Katharine Susannah Prichard with baby Ric. (Photo: Papers of KSP, National Library of Australia)
My daughter, Sarah, was born at the end of August. With my own life dominated by a baby, it seems appropriate to write about Katharine Susannah Prichard giving birth to her son, Ric Throssell, at the cottage in Greenmount in 1922.
Ric was born at dawn on 10 May, a fortnight early. Katharine would later tell people she gave birth on the jarrah dining-room table, as uncomfortable as it sounds. She wrote that ‘the incidents’ of the birth ‘went into’ her play, The Great Man (1923). In it, the baby is born at home because the hospital is so full that there are ‘patients sleeping on the verandah’.
A neighbour named Ethel Parker helped in Katharine’s birth. ‘Then I saw you,’ Katharine remembered to Ric years later, ‘so fat and red and lovely, and they bathed you beside the fire and I said: “Put on his Bolshevik gown, please”. That was the little gown I had embroidered with wheat ears and a hammer and sickle.’ Katharine’s husband, Hugo, was outside ‘hanging onto the clothesline in an agony of mind’ when Mrs Parker came out to tell him he had a son.
They named the boy Ric Prichard Throssell. His first name was in honour of his uncle killed in World War One, Hugo’s brother Ric. Katharine’s dead brother had already been remembered in the naming of her sister’s son, Alan, born two years earlier. In The Great Man, the baby’s aunt complains, ‘That’s why they call the babe “the great man”. Expect him to revolutionize the world, abolish poverty, misery, battle, murder and sudden death.’
The night Katharine went into labour, Hugo had read in the newspaper that the famous British novelist, D. H. Lawrence, was staying in Darlington, just a few kilometres away. Hugo called and wrote to arrange a meeting but by the time Lawrence wrote back, he was in New South Wales. Katharine and Lawrence exchanged books and several letters with Katharine telling him she thought her baby had arrived early in the hope of meeting him.
Nearly seventy years after Ric was born, there was another literary birth at Katharine's Place. Poet and novelist, Tracy Ryan, was living at the cottage in the early days of the writers' centre when she gave birth, at home, to her first child. In a cottage known for being the place Katharine and Hugo both died, it’s wonderful to have the counterpoint of at least two new lives coming into the world within its walls.
‘the incidents’ of the birth: KSP to Ric Throssell, 8 October 1956, RTP, NLA, MS8071.
‘Then I saw you’: Ric Throssell, Wild Weeds and Windflowers (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1975), 42–43.
D.H. Lawrence and KSP: KSP. “Lawrence in Australia.” Meanjin 9, no. 4 (1950): 252–59.
- More on Katharine at Nathan’s blog at https://nathanhobby.com.