On­ward Chris­tian sol­dier

Roy Wil­liams

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

TOO many Aus­tralian bi­ogra­phies nowa­days are pub­lished pre­ma­turely. In some cases, the still-liv­ing sub­ject has lived a life of such ba­nal in­con­se­quence as scarcely to merit a mag­a­zine puff piece, let alone a book. In oth­ers, the sub­ject is al­ready so fa­mous and their life so over-an­a­lysed that there is lit­tle of value or orig­i­nal­ity left to say. It is quite rare to dis­cover a new bi­og­ra­phy about a per­son of gen­uine sig­nif­i­cance, whose story has not been told pre­vi­ously.

Kath Jor­dan’s Lar­rikin An­gel be­longs in this last cat­e­gory. Her sub­ject, 80-year-old ‘‘ mus­cu­lar Chris­tian’’ nun Veron­ica Brady, is not widely known out­side her adopted home state of West­ern Aus­tralia. Yet she has been lauded by prom­i­nent peo­ple on both sides of Aus­tralian pol­i­tics as ‘‘ one of our na­tional trea­sures’’ ( for­mer Lib­eral se­na­tor Fred Chaney) and as a ‘‘ mag­nif­i­cent hu­man be­ing’’ ( left-wing La­bor vet­eran Tom Uren).

Why, then, for the unini­ti­ated, is Brady’s story worth telling?

First and fore­most, she has been one of Aus­tralia’s most tal­ented and in­flu­en­tial ed­u­ca­tors. As a teenager in the early 1940s she was a star pupil at Man­dev­ille Hall, a Catholic girls’ school in the Mel­bourne sub­urb of Toorak run by nuns of the Loreto or­der. She ma­tric­u­lated in 1945 with out­stand­ing re­sults and a New­man So­ci­ety schol­ar­ship, and for the next four years took a dou­ble de­gree in English and his­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne.

This of it­self was a no­table achieve­ment in that era, es­pe­cially for a girl from a straight­ened mid­dle-class back­ground whose mother died young, in 1947, when Brady was only 18. Her beloved free-think­ing fa­ther hastily mar­ried his sec­re­tary, a woman whom his daugh­ter dis­dained.

Brady emerged from th­ese for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ences as an ide­al­is­tic, coura­geous and fiercely in­tel­li­gent young woman. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion she re­jected a mar­riage pro­posal and en­tered the Loreto or­der, tak­ing as her re­li­gious name Veron­ica, for Saint Veron­ica, who wiped the face of Christ on his way to Cal­vary. In due course, she un­der­took a dis­tin­guished 13-year ca­reer as a hu­man­i­ties teacher in the Catholic secondary school sys­tem. This in­cluded a six-year stint at Loreto Kir­ri­billi, per­haps Syd­ney’s most pres­ti­gious Catholic girls’ school, and Jor­dan quotes sev­eral for­mer stu­dents and teach­ers who re­mem­ber her fondly and at­test to her tal­ent and zeal.

Af­ter post­grad­u­ate study in North Amer­ica in the late ’ 60s, Brady ac­cepted a po­si­tion in the English depart­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of West­ern Aus­tralia, which she took up in 1972. There, dur­ing the next two decades, she earned a rep­u­ta­tion as an out­stand­ing tu­tor and lec­turer. She served on the board of the ABC from 1983-86 and was elected a mem­ber of the UWA’s se­nate in 1986.

In the field of Aus­tralian lit­er­a­ture, Brady has two spe­cial claims to fame. First, she was an early ad­vo­cate for the fic­tion of Pa­trick White. In­deed, she be­came that bril­liant but iras­ci­ble au­thor’s close friend and con­fi­dant. ( Jor­dan

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.