I’ve departed from my usual apply in reviewing Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo from 1929: I’ve learn different opinions about it, each before and after studying it. I additionally re-read Mairi Neil’s publish concerning the play Brumby Innes and its place within the history of Australian drama because Prichard first used the theme of the novel within the play.

I did this extra studying as a outcome of this work has a contentious place in the history of Australian literature. Coonardoo is the first detailed illustration of Indigeneity in Australian fiction, however the author was not Indigenous herself. So I’ve included both Indigenous and non-Indigenous views in my pre- and post-reading of the work.

While the representation of Indigeneity has modified with the passage of time, and the issue of appropriation is ongoing, this guide, written virtually a century ago, is the topic of consideration and scholarship as a end result of it’s written by one of our finest writers. Katharine Susannah Prichard makes an look in virtually all of the reference books I even have: Australian Classics, by Jane Gleeson-White; theMacquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature(Ed. Nicholas José); theOxford Companion to Australian Literature(Ed. Wilde, Hooten & Andrews), and in addition in Jean-Francois Vernay’sA Brief Take on the Australian Novel. Harry Heseltine writes about KSP extensively in The Literature of Australia (Ed. Geoffrey Dutton).

All of these non-Indigenous authorities discuss with Coonardoo, however only a few of them tackle problems with racism. TheOxford Companionsays solely that themore polished Coonardoowas joint winner of the 1928 Bulletin novel prizeand was praised as the first practical and detailed portrayal of an Aboriginal.

The Macquarie Anthology, for example, refers to hostile criticism for its portrait of a loving sexual relationship between a younger Aboriginal lady and a white man. Heseltine, nonetheless, while stating that the creative treatment isneither sociological, nor patronising, but (at least by intention) tragic, goes on to acknowledge, albeit indirectly, prior occupation of the land on which the story takes place. Refuting the doctrine of terra nullius, he writes:

> It is a matter of some curiosity that what might be Prichard’s most complicated attempt at characterisation and her most intensely sustained emotional encounter along with her material ought to be impressed by a member of a race whose dreaming, whose search for identity, was completed lengthy before white males came to the Australian continent. ( ‘Australian Fiction Since 1920’ by Harry Heseltine, in The Literature of Australia (Ed. Geoffrey Dutton, 1964, ISBN , my copy is the 1976 revised edition).

However Larissa Behrendt of the Eualeyai/Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay individuals analyses Coonardoomore harshly in Finding Eliza, Power and Colonial Storytelling.At the conclusion of a lengthy chapter, she writes:

> Though some might readCoonardooas a reminder of the loves misplaced because of racism, the novel is also a reminder of the unacknowledged legacy of colonisation on Aboriginal women: their inability to freely consent to sexual relations with the white men who had the power of life and dying over them was essentially constrained. It can be a reminder that, regardless of any good intention, constructed stereotypes of Aboriginal men and women continue to look and be perpetuated in even so-called ‘sympathetic’ twenty-first century literature. (Finding Eliza, Power and Colonial Storytelling, UQP, 2016, ISBN , p.99)

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Finally, due to Nathan Hobby, whose biography of KSP is forthcoming, I also learn Wiradjuri woman Jeanine Leane’s 2016 deeply private response to the novel at Overland.

So, what do I think about Coonardoo?

The first thing to say is that KSP is a good writer who was nominated for the Nobel Prize as a end result of she wrote about important issues. Although some of her work is weighed down by her want to deliver issues to the reader’s consideration, in the fiction which I’ve learn up to now, she tackled the big image issues of her time: poverty, disadvantage, insufficient health care, incapacity, and dealing conditions. (The Oxford Companion tells me that she also wrote about her desire for world peace and nuclear disarmament, and nearly all of the commentators point out her commitment to communism.) The massive issue that she tackled in Coonardoois IMO best expressed by Jane Gleeson-White in Australian Classics:

> Katharine Susannah Prichard’s novelCoonardoois the story of an Aboriginal lady, the eponymous Coonardoo, and the battle of white and Aboriginal Australians to stay collectively and work the huge land of the Kimberley, the place their worlds come into intimate contact. (Australian Classics, Allen & Unwin, 2007, ISBN , p106.)

That intimate contact is a narrative of affection thwarted by denial, prejudice and racism. Coonardoo is an unpaid station hand within the Kimberley, alongside Hugh Watt, the son of the station owner. Narrated from Coonardoo’s perspective, Hugh’s and that of his mom, the formidable widow Bessie Watt — the story shows how their love emerged, was frustrated and denied, was consummated, and then denied once more.

If we put all the wrongs to a minimal of one aspect just momentarily, we can recognise that in 1929 Indigenous folks were not then telling their own stories as they do today. Even if they had been literate, and most had alternative only for rudimentary training, the publishing gates have been firmly closed towards them. As well, there was a fantastic veil of silence about Indigenous dispossession and disadvantage, and we will assume, I assume, that advertising of a novel that fractured that silence was problematic. Enter KSP, fearless and marketable. She held energy in her pen and she or he used it as no person else ever had, to depict her Aboriginal characters as individuals with emotional lives within a work of popular fiction that admitted the historical past of wrongs done towards them. Readers might not say they didn’t know.

Still, a number of the language grates. All the racist terms that were common parlance in that era are used. Even although it’s genuine dialogue, the mind fights towards getting used to it. It is a persistent reminder that this e-book calls for to be learn in context and that the problems within or not it’s addressed.

Gleeson-White’s 2007 abstract and interpretation of Coonardoo is impressive, but flawed. (Though to be truthful, Australian Classicsis a group of fifty classics, and every entry is covered in solely about 5 pages, precluding nice detail for any of them.) She writes about the greatest way Coonardoo grows up with Hugh Watt and so they turn out to be deeply bonded through their shared love of the land and horses, however how they come to maturity tons of of miles apart makes no point out of the gulf of their opportunities, and their shared love of the land just isn’t equal in any respect. Coonardoo’s love of the land is her birthright which has been stolen. Hugh’s love of the land is a mere possession which derives from a brief moment in linear time. Indigenous folks, as I perceive it, have a different conception of land: for the millennia during which they’ve occupied this land it has had what we might call a religious significance and it involves mutual obligation: they belong to and take care of the land and the land belongs to and cares for them. Hugh has no conception of this chasm in their relationship to the land, and KSP probably didn’t both on the time.

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But as Larissa Behrendt factors out in Finding Eliza, Coonardoo is rarely accorded the standing of an equal companion, which we are ready to see quoted on this passage from Australian Classics. Hugh has returned from school in Perth with a fiancée so…

> …his old ease with Coonardoo has gone, however their rapport remains. When he ultimately takes over Wytabila, his need for Coonardoo has become so overwhelming, advanced and fear-filled that he buries it. ‘She was like his personal soul riding there, darkish, passionate and childlike. In all this extensive empty world Coonardoo was the only living factor he could speak to, Hugh knew; the only creature who understood what he was feeling, and was feeling for him. Yet he was afraid of her, resented a secret understanding between them.’ (Gleeson-White, p.106-7).

Prichard’s word ‘childlike’ alerts a conception of Coonardoo that is, contrary to Heseltine’s view of it, patronising. Indeed, Gleeson-White goes on to say that in the twenty-first century, Prichard’s view is necessarily anachronistic,and she or he quotes Behrendt as saying in 2004 that Coonardoo is ‘a story about white sorrow, not black empowerment. The guide leaves out any risk that Coonardoo and her group could benefit from the assertion of their own authority or autonomy.’

Well, yes, that’s true. It is patronising. But would that risk of such an assertion have been an authentic illustration of how things had been in the era being depicted? KSP was a writer of realism. In 1927 KSP additionally produced a play known as Brumby Inneswhich I have learn but not reviewed. Her portrayal of this awful man, a drunken, violent station owner who exploits his black workers and abuses the ladies may be very much like Sam Geary in Coonardoo who’s loathed by characters both black and white. From my reading of Indigenous-authored literature, it appears to me that there’s a grotesque authenticity about this character Geary who ends up taking possession of Wytabila when drought ruins Hugh and he isn’t in a place to experience it out as his mother had carried out.

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However, Prichard’s realism does allow for what could be the primary acknowledgement of dispossession, massacres and other atrocities in opposition to Indigenous folks in Australian fiction.

Although Behrendt says on p.86 of Finding Eliza that latest history of violent frontier encounters, along with the backdrop it provides to black-white relations, is lacking from the pages of Prichard’s novel, the character of Geary is balanced by the determine of the pearler Saul Hardy. He is a man troubled by the violence he has seen and by the misrepresentation of Indigenous people. Saul — in his reproof to Hugh’s racist spouse Mollie, who’s from a coastal city and believes within the divine proper of white men to experience rough-shod over anything aboriginal that stood of their method — tells her in chapter 17:

> “You can’t assist seein’ the blacks’ point of view. White males got here, jumped their looking grounds, went kangaroo shooting for fun. The blacks speared cattle. White men received shootin’ blacks to learn ’em. Blacks speared a white man or two—police rode out on a punishin’ expedition. They still experience out on punishin’ expeditions…” (Coonardoo, by Katharine Susannah Prichard, p.105, Pacific Books, Angus & Robertson, 1961, no ISBN, first printed 1929, underlining mine.)

Prichard doesn’t go into great detail but it’s fairly clear: writing in 1929, she acknowledged violent frontier encounters in her novel. Saul then goes on to speak about an episode of ‘black-birding’ where the pearler drove a crew of Swan Point boys all overboard at gunpoint when he got to sea. He additionally talks about the bounties paid for Aborigines being hauled in to custody, in chains, leather-based straps around the neck, fixed to their stirrup irons.

> Twenty or thirty I’ve seen like that, and I’ve seen the soles of a boy’s ft uncooked when he came in. Never spent eighteenpence a bob on ’em either. Police’d let one or two males hunt for the rest, usher in kangaroo. (p.105)

He talks about the time when he was surprised by armed Blacks and left alone unharmed, and says that they ‘never kill for sport—only for food and vengeance’andthe blacks have loads of reasons for vengeance.He’s been within the country for thirty years and he’s seen things: “No black” he says, ever did to a white man what white males have done to the blacks”. (p.104)

It can be so interesting to know what Prichard’s contemporaries manufactured from this. Behrendt says thatPrichard’s guide scandalised readers with its portrayal of a so-called ‘love relationship’ between a white man and an Aborigine. (Behrendt, p.82) Were in addition they scandalised by Saul Hardy’s descriptions of atrocities?

Coonardoo was not Prichard’s solely fiction that includes Indigeneity. There is also a brief story called Marlene (1938) in the Macquarie Anthology, which I even have but to learn.

Update 18/6/22 See also this article by Jacqueline Wright within the Griffith Review.

Author: Katharine Susannah Prichard

Publisher: Pacific Books (Angus & Robertson, 1961, first printed 1929
ISBN: none, pbk., 207 pages
Source: OpShop discover.

Availability: out of print.

Coonardoo 1929 By Katharine Susannah Prichard
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