For the last year, the National Library has been digitising The Bulletin and making it freely available on the Trove site. The Bulletin was Australia’s most important literary journal from the 1890s to World War Two. Publishing short stories, reviews, and literary news, it helped nurture a distinctive Australian literature. Katharine Susannah Prichard’s father, Tom, had at least two stories published in it in 1895 and 1896. In 1907, five months before he died, Katharine’s gothic bush story, “The Kid”, appeared. It was a breakthrough success for the young writer.
The digitisation means many of Katharine’s best short stories are now available to read online, a wonderful development given that she has no short story collection in print at the moment. They appear under Trove’s ‘Journals’ section, not in the newspapers section you might already be familiar with. The navigation is a little difficult and some of the stories do not appear under their name—but persist; it’s worth the effort.
I highly recommend the underrated story “The Buccaneers”, which appeared in The Bulletin in 1935 and then in the 1959 collection N’goola And Other Stories but has not been selected for any of Katharine’s ‘best of’ collections.
It’s a Rottnest Island story. Three schoolboys run away and sail to Rottnest, calling themselves the ‘buccaneers’; they grow up and continue the tradition of sailing to the island each year. In their middle-age, an adventure with three younger women they meet on the island causes tensions in their friendship. It’s a deceptively light-hearted story that beautifully captures the disappointments of aging—and ends with a humorous feminist twist.
It includes this splendid description of Rottnest by Katharine:
He loved the island, its bays and craggy headlands, the sea spreading out from them, shallow green on white beaches, amethyst and purple over the reefs, streaked with jade and malachite, sapphire in deeper water and indigo to the far horizon; the white roads running inland over low hills, the scented dark shrub and filmy mauve lace flowers growing in drifts over the hillsides; the square solid buildings of the penal settlements; the salt lakes gleaming like old shells, pink and mother-of-pearl in the evening light: the snipe which collected in hundred about them, rising and wheeling as you passed by so that their wings flashed rose and silver.
- More on Katharine at Nathan’s blog at https://nathanhobby.com