In November 1985, a public notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald asking for any person to come forward who had ‘any claim upon the Estate of WINIFRED STONE (also known as DOON STONE), retired Schoolteacher, late of Tuross Head in the State of New South Wales, who died on 24th July’. Doon had died at the age of eighty apparently without family and without a will. It was the sad postscript to the life of one of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s close friends. Doon intrigues me because little has been known about her. She is mentioned several times in Ric Throssell’s biography of Katharine, but without much background. With some biographical detective work, I’ve pieced together something of the life of a woman who lived out of the spotlight.
Katharine and Doon met during one of Katharine’s visits to Kalgoorlie in the 1930s. Doon had grown up in Kalgoorlie where her father, Henry Tombs, worked at the post office. She had won a scholarship to complete her schooling at Perth Modern from about 1916 and then studied to be a primary school teacher, working at Baldivis and Thomas Street schools in the 1920s. She married an Irish miner named Laurence Doyle in 1929 and returned to live in Kalgoorlie. She is mentioned acting in a number of productions of the Repertory Club.
Doon idolised Katharine, captivated by the way she spoke and her literary fame. When Katharine returned to Kalgoorlie to research her goldfields trilogy in 1941, Doon invited her to stay at her house for nine weeks. Doon wrote, ‘I had an unshakable conviction in her creative art, that amounted to fervour, and the routine of my days revolved around her needs.’ Doon arranged trips for Katharine to the mines and introduced her to locals for her research. Katharine also used Doon’s own memories of growing up in Kalgoorlie for the trilogy. Her help was important enough for Katharine to dedicate Golden Miles, the second volume, to her. For the rest of Katharine’s life, she and Doon wrote letters to each other regularly.
Later in the war, Doon’s husband deserted her and she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. In 1944 she remarried Lieutenant Lewis Stone. They moved to Heidelberg in Melbourne and in 1953, ASIO became interested in them, perhaps because of Doon’s friendship with Katharine. They weren’t members of the Communist Party but the ASIO investigation reported that Lewis ‘entertains Communistic views and is in the habit of expressing himself freely during lunch breaks at his place of employment’.
In 1956, Doon was meant to be accompanying Katharine on a trip to Europe, but after suffering poor health, Katharine cancelled. Doon was devastated and her handwritten memoir of Katharine shows she never forgave her, nursing bitterness over it for the rest of her life. However, Katharine had no idea of the depth of Doon’s hurt and the two continued writing to each other. Katharine’s final letter to Doon is dated 2 October 1969, the day Katharine died. Doon later deposited 150 letters from Katharine with the National Library, along with the manuscript of her memories of her; they are a significant archival source for studying Katharine’s life.
I don’t know what prompted her to move from Heidelberg to Tuross Head on New South Wales’ south coast. The public notice months after her death along with the hurt in her manuscript make me imagine her last years as sad and lonely ones. But perhaps they weren’t; they may have simply been quiet ones. The truth is, most people don’t leave that many historical traces behind and perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of the absences and silences.
- Picture: Doon in her thirties, Kalgoorlie Miner, 12 July 1938, 1. More about Katharine on Nathan’s blog at https://nathanhobby.com.