commonwealth Literature with my co-authors Van Ikin and Margaret Stevenson (previous year’s here – but alas it’s paywalled). It has led me to discover some Australian literary biographies I missed, including four from Australian Scholarly Publishing. Together with Monash University Publishing, they are holding up the genre! Generously defined, there were eight Australian literary biographies in 2018 by my count – up from previous years.  I feel very remiss for having only read one so far. Continue reading

This is why we can’t have nice things

i.

Shorten conceding. He speaks in waves
And says the right words
Politicians have bigger selves than me
I’m only watching by accident
Having sworn off all politics a couple of hours ago
For years it’s taxed my time
And left me with a dry mouthful of shit

ii.

How many times do I learn the same lesson?
Salesmanship trumps substance

These are the things Australians choose:
Reality TV, franchise shopping, tabloid media, property speculation, the Liberal Party.

To be prime minister you need slogans and photo ops
You don’t need to answer questions
You don’t need policies
You don’t need to try to save the world
Let’s just carry on to hell as we were

iii.

Today I’ll turn off the news forever.
Today, tell me if you voted Liberal
So I can unfriend you and never speak to you again.
Today I’m retreating to aesthetics
I’ll look at paintings from long ago
And live for myself, it’s the Australian way now.
Today we’ll sell the house and go self-sufficient in Balingup.
Today we’ll gird our loins and replenish the armoury,
Planting seeds in the backyard with the kids
And saying you have to keep hoping no matter what.

 

 

The Shadow in the Garden: A Biographer’s Tale by James Atlas

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James Atlas The Shadow in the Garden: A Biographer’s Tale (Scribner, 2017, 400pp)

I’m drawn to biography’s sweet melancholy about mortality and recovering fragments of the past.  Biographer James Atlas’s excellent memoir The Shadow in the Garden captures the mood I feel about biography. Continue reading

The Young Desire It by Kenneth Mackenzie

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Kenneth (Seaforth) Mackenzie’s The Young Desire It is a beautiful prose-poem, a novel about adolescence which amazed me again and again with its evocation of states of mind and the experience of landscape. It tells of a year in the life of fourteen-year-old Charlie Fox, as he begins at a boarding school in Perth, with interludes at his mother’s farm in the South-West where he falls in love with a neighbour’s visiting niece. It’s shocking to read in 2019, with the sexual assault of Charlie by the other students as a hazing ritual in the novel’s opening and the grooming by a paedophile teacher presented as a normal part of school life. Continue reading

My poor fallow blog

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My poor fallow blog, my poor neglected readers. I thought I was busy before child number two arrived at the end of winter. But since then, I have been busier, and exhausted with a tiredness that has settled in. (I was going to tell you her name in a previous post, because we still hadn’t chosen it – it’s Sarah, and she’s now six months old, and crawling the length and breadth of the house.) Today is my birthday, and I have a tradition of writing a blog post on my birthday – that and going to a movie, once a regular occurrence, but currently an annual one. I have no wisdom or wit about turning thirty-eight, I’m rather sad about it really. Well, and glad to still be here on Earth in reasonable health. Continue reading

The letters of Nettie and Vance Palmer

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I really like Nettie and Vance Palmer, the Australian literary power couple of the first half of the twentieth century. (And lifelong friends with Katharine Susannah Prichard.) Last year I read both volumes of their published letters – a tiny fraction of the massive archive in the National Library. I was too busy to review the first (old) collection but my review of the new collection of love letters, edited by Deborah Jordan, is now up on the Westerly website.