Picture: Frederick McCubbin’s Lost (1886)
“Them still hills are weird on a man. At night, in the moonlight, the dead trees are ghostly. Shadows come creeping and crawling round you, the wild dogs start howling and the wind pants up the cold earth.”
Katharine Susannah Prichard is not known as a horror writer, but with this month’s Spooky Stories Night at KSPWC, it’s time to reveal her gothic turn. It came in January 1907 with “The Kid”, a gothic bush story. The story was a breakthrough for Katharine, the first time she was published in Australia’s most famous journal of the time, The Bulletin. She had just turned twenty-three.
It tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl, “an elfish little figure, with wide, staring eyes, and ragged locks hanging knotted and loose over her face” growing up on the land with a bad-tempered father and unloving stepmother. When the Kid’s beloved baby brother dies, she runs away with his body into the bush because she thinks God will take him away to sell for his skin like her father does with dead cattle. A few days later, her body is found with the baby’s under a white gum “like a column of stainless marble.”
The grimness of the story befitted the bleak period in the Prichard household, published as it was while Katharine’s father Tom was gripped by depression. He committed suicide later that year.
I rate it as the best short story she wrote in her Melbourne years to 1919. It is atmospheric and its characters are convincing. Many of her early stories end with the death of a character, but in this one it has real impact. Unfortunately, the story has never been republished. However, the National Library has started digitising The Bulletin and when they finally reach 1907 the world will be able to read “The Kid” again.