MILES FRANKLIN AND HER BRILLIANT IDEA
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.
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.
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.
Despite her success and wide circle of friends, Miles Franklin often battled depression and feelings of worthlessness.
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.
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.
Click here for more on the history and folklore of the spectacular waratahs.
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