MILES FRANKLIN AND HER BRILLIANT IDEA

Miles Franklin

Many literary figures of the day visited  Miles Franklin (1879-1954) at her home in the Sydney suburb of Carlton.  The author of the beloved book My Brilliant Career, referred to the house as, ‘My old humpy.’  A delightful custom  developed of  favoured guests signing and inscribing  an autograph book.  They would then  be served   tea  in an octagonal,  Royal Doulton cup, designed by Sydney born Lulu Shorter, circa 1912.  Now held by the Library of NSW It features stylized waratahs, the floral emblem of the state.

Mies Franklin's Waratah Cup
The sacred cup

The cup had  been a gift to Miles Franklin from the elderly botanist and china collector  Richard Baker, in 1940.  Baker had strongly supported the idea of the waratah as the floral emblem for the entire nation. Unfortunately, he did not live to see what a treasure his gift became, as he died in 1941.

Richard Baker, botanist
Richard Baker (1854-1941)

Eventually Miles Franklin inscribed the cover of the autograph book; The Book of the Waratah Cup.

Guests at Carlton felt suitably honoured to be admitted to the magic circle,  although  they were always  fearful of dropping the cup, which became increasingly precious.  Contributors to the Waratah book included the writers Nancy Cato, Katharine Susannah Pritchard, Nancy Keesing, and Pixie O’Harris.

Pixie O'Harris
Author/illustrator Pixie O’Harris

Miles Franklin autograph book
Page from Miles Franklin's autograph book

Despite her success and wide circle of friends, Miles Franklin often battled depression and feelings of worthlessness, as her diaries reveal;

The diaries of Miles Franklin, held at the Library of NSW.
MILES FRANKLINS’ DIARIES (LIBRARY OF NSW)

Oh Miles, if only you realized how much you were and are appreciated.  Your legacy to Australian literature has been enormous, not only through your own work, but through  the prestigious  Miles Franklin Literary Award, established through your will.

MONUMENT CELERATING THE LIFE OF MILES FRANKLIN AT HURSTVILLE

I have a waratah cup myself, bought from NSW Parliament House.  Well, actually it’s a mug and not made of delicate, bone china.  I wonder if I could find my old autograph book?  Sadly it contained no warm and witty entries from  famous people; only well worn doggeral  from  school friends and obliging relatives.

Waratah mug
Yet to be invested with any literary significance.

Click here for more on the history and folklore of the  spectacular waratahs.

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