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KSP Heritage Trail #1: Katharine's Workroom

If funding can be found, KSP Writers’ Centre will be creating a heritage trail in the grounds of Katharine’s Place with signs marking sites significant to Katharine Susannah Prichard’s life. This is the first in a series of articles about these sites, providing information which will be used for the signs.

On 30 May 1930, Katharine wrote to her friend, Hugh McCrae, ‘A workroom is being built for me in the orchard, which you will consecrate by your presence’. Her son, Ric Throssell, writes that the workroom was paid for with the prize money for Coonardoo, which had been the equal winner of the Bulletin novel competition in 1928. The idea for the workroom may have come from George Meredith, whom she visited in England in 1907— he had a writing cabin a hundred metres from his house. Forgotten today but then considered a giant of literature, Meredith was one of her literary heroes.

It had been hard for Katharine to find space to write in the main house. In the 1920s, the house had just four small rooms coming off the central hallway. ‘It’s simply torment,’ she wrote to Vance Palmer in 1924, ‘trying to write in the room of one’s family—for a woman’. Despite a young son and visitors frequently staying, she managed to write her most highly-regarded novels—Working Bullocks, Coonardoo, and Haxby’s Circus—without a dedicated writing space.

The earliest description I’ve found of Katharine’s workroom is from 1935, when a journalist from the West Australian interviewed her there: Dingo pelts were mats; a kangaroo skin rug covered the couch, and the pictures on the walls were the work of Australian artists. The stone fireplace occupied most of one wall, and there were book shelves in the corners. A small jarrah table held a portable typewriter and books and papers were scattered about. Years later, Isla Marsh noted the workroom was ‘down past the lemon and orange trees on the hill slope’, while Joan Williams wrote that the window was ‘overlooking a bank of silver wattle’. Isla Marsh claimed that the workroom had been ‘brought down from the old Throssell place at Northampton’, but I have found no other evidence for this and it is at odds with Katharine writing to McCrae that it was ‘being built’ for her.

The first full-length work Katharine wrote in the workroom was Intimate Strangers, which she’d finished by 1933 but only published in 1937. Amongst other books she would go on to write there are the goldfields trilogy and her autobiography. Poignantly, the shelves for her papers remain, still labelled, even though so many of the papers themselves were burnt and the rest sent to the National Library. Katharine’s presence permeates many parts of 11 Old York Road, but it’s in her workroom that I feel closest to her.

Works Cited

Throssell, Ric, My Father’s Son, Melbourne: Heinemann, 1989, 97.

Marsh, Isla, letter to Spencer Brodney, 29 September 1962, SLV, MS8051.

Prichard, Katharine, letter to Hugh McCrae, quoted in Carole Ferrier (ed) As Good as a Yarn With You, Melbourne: Cambridge, 1992, 27.

—— letter to Vance Palmer, November 1924, NLA, MS1174/1/2630.

West Australian 15 June 1935, 5.

Williams, Joan, ‘Eightieth Birthday Tribute to a Great Australian… Katharine Susannah Prichard’, Our Women, September 1963, 26.

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