Banned Books in Australia A Special Collections-Art in the Library Exhibition

Katharine Susannah Prichard, Coonardoo

Coonardoo, a novel about a sexual relationship between a black woman and a white man, encountered controversy even before it was published. Katharine Susannah Prichard submitted the manuscript under a male pseudonym to the Bulletin’s annual literary competition in 1928. It won equal first prize over the opposition of one of the judges, who protested that a white man could never feel any ‘higher emotion’ than pity for an Aboriginal woman. When the Bulletin serialised the novel, it was inundated with so many letters of outrage that its editor refused to publish any further writing on the subject.

Prichard’s hopes of publishing the book in Australia also came to nothing. George Robertson, the crusty head of Angus & Robertson, was quoted as saying that his firm had already done its ‘fair share of presenting to the world pictures of hardships and “sordidity”’. He knocked the novel back, although he suspected it would sell 10,000 copies, a very large number for the time.

In the end, Coonardoo was published by Jonathan Cape in London and sold even more strongly than Robertson had predicted. Angus & Robertson finally bought the rights from Cape and published the book in 1954.

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