Towards the end of 2017, I was selected for a Fellowship at the Katharine Susannah Prichard (KSP) Writers’ Centre for 2018. This was a wonderful honour that both humbled and inspired me.
What is the KSP Fellowship Program?
The KSP Fellowship Program is ‘a dedicated creative development initiative’ that offers writers the opportunity to ‘develop a project at a professional level.’ Part of Fellowship includes a two-week retreat in one of the cottages located at the KSP Writers’ Centre in the Darling Ranges (not far from Perth). The Fellowship offers the chance to ‘network, socialise in the evenings, share meals and writerly discussions with other fellows.’ During the course of the retreat, you can participate in a range of writing groups, workshops, dinners, author talks and one-on-one sessions to gain valuable feedback on your manuscript.
(More information can be found at: http://www.kspwriterscentre.com/fellowship-program)
Coonardoo and I.
Coonardoo is arguably the novel most people would remember of Katharine Susannah Prichard. I first read Coonardoo in high school English and Prichard’s evocative descriptions of the Western Australian interior were memorable. Having lived near Meekatharra for a time when I was ten, Prichard’s writings bought the land and its people back to life for me.
“Mrs. Bessie loved every phase of it, every line of the trees, every light and colour of red earth and pale-blue sky, dove-grey mulga, and white-barked creek gum-trees with their long dark pointed leaves.”
Coonardoo – Katharine Susannah Prichard
I was reacquainted in 2015 with Coonardoo when I undertook LCS12 Writing the Nation – Australian Literature to 1950 though Curtin University. (By the way, if you’re ever looking for something to ignite a creative spark, try a quick university unit). It was enriching to re-read the novel and, whenever you re-read a book, as you do, you always gain new insights into the text. I found Prichard brave to confront the issues she saw. Particularly in the social climate of 1920’s Australia. Topics she broached in Coonardoo spanned issues of gender roles and marriage, race relations, city versus bush life and the damaging social impacts of alcohol. It was perhaps for all of these reasons why the novel was joint winner of the Bulletin Novel Competition in 1928.
Where is the KSP Writers’ Centre?
The Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre is located in the Darling Ranges (east of Perth) in the suburb of Greenmount.
The Darling Ranges have a special significance for me as I was born in Kalamunda and grew up in the Bickley Valley. I later lived in Walliston and Lesmurdie. It wasn’t until the age of 15 that I left the region. I knew the suburb of Greenmount well but did not know of the Writers’ Centre. I’m certainly looking forward to returning to the land of my childhood and revisiting all of the memories that will arise from immersion in that place.
What will I be working on during my retreat?
Most importantly, and the primary purpose of the retreat, is to refine my manuscript. The working title of the manuscript on which I’ll be focussing is Mrs. Bishop’s Bed. It was energising to receive the uplifting comments from the Fellowship selection panel about this work.
Footpaths bathed in brilliance
I was nine years-old during the WAY ’79 celebrations. 1979 was the sesquicentenary year of European colonisation of WA. The symbol for the celebrations was an emblematic swan with the number 150. I’m certain there’s a picture of me somewhere in a t-shirt emblazoned with that logo.
As part of the celebrations, 150 slabs commemorating notable Western Australians were laid into the footpaths of St. Georges Terrace. I recall the visits to the city and walking along St. Georges Terrace to London Court. I can’t recall if I saw this slab but I suspect its imprint will be laid into the footpath of my life.
Mountains of memories.
Mundaring Weir was a special trip for our family on weekends. The weir supplied the Perth regional area with water for many years and also supplied the town of Kalgoorlie via a pipe laid between the two cities. Having a fear of heights, the journey across the boardwalk atop the wall was a handrail-grasping affair that I found both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures.
Afterwards, we would stop by the Mahogany Inn for a Devonshire Tea.
I remember Xanthorrhoea everywhere in the surrounding bush and a region near Greenmount was where my Grandfather trained with the 16th Battalion prior to leaving for World War I. Perhaps he left some of his spirit behind in the surrounding bush. This is something on which I may be able to draw during times of reflection. The KSP Writers’ Centre has published a book on the military training camp titled Blackboy Hill is Calling.
I would like to thank the board of the KSP Writers’ Centre and the selection panel for awarding me a Fellowship. Over the coming months, I will pop up some snippets and reflections of the journey towards, during and after my retreat.
Congratulations also to all of the other fellowship and writer-in-residence recipients for 2018.
Lever, S 2000 ‘Realism and Socialism: Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo’ in Real Relations: The Feminist Politics of Form in Australian Fiction Association for the Study of Australian Literature Halstead Press (2000) pg. 55-68.
Prichard, K 1975 Coonardoo Angus & Robertson Sydney.
Sage, L. Greer, G and Showalter, E 1999 ‘Coonardoo’ The Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English Cambridge University Press.