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More to pioneering Perth author's story than D.H. Lawrence connection

Thursday, 12 April 2018


Western Australian author Mollie Skinner co-wrote The Boy in the Bush with British novelist D.H. Lawrence but this local writer’s important place in history has since faded into relative obscurity.  However, one WAAPA researcher is determined that she won’t be forgotten.

Sparrow is a new one-woman play written and performed by Susie Conte as part of her Master of Arts research with the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).  It portrays the life of local nurse and writer Mary Louisa (Mollie) Skinner through storytelling, letters, telegrams and music, set against a background of World War, personal grief and forbidden love.

Born in Perth in 1876 Mollie Skinner was a nurse and writer who used episodes and people from her own life to create novels and poems. She came to wider public attention when she met D.H. Lawrence, who stayed at her guesthouse in Darlington. Together they collaborated on The Boy in the Bush, and Lawrence’s novel Kangaroo was based on Skinner’s brother Jack.

More to Mollie Skinner

Research into Mollie Skinner began as a ‘happy accident’ according to Ms Conte who was investigating D.H. Lawrence’s visit to Perth when she came across Skinner’s story.

Ms Conte said although Mollie Skinner, a Quaker and middle-aged celibate woman, was best known for her ‘unlikely association’ with Lady Chatterley’s Lover author D.H. Lawrence, there was so much more to her than that.

“She was a nurse and journalist, published six novels, a book on midwifery and wrote a collection of short stories about Aboriginals,” she said.

Ms Conte said the more she read about Mollie Skinner the more fascinated she became, asking “why has no one heard of her?”

“Mollie Skinner was part of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and the Women’s Liberation Movement and a contemporary of people like Edith Cowan, Katherine Susannah Prichard and Mary Durack but her impact on the literary life of Perth seems to have been forgotten,” she said.

Retelling history through fresh eyes

Ms Conte said the play aims to do justice to the spirit of Skinner, without presenting an exhaustive account of her entire life and in doing so present her story to a new generation of West Australians.

“Mollie Skinner was born with a cleft palate, and suffered partial blindness as a child because of an ulcerated cornea resulting in a lack of education. Her father died quite young, the family lost their source of income and she had to look after her mother.

“I wonder if she might have been more famous if she had encouragement and had not been poor?  I’m retelling her story and saying your circumstances don’t define you,” she said.

Sparrow is at the Subiaco Arts Centre from 2 – 5 May 2018.

At ECU, we’re committed to research that has strong social, economic, environmental and cultural impact. If you want to make a practical difference to people’s lives, enquire now about a postgraduate research degree.


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