Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 9, 2022

Winged Seeds (1950, Goldfields trilogy #3), by Katharine Susannah Prichard

Winged Seeds, the third volume of Katherine Susannah Prichard’s Goldfields Trilogy, is a fitting finale to The Roaring Nineties (1946, see my review), and Golden Miles (1948, see my review). Contrary to my expectations after reading a rather discouraging introduction by Drusilla Modjeska in my 1984 Virago edition, Winged Seeds turned out to be my favourite.  I think it still reads very well today.

To recap:  This trilogy traces the development of the mining industry in WA, from the discovery of alluvial gold, the gold rushes and small scale mining to the capitalist era of international mining companies and how that impacted working conditions for the miners.  In the course of these novels, Prichard’s characters experience World Wars 1 & 2, with the Depression in between, and also the impact of the Russian Revolution and the political fallout of communism in Australia.  The trilogy is a remarkable social history, this third volume written almost contemporaneously with the events it portrays.

Winged Seeds continues the story of Sally Gough and her family in Kalgoorlie WA.  When the novel opens in about 1936, it is with the arrival of two jaunty young women, Pat and Pam Gaggin, fresh from England.  Widely thought to be the daughters of the reviled Paddy Cavan who’d caused so much grief to Sally Gough and her family, they are actually only his stepdaughters, maintaining a façade of respect for him until they come into their majority and have their own money.  They break through the antipathy of the Gough family through Sally’s grandson Bill.  They have a letter of introduction for him, from a comrade who’s joined the International Brigades in Spain, fighting alongside Pam’s fiancé Shawn Desmond. Though they like to have a good time, these girls are not the flibbertigibbets they appear to be.

When we’re twenty-one we’ll have control of our own money and we can do as we please.  If daddy had the faintest suspicion we’ve learned to think for ourselves, he’d cut off our allowance.’
‘I see’.  Bill was still dubious.
‘We can’t be of much use at present,’ Pat went on.  ‘But we want to do all we can to help Spain.’
‘Crikey!’ Bill began to laugh.  ‘It’s the best joke I’ve heard for a long time. Who’d’ve thought it? Paddy Cavan’s daughters —’
‘We’re no more his daughters than you’re his son, Bill,’ Pam reminded him.  ‘He married our mother, and then yours.’
‘Eh?’ Bill looked startled. “Gee, that’s right,’ he admitted after a moment’s thought. ‘But I don’t call him daddy.’
‘You didn’t have to,’ Pam replied.
‘You weren’t a pair of kids he took over with all of their mother’s belongings,’ Pat said gloomily. (p.68)

KSP’s subtle comment on how marriage enables the appropriation of everything a woman has, should not go unnoticed.

Bill Gough is a very serious young man, committed to the communist cause with one essential difference.  He recognises the united democracies of the world as the only way to counter the growth of fascism.  But then as now complacency was a problem, and KSP shows him delivering a stirring speech to an almost empty hall.  (If she were writing it today, she’d depict the missing audience at home watching Netflix.)

Where in Golden Miles KSP had portrayed enduring love in the union of two like-minded souls in Sally’s pro-communist son Tom and the activist Eily, in Winged Seeds she depicts the cynicism of her conservative son Dick marrying into wealth with dull Myrtle Langridge.  The problem of a love interest for Bill, however, emerges early on. At a dance where he finds he just can’t let himself go, he muses on the indifference of the people there.

During his first excursions into Kalgoorlie society, he remembered, he had been as eager as any other young man to drain such a night of its delirious excitement.  He had gone out to a friend’s car for a spot between dances, smoodged with a girl in a dark corner, and gone home in the early hours of the morning, lit up and longing for his next adventure in the fascinating world of music, bright lights and lovely girls which happened like a miracle on the goldfields, only at the big balls.  But, now, as he watched the swirl of the dancers, at the back of his mind lay a consciousness of the economic and political problems with which he had become involved.  He could not rid himself of a sense of the injustice and chicanery which was at the bottom of them.  All this gaiety seemed spurious, a festive screen for the deprivations working people were enduring on the goldfields and everywhere else.  He should not be here, Bill told himself.  He had no right to forget even for an instant the bitterness of the class struggle: the struggle of the Spanish people: the menace of fascism and war looming on the not very distant horizon.

What did these well-to-do men and women care about all that?  The men with powerful mining interests, mine managers, bank officials, wealthy shopkeepers, publicans and their wives and daughters.  Nothing disturbed them except any interference with their prospects of an easy, comfortable existence. (p.79)

By the time KSP was writing this novel about Bill’s dilemma, she knew only too well the personal cost of maintaining an unpopular political position…

More poignantly, one can’t help but wonder about the emotional cost of writing the chapter about the purgatory of Tom’s slow dying.  He’s a miner, he has the lung disease that caused the excruciating death of so many.  There is nothing that can be done, and Sally recognises that it will be a mercy when it’s over.  But any suggestion that he’s a burden on his devoted wife and family makes her angry.

Only a few days before, a miner in the last stages of tuberculosis had taken a plug of dynamite, gone out into the bush and blown off his head.  It was to escape the torture of these last hours, everybody understood; and to save his wife and children the burden and expense of his illness.  Other men had hanged themselves, or cut an artery to expedite the sentence of death hanging over them.

It was hard on the women whose men took this desperate course.  They felt ‘father’ had put a shame on them, although they knew well enough that he had been worrying chiefly about them.  The cost of special foods and medicines was rarely covered by relief funds, and his long illness inevitably wore down the health and patience of a wife and children. (p.100)

But this was not ever an option  for Tom and Eily, who had never fallen out of love with each other.  No treatment could have made a difference, and the only comfort they had, for years, was that they could be together at the end.  Knowing that KSP’s father and husband had both committed suicide makes her portrayal of Sally’s thoughts all the more poignant.

Tom would never have wounded his family by taking the short cut, Sally thought.  That was something Eily could not have got over. (p.100)


Where Golden Miles was notable for its lack of coyness about Sally Gough’s sexual needs, KSP goes beyond that in Winged Seeds with a granddaughter’s premarital pregnancy.  Her family reacts with a grace and maturity not always seen today. The girl, young as she is, is a moral barometer for behaviour that contrasts with her shallow, selfish lover; Sally is a model of concern for the girl rather than the usual anxiety about what the neighbours might think. Daphne confides in Sally because her mother Eily is newly bereaved and emotionally distraught. She doesn’t want to distress her mother, and she doesn’t want to ‘take advantage’ of an offer from the long-time suitor who she’d dumped for her foolish infatuation.  So she and Sally hatch a plan to conceal the pregnancy and for the baby to be born elsewhere.  But Daphne’s plan to adopt out the baby falters once the baby is in her arms, and things are resolved by the young mother’s return to her family where her mother welcomes the addition to the family.  In due course the gossip dies down, the baby becomes just part of the extended family and Daphne eventually marries the young man who had always loved her.

What is interesting about Winged Seeds is the way the book held my attention throughout, even though, of course, we know most of what is going to happen: Australia joins the war, sends its troops overseas and then finds itself with no defence against the Japanese and so looks to the USA for support.  So often historical novels flounder because they are straitjacketed by the historical timeline, but KSP masters this with the subsidiary plot for her characters.  Her novel captures the doubts and confusion about the war too.  People were dubious after the disastrous folly of WW1, and they were outraged by Menzies’ heavy-handed conservative rule and his preoccupation with rooting out communists instead of focusing on the war.

#Digression: Like (a-hem) another Australian Prime Minister in more recent times, Menzies chose to be out of the country in a time of crisis, spending four months overseas in 1941. It was a good thing he’d been booted out and the Chifley government was in charge by the time Pearl Harbour brought the war into the Pacific.  KSP may have been a communist herself, but her characters give due credit to the Chifley government for the management of the war.

That doesn’t mean that Sally’s family survives unscathed.  But in the final pages, when Dinny and Sally go to bury her old Indigenous friend Kalgoorla, we learn the significance of the title. Named as the ‘kalgoorluh’ silky pear by KSP, the namesake of the town of Kalgoorlie is an indigenous fruit, now known as garlgulla. For Sally in her old age, struggling with grief and despair, it is a symbol of hope:

Kalgoorluh silky pear

Lances of golden light were flashing through the bush now, striking the heavy, drooping, dark-green pods among the dead-looking thorn bushes.  One after another the wild pears clicked and split, shedding a shower of gossamery thistledown  Sally picked up a handful and found each fragile, glistening orb of fluff loaded with a brown seed.

‘Seeds with wings,’ she murmured.  ‘Winged seeds… they’ll find a corner where they can grow, even in this hard ground.’ (p.383)

Winged Seeds was not KSP’s last novel.  That was Subtle Flame (1967) published two years before her death in 1969.  I’ve got that one on order.

A reminder: I will be hosting the online launch of The Red Witch, Nathan Hobby’s bio of Katharine Susannah Prichard, details below.  It’s free, you don’t need to book in, and you don’t need to download anything.  Just click the link below when the meeting starts.

Online launch – The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard
Tuesday, 17 May 8:00pm AEST (6:00pm AWST)
Video call link:

Please join Nathan Hobby to celebrate the publication of
The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard (Miegunyah Press).
If possible, wear something red!
You may wish to drink a glass of dry sherry (Katharine’s favourite drink) or whatever else takes your fancy.

The book will be launched by Karen Throssell, poet, memoirist and granddaughter of Katharine Susannah Prichard.
Host: Lisa Hill, ambassador for Australian literature and ANZ Litlovers blogger
Speaker: Dr Nathan Hollier, CEO of Melbourne University Publishing
Finishing with questions and discussion.

Image credit: kalgoorluh silky pear, Reddit,

Author: Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969)
Title: Winged Seeds (Goldfields Trilogy #2)
Artwork: ‘Miner’ by Sidney Nolan, 1972
Introduction by Drusilla Modjeska
Publisher: Virago modern Classics, 1984, first published 1950
ISBN: 0860684210, pbk., 388 pages
Source: Personal library


  1. Hi Lisa

    Thanks for another great review.

    Perhaps, like you a little, I am never quite sure which of the Goldfields Trilogy books is my favourite… often I feel it is the one that I read most recently, which means if you read them in order, then Winged Seeds becomes the favourite.

    I agree with you that its main appeal are the human stories set against the backdrop of the international events which impact upon the lives of the individuals, causing complications beyond the issues associated with living in a mining community in WA. The strength of Tom and Elly’s bond is the centre of this book for me and is carried by some of the most moving writing that KSP ever achieved in my opinion, although I think that the emotional impact of Coonardoo is hard to beat.



    • Thanks Chris, I appreciate your comments because it took me a long time to write this one!
      Yes, absolutely, I think this novel does carry very moving writing… perhaps because she was in her sixties when she was writing this trilogy and had the wisdom of her years? That’s why I ordered her last novel, which I know nothing about at all… I can’t find a description of it… but my instincts tell me that it will be wise and humane.


  2. I’m sure I’ve said before, I plan to read this trilogy in a couple of months. Still, I don’t mind reading reviews in the meanwhile. Nathan has said elsewhere that these books are KSP’s redemption, that she finally gets serious about racism. But you don’t mention it here (that’s a question).


    • No, you’re right, I haven’t mentioned it except in passing i.e. Kalgoorla’s death at the end of the trilogy. I’ve written nearly 2000 words and what I’ve written is mostly a rejoinder to the Introduction which was rather off-putting. It was more about modernism v socialist realism than Indigenous issues, but it was written in 1984, so we shouldn’t judge that by today’s standards either.
      I’ll be interested to see what Nathan says about it. He has a scholarly knowledge of KSP and her work, but I as an ordinary reader albeit one who’s read a lot of Indigenous writing, would have said that KSP was serious about racism when she acknowledged massacres in Coonardoo, and in !Oops! Bid Me to Love Brumby Innes. But just as we are all on a journey to greater understanding in our time so we are sometimes ignorant or wrong, KSP was on that journey too without the benefit of everything we know now (even if we don’t yet know everything we should). There is no pleasing her most trenchant critics who judge her by today’s standards rather than KSP’s and I leave it to them to do that.


    • I echo your comments Lisa – after ignoring Aboriginal people in early works (just a few passing mentions), Coonardoo is KSP’s first real engagement with Aboriginal people. The goldfields trilogy shows she was developing in her understanding, away from paternalism and toward empowerment. I have an unpublished essay called Beyond Coonardoo from a few years ago I’ve been thinking of putting up on my blog – might be time!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, please do:)
        I’m loving the bio, I’ve realised that I need to track down a collection of her short stories now…


  3. I enjoyed your review Lisa – I think you’ve helped me appreciate Winged Seeds better, when I have been inclined to lets its flaws get in the way. There’s a sadness in coming to the end of the goldfields trilogy, when it’s an engaging saga that feels like it should just keep going. I don’t think you’ve read the goldfields story which accompany it, they are a treat – mostly collected in Potch and Colour.


    • Wow, thanks Nathan, coming from you as an expert on KSP, I’m taking that as a compliment.
      I’ve just ordered Potch and Colour from Berkelouw Rare Books!


      • Some great stories in it!


        • While I wait for it to come, I have to decide what to read next: Working Bullocks or Intimate Strangers.


          • Tough choice, WB is probably better written, IS is more interesting


            • I’ve just been reading about IS in your bio!
              BTW Potch and Colour arrived today, with an unexpected gift. The bookseller included ‘the remains’ of the dustjacket. The front and back are separate, and there is a piece missing out of the top of it where the title is, but I’m thrilled with it. I’ll scan it and include it when I write my review.


  4. I have to read these books, and then I’ll read your review (unlike Bill!)


    • Yes, do, this trilogy, IMHO, belongs in The Australian Canon, however we define it.

      Liked by 1 person

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