On 4 May 1922, Lawrence and Frieda disembarked from the Orsova in Western Australia. They stayed briefly in the east of Perth with Mollie Skinner for whom Lawrence would later collaborate on The Boy in the Bush (1924). A few weeks later they would head to Western Australia on the Malwa. Would Lawrence find happiness in Australia? Hmm.
His initial observation of Darlington, in a letter to Robert Mountsier, is that of a ‘queer godforsaken place: not so much new as non-existent’[i]. This is followed with the obligatory doubt of how long he will stay and a warning that he may need to cable for more money. At the time he was writing from the Savoy Hotel, Perth which he claims is the most expensive hotel he’s ever stayed in, and he will thus be leaving the next day. Despite money worries, he remains determined: ‘I’ll see this damned world, if only to know I don’t want to see any more of it. – Au revoir[ii].’
Mabel Dodge Sterne is informed they’ll be in Taos ‘easily by August’[iii] but this is unlikely given he has a whole new continent to explore.
On 15 May, Lawrence writes to his dear Schwiegermutter to inform that Frieda is ‘so disappointed’ as she’d hoped to find ‘much greater space and jollier people’[iv]in Oz. Lawrence’s descriptions of the bush are of an eerie liminal space. It is ‘hoary and unending, no noise, still, and the white trunks of the gum trees all a bit burnt: a forest, a preforest: not a primeval forest: somewhat like a dream, a twilight forest that has not yet seen a day. It is too new, you see: too vast. It needs hundreds of years yet before it can live’. He goes on to describe it as a ‘fourth dimension,’ ‘nervous, neurotic’ inhabited by ghosts[v].
He is slightly more appreciative when he writes to Jan Juta a few days later on 20 May: ‘Australia has a marvellous sky and air and blue clarity and a hoary sort of land beneath it, like a Sleeping Princess on whom the dust of ages has settled. Wonder if she’ll ever get up.[vi]’
It’s not somewhere he can imagine settling, unless he ever gave up ‘the literary sponge,’ and could ‘live in the bush for next to nothing’ and with ‘a great free land’ to boot[vii].
Although Lawrence ‘hated’ a great deal of his time in Ceylon – his previous location – on reflection he’s grateful for the experience and determined to visit the South Sea Isles or go around the world again and this time visit Africa, the Himalayas, China and Japan. ‘I love trying things and discovering how I hate them,’ he tells Earl Brewster.[viii]
Thomas Seltzer was keen for Lawrence to explore more widely and suggested India as a possible location for another Sea and Sardinia type publication with Jan Juta. But Lawrence ‘didn’t feel like it’[ix]. Amy Lowell had informed Lawrence that Seltzer was ‘getting a name as a merely erotic publisher’[x] and so venturing into travelogues may help offset this.
We learn in a letter to Koteliansky on 20 May that Frieda may not share Lawrence’s addiction to momentum: ‘Frieda wants to have a little house and stay a few months. She is tired of moving on. But I like it. I like the feeling of rolling on.’[xi]
And roll on they do, to Thirroul, 50 miles or so south of Sydney, where he takes a little house on the edge of the Pacific, ‘the weirdest place you ever saw’[xii]. Here, ‘the heavy waves break with a great roar all the time…the sky is dark, and it makes me think of Cornwall’[xiii]. Fortunately, it doesn’t cost much to live there, ‘food is quite cheap’ and ‘good meat is only fivepence or sixpence a pound’[xiv].
Soon the novelty starts to wear off. ‘I like Australia less and less. The hateful newness, the democratic conceit, every man a little pope of perfection[xv]’ he informs Robert Mountsier on 25 May. All of which would make good material for a novel…
[i] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 4-7 May 1922.
[ii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 4-7 May 1922.
[iii] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne, 4-7 May 1922.
[iv] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 15 May 1922.
[v] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 15 May 1922.
[vi] Letter to Jan Juta, 20 May 1922.
[vii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 26-30 May 1922.
[viii] Letter to Earl Brewster, 15 May 1922.
[ix] Letter to Jan Juta, 20 May 1922.
[x] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 26-30 May 1922.
[xi] Letter to Koteliansky, 20 May 1922.
[xii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 28 May 1922.
[xiii] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 30 May 1922.
[xiv] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 30 May 1922.
[xv] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 25 May 1922.