In December I launched my book Locating Australian Literary Memory which explores the work of eleven authors and the sites, commemorations and artefacts associated with them. In a chapter called 'Living Memorials: The Houses of Katharine Susannah Prichard and Eleanor Dark', I observe that these two writers' centres are 'living memorials' which keep the memory of the authors alive through the tangible support of contemporary writers and their work.
Eleanor Dark and Katharine Susannah Prichard (right) on the verandah at 11 Old York Road, 1948
Photo courtesy of the Eleanor Dark Foundation
To research this chapter I stayed at Greenmount in 2016 and spoke to the gardener Fern Pendragon, Glen Phillips, Shannon Coyle and Nathan Hobby who kindly provided me with background information about the house and garden. A few months later I was lucky enough to stay at Varuna where I was assisted by the archivist Barbara Palmer.
Both Dark and Prichard are aligned with their houses and gardens - their restoration and preservation have enabled this to a large extent, while providing writers with the luxury of time and space in which to work.
My book argues that new forms of commemorations need to emerge in the 21st century, to appropriately memorialise a wider range of authors and storytellers who have been previously overlooked. Although Prichard and Dark were ambivalent about traditional literary commemorations, particularly the political hypocrisies attending them, I think that both women would have approved of the creative use of their houses.
The launch featured readings of work by David Unaipon, Henry Lawson, Henry Handel Richardson, Adam Lindsay Gordon and a song from Banjo Paterson by members of Victorian-based literary societies. I wasn't able to include KSP in the line-up due to time constraints but these performances reminded me of the incredible power of literature when it's read aloud and the amazing work done by literary organisations across the country. Without their dedication to preserving and recording literary heritage and undertaking pilgrimages, performances and re-enactments, Australian culture would be greatly impoverished.
‘Brigid Magner’s fascinating study sets out the ways in which a nation can build an identity by actively constructing a literary memory, and then using those memories to paper over the deep history of our First Nations and their stories. In doing so she helps us understand both how fragile Australian culture is and also the ways in which literature is a powerful force.’ – Sophie Cunningham
Locating Australian Literary Memory (Anthem Press, 2019) can be purchased here.