Australian Dictionary of Biography

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White, Myrtle Rose (1888–1961)

by Robin Eaden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Myrtle Rose White (1888-1961), by Rudolf Buehner

Myrtle Rose White (1888-1961), by Rudolf Buehner

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23515850

Myrtle Rose White (1888-1961), author, was born on 30 August 1888 at Acacia Dam, near Broken Hill, New South Wales, third of ten children of native-born parents Mark Albert Kennewell, miner, and his wife Dinah Ann, née Adams. The birth was dramatic. Travelling with bullock teams and looking for land to settle, Dinah gave birth alone in a tent, during a dust storm in which her husband became lost while fetching a midwife. The family moved to the Barossa Valley, South Australia, and Myrtle's schooling, 'picked up here and there', was completed at a small private school in Williamstown. She often visited her aunt who had a hotel near Packsaddle, north-west of the Darling River. Myrtle was a domestic servant when she married Cornelius White, a cab proprietor, in St Peter's Anglican Church, Broken Hill, on 19 October 1910.

From 1915 when their daughter Doris was 4, Cornelius managed Lake Elder station, near Lake Frome, South Australia. Life was lonely and anxious: the Whites were the only Europeans in the area; Myrtle's two sons were sickly and doctors unobtainable; they collected their mail fortnightly, but stores came twice yearly and fresh vegetables were rare. Yet the family remained cheerful. In 1922 they moved to the west Darling district where Con managed seven stations for Sir Sidney Kidman, including Morden and Wonnaminta, comprising over a million acres (404,690 ha).

When her three children were older and she had some leisure, White began writing. At Wonnaminta, despite endless interruptions, she worked meticulously on her drafts which she typed with one finger. The result was No Roads Go By (Sydney, 1932), an account of life at Lake Elder, rather in the tradition of Mrs Gunn's We of the Never-Never. With humour and resilience, White described the remote station surrounded by sand 'insidiously creeping up the six-foot iron fence, which was our frail barrier against all that moving country'. Drought, flood and near death were presented in intense but restrained prose. Two sequels followed: Beyond the Western Rivers (Sydney, 1955) and From That Day To This (Adelaide, 1961).

In 1937 Con was forced to retire and the Whites opened Cricklewood, a guest house at Aldgate in the Adelaide hills. Con died three years later. Their two sons enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. Alan survived World War II, but Garry was missing in action; his mother, a Methodist and spiritualist, always believed that he would return. Encouraged by Dame Mary Gilmore, Myrtle White also formed friendships with Jean Devanny, Miles Franklin and Gwen Meredith. When leases on the big stations were re-allocated, Wonnaminta fell to her daughter Doris and son-in-law Jim Chambers. Myrtle visited them and travelled with them overseas where she assisted several orphanages in India.

Although Myrtle White also wrote three novels, only For Those That Love It (Sydney, 1933) was published. While visiting her son Alan at Lalla Rookh, near Port Hedland, Western Australia, she died on 11 July 1961. Her ashes were interred in Con's grave at Centennial Park cemetery, Adelaide, and at Wonnaminta.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Dutton, The Australian Collection (Syd, 1985)
  • W. H. Wilde, Courage a Grace (Melb, 1988)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Jan 1956
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 13, 19 July 1961
  • M. R. White correspondence (State Library of South Australia)
  • Miles Franklin correspondence (State Library of New South Wales)
  • H. de Berg, interview with R. M. White (transcript, 1960, National Library of Australia)
  • H. de Berg, interview with D. Chambers (transcript, 1980, National Library of Australia)
  • M. R. White papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robin Eaden, 'White, Myrtle Rose (1888–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-myrtle-rose-9078/text16005, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 26 July 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Myrtle Rose White (1888-1961), by Rudolf Buehner

Myrtle Rose White (1888-1961), by Rudolf Buehner

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23515850

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kennewell, Myrtle Rose
Birth

30 August 1888
Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia

Death

11 July 1961
Port Hedland, Western Australia, Australia

Religious Influence
Occupation