The Joys of reading Katharine Susannah Prichard
Why read Prichard in the year 2020, fifty-one years after her death? KSP biographer Nathan Hobby wants to answer that by focusing on the joys her work can bring us today.
This reading list accompanies the first video Nathan made with Writing NSW for the celebration. You can read the original post on his blog.
The Wild Oats of Han (1928)
I start with the most underrated of Prichard’s books. The joy of reading The Wild Oats of Han is to be taken inside the mind of a spirited girl and experience what childhood felt like in the late Victorian era. It was last published (in an abridged version) in 1971. However, the original appearance in Home magazine is available on the Trove website, complete with illustrations, starting here.
Haxby’s Circus (1930)
The joy of reading Haxby’s Circus is to immerse yourself in the dramas of a struggling family circus as it moves around Australia. It’s one of the easiest to find of Prichard’s books, and is currently available in paperback and as an ebook.
Prichard’s short stories give the joy of reading a virtuoso of the form. Here’s five of her best:
– The Kid (1907) – a gothic bush story, published the year her father killed himself. I think it’s the best of her early work.
– Christmas Tree (1919) – the first story she wrote in Western Australia, after traveling out to her husband’s struggling farm in the Wheat-belt. It’s one of the most successful integrations of politics in her oeuvre.
– The Grey Horse (1924) – winner of the Art in Australia short story competition.
– The Buccaneers (1935) – a light-hearted, gently humorous story of middle-age which evokes WA’s Rottnest Island superbly. It’s amazing that she wrote this soon after the suicide of her husband, Hugo, and while working flat out for the Communist Party.
– Flight (1938) – a poignant critique of the Stolen Generation policies.
The joy of reading Coonardoo is that of a tragic and beautifully told story of a station owner’s repressed love for an Aboriginal woman, Coonardoo. The novel was serialised in The Bulletin in 1928, and is also readily available in paperback and as an ebook. Wiradjuri writer Jeanine Leane offers an important response to its representation of Aboriginal people in this article.
Reading Prichard’s work takes you on a trip to a lost Australia. She wrote many of her books between the two world wars, and she captures what it meant to be Australian at a time just outside of our living memory. She wrote about the group aspects of life particularly well—interactions within families, communities, and work teams. She focused on work as a subject of fiction. On top of all of this, Prichard’s books also give us the pleasure of an engrossing read, her stories driven by plot and character and standing up well all these decades later.
Jeanine Leane, “Other People’s Stories.” Overland Journal. 225, Summer 2016.
Jacqueline Wright, “On ‘Coonardoo’, by Katharine Susannah Prichard.” Griffith Review. Edition 71, January 2021. Wright has listed books that will help put Coonardoo in context.
Writer, journalist and author Kirsten Krauth writes on reading Katharine Susannah Prichard for author for a day blog (August, 2013).
Where can I find Prichard’s works?
- Colvelly Verses – poetry collection (1913)
- The Pioneers (1915)
- Windlestraws (1916)
- Black Opal (1921)
- Working Bullocks (1926)
- The Wild Oats of Han (1928)
- Coonardoo (1929)
- Bumby Innes – drama (1929)
- Bid Me to Love – drama (1929)
- Haxby’s Circus (1930)
- Kiss on the Lips and Other Stories (1932)
- The Earth Lover and Other Verses – poetry collection (1932)
- Intimate Strangers (1939)
- Moon of Desire (1941)
- Potch and Colour (1944)
- The Roaring Nineties (1946)
- Golden Miles (1948)
- Winged Seeds (1950)
- N’Goola and Other Stories (1959)
- Child of the Hurricane (1964)
- Subtle Flame (1967)
Winged Seeds, The Black Opal and Golden Miles are available in re-printed editions from Allen & Unwin.
The Pioneers is available in ebook format by Project Gutenberg.
Haxby’s Circus is available in paperback and ebook, and Coonardoo in ebook from Harper Collins Australia.
Why I am a Communist, is available to read in full online via the Communist Party of Australia.
The plays Bid Me to Love and Brumby Innes are available to purchase at Australian Plays
Nathan Hobby is a writer, reader, and librarian living in Perth, Western Australia with his wife, Nicole and two young children. His novel, The Fur, won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award and was published by Fremantle Press in 2004. (Sadly, it is now out of print.) His is an honorary research fellow at the University of Western Australia and completed his PhD there in 2019, a biography of the early life of Katharine Prichard supervised by Tony Hughes D’Aeth and Van Ikin. He also holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing.
Write to Katharine Susannah Prichard
Do you have a question for Katharine Susannah Prichard? Want to let her know what her books mean to you? Write her a letter! See how you can participate here.