Olive Pink’s letters

“In Olive Pink lay a great talent for letter writing; her letters are vivid, pungently expressed, ruthlessly honest, and often perceptive. She gives her reader a wealth of detail and she deploys the detail with dramatic skill. As she grew older, she included more digressions, more bracketted comments, more underlining and ever more detail , so that her main point could become obscure. But the attention to detail was always there, and in her early letters, she used it to produce the vivid accounts of her journeys out from Alice Springs that delighted her family, friends and colleagues. “
(From: Marcus, Julie ‘Yours Truly Olive M. Pink’, Canberra, Olive Pink Society, 1991 p.4)

‘Olive Pink’s views on Aboriginal policy and welfare were expressed in the many thousands of letters she wrote to politicians, lawyers, government administrators, trade union officials, academics – to all and any who might be able to influence the direction of government policy and the administration of Aboriginal welfare. Written in a bold hand, containing bold propositions, bold criticisms, the letters were as unconventional as their author and their recipients were frequently discomforted by them. ‘You will probably be scandalised at my underlinings, exclamation marks, and brackets’, she wrote to A.P.Elkin, professor of anthropology at the University of Sydney, “but it is no use, I like to do it - when I am really feeling things strongly. And it dawned on me, tonight, why I do do it. (I know better – having had a Uni Chancellor’s daughter as Head Mistress). But I was trained as a painter – before I was an anthropologist and to use a brush before a pen. And a painter expresses what she feels (or tries to do it) by physical means.

Technique. A strong pressure on the brush here – a slur there - a sweeping movement in another place, or a smooth stroke to give restfulness. Words, alone, don’t do it. So I use my pen that way - And am criticized for it:- rightly, of course, from a ‘school marm’s’ point of view. But here I score. Queen Victoria, of all people, underlined words in her letters. What more correct precedent?”’
(from: Marcus, Julie ‘The Indomitable Miss Pink’ Sydney, UNSW Press, 2001 p.3)

Read a letter from Olive Pink to her friend Joan Walker in Hobart, written during WWII ( c.1942-45) describing her life camping at Thompson's Rockhole - from the University of Tasmania Special and Rare Materials collection, (donated by B.B.(Jim) Walker).


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Last updated 20 September, 2007