The Pioneers: 31 – 48

I finished recording The Pioneers on Saturday, well ahead of my mid-April schedule for completion. Even the tea incident didn’t deter me!  I put the unexpected rapidity of my progress down to the fact that I really enjoyed Katharine Susannah Prichard’s first novel.  I’d get to the end of a chapter and think, just one more! Sometimes it was only the fact I kept tripping over my hapless tongue that I would stop.

In my posts on the earlier chapters, I noted how well Prichard conveyed the atmosphere of the colonial settlement and that continued throughout the remainder of the novel.  As someone who’s obsessed with food, I was especially interested to read at one point about blackened hams and bushels of herbs hanging over the hearth.  Now that made me drool in a way that weak tea and thin gruel porridge in another scene did not.

While Prichard went on to write Coonardoo, whose eponymous Aboriginal heroine is the central character, in The Pioneers, the character of Teddy, a stock-hand, is minor. He’s represented very much in, what was no doubt then (perhaps even still), a fairly common way to view Australia’s First Peoples: he is child-like and superstitious, not to be trusted, but at the same time relied upon entirely for his knowledge of country as it served the pioneers. The only time anyone addresses a direct comment to Teddy it’s in  broken, simplified English:

  You go back, tell boss—cows all right—Davey very sick man, here.

[spoiler alert]

At the heart of this novel is an ambivalence about the pioneering project.  While many of the characters reflect on the achievements of Donald Cameron as the first settler to open up the hill country, when Deidre contemplates the manner of his death, the possibility of a very different reading emerges:

She wondered if he had ring-barked the tree—score its living green wood—if he had killed it, and in turn it had killed him, pinning him to the earth with its great bulk of dead and rotting timber. She could see Davey’s father, heavy, squarely-built, in shabby, dark clothes, lying beneath it, his grey hair blood-dabbled, his face bruised and blackened. The man who had conquered the wilderness had lain there, on the very road he had made, broken, cast aside—a thing that life had done with. It was as if the wilderness had taken its revenge.

This observation, in addition to Cameron’s miserly, dissatisfied character, ensures we don’t admire him unreservedly.

In the end, it is the women who endure despite the folly and treachery of their menfolk.


Meanwhile, following up on my earlier question about how The Pioneers was received at the time of its first publication, I found a contemporary review of The Pioneers at Trove via the National Library of Australia. The review was in The Queenslander Newspaper, 13 November 1915, and if it reveals a major incident in the plot without warning (!), is complimentary:

This and other exciting incidents give a sensational cast to the story and sustain the interest when the struggles of the pioneer period have ended.  The story is one of very considerable merit and interest.

If we described a novel as having a ‘sensational cast’ today, I’m not sure it would be a compliment, but I’m interpreting the final line of the review to suggest that in the historical context it is.  Perhaps the true test, however, would be to track down a copy of the review in The Bulletin (Vol.36 No. 861,  2) to see what those blokes thought.


My recording of The Pioneers is currently being catalogued and will be available shortly via LibriVox.  I’ll let you know.

UPDATE 28 FEB: Well, that was a far speedier process than I thought it would be. The audiobook is now available for download here.  Would love to know what you think.


About Kirsty Leishman

Currently enrolled in a Grad Dip of Teaching and Learning in anticipation of teaching English and Film, TV & New Media to high school students. Abandoned a PhD in television. Completed an MPhil on zines. Honours in Australian grunge literature. Long time university tutor of media, communications, cultural studies and academic writing. Opinionated. View all posts by Kirsty Leishman

16 responses to “The Pioneers: 31 – 48

  • Elizabeth Lhuede

    This is fascinating, Kirsty, thanks for the review, the podcast and the snippet on how The Pioneers was received in its time. I read Coonardoo many years ago and remembered being very moved by C’s plight. I’d never heard of The Pioneers though. How wonderful to make a recording available – I’ve been corresponding with Timothy, a librarian from Book Coasters blog, and he asked about recordings of AWW classics just the other day. I’ve pointed him your way.

    I came across this while tidying up the links on the AWW challenge page. I think that’s why no one has visited before – your link only had your name, not the book you reviewed. I’ve changed it now to read, “The Pioneers by KS Prichard (rev. by Kirsty, incl link to podcast).” I hope I haven’t doubled up if you already re-entered correctly.

    • Kirsty

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Thanks for visiting. And for pointing Timothy my way too! I was a bit confused about what information to enter on the list, so thanks for fixing that up for me–no I haven’t gone back and done it myself.

      • Elizabeth Lhuede

        You’re welcome, Kirsty. There’s obviously a demand for audio books and having early women writers on podcast is another way for them to remain accessible. I mentioned to Timothy that something by Rosa Praed or the short stories of Barbara Baynton would be great. Do you know if there are any audio versions available?

      • Kirsty

        Not in the Librivox catalogue, but both of those writers are on my list. I had pretty much decided to read Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land next.

        I’ll probably keep doing this beyond the year too… Of course, others are free to join in and record for Librivox too!

      • Elizabeth Lhuede

        I’ll have to check it out. Meanwhile, if you happen to discover any more… Maybe we could create an audio books classics list for #aww2012?

      • Kirsty

        They definitely have My Brilliant Career and The Getting of Wisdom. Both of those were group projects, so are by multiple readers of varying quality–some chapters, I had to skip and read myself, for example. And I saw Dot and the Kangaroo in the catalogue, but haven’t listened to it, yet. An audio books classic lists does sound a good idea. I’ll continue to keep an eye out and take notes.

      • Timothy

        There aren’t a lot or Australian female authors in the Librivox collection, Kirsty. We’ve already made a list of Australian authors for that other thing.

        Assuming none of the male authors are actually women, like Miles Franklin, the only other ones who are authors of complete books which we have so far found are:

        A Lady’s Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852-53 by Ellen Clacy
        My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
        Dot and the Kangaroo by Ethel C. Pedley
        Australian Legendary Tales Folk-Lore of the Noongahburrahs As Told To The Piccaninnies by K. Langloh Parker

        Plus your own recording, of course.

        Clacy is actually English, I’d argue, but the list includes people whose work is influenced by an Australian sojourn, rather than being self-identified as Australian, though.

        The plan is to publish it as a preview page for the Aussie Voices project on the book coasters blog. It should go live on Friday. So, that could make writing an AWW post easier…save you time the research at least.

      • Kirsty

        Ah, you’ve done all the work Timothy! Hooray! Henry Handel Richardson is the nom de plume for Ethel Florence, so there’s a couple of extra works by a female writer there. I think I also saw another one of hers in the catalogue at one point. Australian Felix, maybe?

      • Timothy

        Ah…good to know! Thanks!

  • whisperinggums

    Oh good for you, recording for Librivox.

    I have read (and reviewed on my blog) The pioneers. I thought that while its style is social realist (and hence recognises the negatives of human behaviour) it is also Prichard’s attempt to consider how we might forge and new and hopefully better country. I did find it melodramatic – or sensationalist – at times but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    And, isn’t Trove, and the Newspaper Project, an excellent resource. You’ve got to hand it to the NLA.

    • Kirsty

      I was thrilled to find a review I could link to. Although, total spoilers seemed to be more common then! I’ll make my way over to your blog in the next day or two–it’ll be great to read your review. I think I got caught up in the drama of it all, reading Deirdre’s words ‘Davey, Davey!’ and ‘Conal, Conal!’ at all those life threatening moments 😉

      • whisperinggums

        Oh yes … it is of it’s day. I love tracking down older Australian books to read. Do you know the Debra Adelaide’s Australian Women Writers, a bibliographic guide (Pandora Press, 1988)? It’s a little old now but that doesn’t matter when your focus is older writers.

  • whisperinggums

    Oh no – its day NOT it’s day. How could I have done that! It’s late and I should be in bed. That’s my excuse.

    • Kirsty

      Ah, we’ll all have our stray apostrophe moments. And, yes, a friend just loaned me Debra Adelaide’s book yesterday, so I have some investigating to do!

  • Timothy

    Congratulations on your recording Kirsty. I’ve downloaded it, and once I’m through my current book, I plan to give it a listen.

    I’m really impressed by your project of recording 4 books this year, and can see it’ll keep you busy, but if you see any brief pieces, please think of the Australian Miscellany in Librivox’s Short Works Forum. It’s a collection for little bits of Australiana for the National Year of Reading.

    • Kirsty

      Thanks, Timothy. I hope you enjoy the recording. I’ll have a look at the Short Works Forum, certainly. It’ll make for a change of pace from the longer works.

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