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Your KS #27: The Quest for Wandu

Above image: Burgess Save-Way as it was in 1959. Used with permission of Ross Burgess and Remember Midland.

Last month I wrote about my quest to learn more about Wandu, the home Katharine Susannah Prichard and Hugo Throssell rented in 1919 and 1920. It’s been an exciting month of discoveries. It turns out the Greenmount Liquor Store, a block along Old York Road from the writers’ centre, is a remnant of the Wandu Estate. It was once the tea-rooms I’d found advertised up until World War Two; the guesthouse that Hugo and Katharine lived in was a separate, much bigger house set further back from the road.

I made these discoveries thanks to Ross Burgess who contacted me through Facebook after he saw my post. In 1958, his parents bought the shop, and ran it as Burgess Save-Way. By that time, the original Wandu guest-house had been dismantled, its building materials used to construct new cottages on the original block. Ross remembers using the tennis court and the remains of the golf course Blanche Hunter had built in the 1920s.

Ross also remembers Katharine Susannah Prichard—Mrs Throssell as he knew her:

When we had the shop we delivered her groceries, she never seemed to leave the house, always sitting either writing or reading… When I got my licence, I did most of the deliveries and I can still picture Mrs Throssell, very pale, white longish hair, sitting at her writing table near the kitchen, always spoke to me and asked after my parents, the house was always very dark and dingy and had an old black wood stove, she used to regularly order an old-fashioned product called ‘Zebo’ stove black; I only remember this because she was the only one who still bought it.

From Western Mail, 8 October 1931, 47.

Katharine got on well with Ross’s dad, Alick Burgess, perhaps because they’d both visited Russia—in his case, not in appreciation of communism like her, but as a horse-dealer after serving in the Great War. While Katharine was known around Australia as a communist, her politics wasn’t an issue for Country Party-voting Alick. In Ross’s memory, it was just like the way some people support the wrong footy team: ‘no great aggro—you just change the subject’. In 1964 she presented Alick and his wife with a copy of her autobiography, Child of the Hurricane, inscribed to ‘my good friends Mr and Mrs Burgess’.

Ross put me in touch with Dale Kessell, the granddaughter of Blanche Hunter. Dale lived in Wandu as a young girl up to the time it was dismantled in the early 1950s. In her wooden box of family photos are pictures of the lost Wandu house in its prime, a sprawling bungalow, framed and obscured by the trees and the garden around it. There are smiling tennis players on the courts at the back of the house, their names now lost, and a program from a play put on at Wandu to welcome back Dale’s aunts in 1927, Hugo Throssell one of the actors.

Dale also knew Katharine, a familiar presence in her childhood and early adulthood. On the way to Greenmount Primary School, Dale would take a short-cut through Katharine’s property; Katharine would often wave at her from her writing cabin. As a schoolgirl in 1954, Dale presented Katharine with a bouquet at the opening of the Hugo Throssell memorial.

In talking to Ross and Dale, Katharine Susannah Prichard and the Greenmount she lived in for some many decades seemed closer, a precious experience for a biographer.

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