by Whispering Gums

A post in our series featuring works published in 1924 (or by authors who died in 1924). This post’s subject is a short column published in Adelaide’s Saturday Journal on 17 August 1924, by the South Australian born, Marion Simons, under the name Stella Hope.


The more we research Australia’s early women writers, the more we become aware of just how many used pseudonyms – sometimes more than one. Marion Simons was one such writer. Using pseudonyms, as we know, was not uncommon for women. Often this was to hide their gender, so they would be published and/or read, or to protect themselves from criticism for stepping outside the expectations of their gender and daring to write in the public domain. Sometimes, though, writers use pseudonyms to keep their different styles of writing separate. Unfortunately, we don’t know a lot about Marion Simons, so we can’t be sure of her motivation. However, she did use several pseudonyms, and some at least seem to have been used to differentiate different writing personas.

So, who was Marion Simons? Most of what I’ve found has come from the (paywalled) AustLit database, and from Trove, mostly from pieces by her and but also from occasional brief references to her. The fourth of seven children, Simons was born in 1883 in Crystal Brook, South Australia, and spent her childhood years there and in Port Germein and Port Pirie. She never married, and when she died in 1952, she was living with one of her brothers in Mile End, a suburb of Adelaide.

It’s difficult to know exactly when or how her writing career started. AustLit, which describes her as a freelance radio script writer and journalist, says that she wrote radio plays for school broadcasts for the ABC between 1939 and 1949, including adaptations of classics. For these, AustLit says, she used her birth name, “Marion Simons”, but that she wrote short stories and articles under the pseudonym “Stella Hope” and radio talks as “Lady Tulliver” ( a reference, it seems, to George Eliot’s Milll on the Floss character, Maggie Tulliver). As far as I can gather, she used other pseudonyms too, including Robin Adair and Quilp.

Book coverSimons was clearly versatile – she probably had to be to make a living as a writer – as she also wrote plays for the theatre, including  “Casablanca”, which won the 1932 Repertory Prize, and a 1941-published book, The Innkeeper’s wife, that was based on the Thomas Hardy poem “The oxen”. Adelaide’s News (22 November 1941), reported that this story, then unpublished, won first prize in a short story competition conducted by the South Australian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. (The book is available online at the State Library of Victoria). By the last decade of her life Simons was clearly ensconced in Adelaide’s literary society, with Trove telling us she was Vice-President of the Adelaide Dickens Fellowship, and President of the Y.M.C.A. Dinner Club which would feature speakers at their dinners.

The earliest examples of her writing I located in Trove were published under the “Stella Hope” by-line in South Australian newspapers in 1923. These were mostly general interest columns, delivered with a touch of humour, but there are also short stories. The first piece I found was “February the Fourteenth, St Valentine’s Day” in The Journal (on 17 February). However, because our focus this year is 1924, I’ve chosen a short column from that year for this post. Titled “To the old gumtree” it concerns visiting an old gumtree, while en route by train to Glenelg. The tree was the Proclamation Tree, which Monument Australia explains was the site where, on 28 December 1836, Governor Hindmarsh proclaimed South Australia. (Coincidentally, the Monument Australia page includes an article about it from a 1924 edition of Adelaide’s The Mail.) Simons’/Hope’s piece below will give you a taste of her style, interests and values. And just a little tip for those of you who don’t know, the poet Adam Lindsay Gordon died in 1870.

To the old gumtree

A Patriotic Pilgrimage, By Stella Hope.

Our intentions, and tickets, both indicated Glenelg as our destination, but we have always held that the Medes and Persians missed a great deal of fun by adhering strictly to timetable. We had already begun to smell the sea, but on suddenly catching sight from the train window of a notice “To the Old Gum-tree”, we made up our minds, in a fraction of a second; and scrambled down the steps before the engine had finished coughing. “When in doubt, consult the butcher,” may not perhaps be found in the Book of Proverbs, but it is a maxim which wears well nevertheless, and further route march instructions from the meat and intelligence bureau sent us on our way rejoicing.

It was a cold, cloudy day, with a stiff sea-breeze blowing, but was, for that reason, far better adapted for a patriotic pilgrimage than the official “28th” which grilling festival of crowds and discomfort I invariably avoid with much enthusiasm. Following in the footsteps of Capt. Hindmarsh and his band, through a crop of new villas where they saw only scrub, we came at last to the little reserve where the young gumtrees stand guard round the bent, but proud, old monarch. Our endeavours to decipher the inscription through the locked gate were noted by an old gentleman, who courteously produced the key and permitted us to enter the enclosure.

“You Are Very Welcome.”

At last we stood on the actual spot, and as we read of that historic ceremony in 1836, the surrounding villas seemed to disappear into the scrub which they had supplanted. We could almost see the bul-lock drays bringing the possessions of the early settlers up from the beach, when suddenly a stylish motor—possibly driven by the grandson of one of the early adventurers—recalled us from the past. We respectfully shook hands with the old tree by touching its cement guarded trunk and thanked the retainer for his trouble. An experimental query as to whether there might not be a business end to the experience was promptly settled by the rejoinder—”No. You are very welcome.”

A pasty-faced workman who had been watching our movements from the adjacent building where he was engaged commented as we retraced our steps—”Well the old goomtrees isn’t mooch to look at is it?” Of course, I did not answer, out-elevating my all-Australian nose the better to inhale the scent of the sea and gum leaves, I retorted to the landscape in general—”It is a good deal more wholesome and stands for better things than the Tower of London.”

A short wander brought us to the sea and the town of historic memories. Eventually we came to anchor in a teashop, and indulged in further patriotic reflections as we awaited the arrival of our order. When the tray at last appeared in the hands of the proprietor, I endeavoured to look as much like an intelligent tourist as possible as I propounded the query— “Do you happen to know where Adam Lindsay Gordon’s cottage is?”

Didn’t Know the Name.

“Whose?” he rejoined with an air of polite interest.
“Adam Lindsay Gordon. I have heard he used to live somewhere along the beach.”

He pondered for a moment. “I’m sorry,” he remarked after ransacking his memory, “but I don’t know the name at all. You might ask at the post office.”

“Perhaps he has moved lately,” was my sedate comment, while my companion, who has less command over her features, retired precipitately behind her sandwich. We did not enquire at the post office, as we were not certain what hours were worked by the official clairvoyant of the staff.

Sources:

Stella Hope, “To the old gumtree“, Saturday Journal, 23 August 2023, p. 17, accessed 18 January 2024

Marion Simons, in austlit.edu.au, accessed 24 January 2024. (Limited free access is available.)

Other sources are linked in the post.

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Whispering Gums, aka Sue T, majored in English Literature, before completing her Graduate Diploma in Librarianship, but she spent the majority of her career as an audio-visual archivist. Taking early retirement, she engaged actively in Wikipedia, writing and editing articles about Australian women writers, before turning to litblogging in 2009. Australian women writers have been her main reading interest since the 1980s.