Kathleen O’Connor of Paris

Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, by West Australian author Amanda Curtin, introduced me to a woman and an artist I’d heard about only vaguely before.

Kathleen, or ‘Kate’ as she preferred to be called, was born in New Zealand and grew up in Fremantle. Her father, C.Y. O’Connor, is well known in Western Australia for his role in building major infrastructure projects, such as Fremantle harbour and the Coolgardie pipeline. But Kate spent most of her adult life working among the artists in Paris and London.

Amanda Curtin follows her progress as an artist through her long life (1876 to 1968), interspersing Kate’s story with her own experiences while researching it. The narrative builds a picture of a woman who was totally committed to her art, enduring many hardships for the sake of it. Descriptions of the paintings themselves, their background and their fate, take up quite a lot of the text.

While Kate’s sisters “married well” and sometimes came to her aid financially, she remained single. She was independent, bohemian, eccentric, in love with the life she made for herself in the artist community of Paris. When all that came to an end with the Nazi invasion of France during the war, she was devastated.

But she went on painting. Even in her late eighties, when she had finally returned to Perth due to ill health, she continued to paint. She held some of her most successful exhibitions then. It’s an interesting and inspiring story. (Published by Fremantle Press in 2018)

Below is an interview with Kathleen O’Connor from 1965, when she was almost ninety (audio only).

(This review first appeared in the September issue of my newsletter, The Scribbler. To receive monthly newsletters in your inbox, subscribe here.)

Three sites to learn more about WA’s social history

If you enjoy reading about the less well-known aspects of Western Australia’s social history, here are three great sites that I recommend. They are all carefully researched, well written and full of fascinating details.

Hay Street looking east towards Town Hall, Perth, c 1880s. Image from Museum of Perth
Hay St looking east, c 1880s

The Dusty Box

I’ve mentioned this site before. Jessica Barratt takes unusual and quirky newspaper articles from the past, then digs out the details using Trove, the State Records Office and other sources. The stories she tells offer intriguing glimpses into West Australia’s social history and people of the past. Disappearances, tragedies, ghost stories, eccentric characters, and long-forgotten social events all find a place. Jessica aims to “sweep away the cobwebs and blow away the dust so that the stories and history of the past can once again be shared with the world”.

Outback Family History

The focus of Moya Sharp’s website is the eastern goldfields, with its rich and diverse history. The site, which has been going since 2009, provides a wealth of information, on topics such as hospitals and hotels, miners and marriages, schools and cemeteries. It has extensive, searchable indexes of places and people. (The list of place names includes nearly 150 locations – it’s not just about Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie and Boulder.) It also offers a list of links to sites that are useful to anyone researching their own family history. Once a week Moya publishes her newsletter and blog, with three or four stories that are always worth reading.

Dodgy Perth

This apparently anonymous site hasn’t been updated for a while. But if you’re looking for stories about some of the more offbeat aspects of Perth’s history, try browsing here. “We aim to bring you the unusual, the weird, the disreputable, and the outright scandalous” says the author. Probably not suitable for the tee-totaller.

These certainly aren’t the only sites that offer stories about Western Australian social history. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to recommend another site or blog.