Susie Conte’s WAAPA research soars with Sparrow play at Subiaco Arts Centre


Susie Conte.
Susie Conte.

A CONVERSATION with her mother about Lady Chatterley’s Lover author D. H. Lawrence visiting Perth led Susie Conte to discover the more intriguing story of nurse and writer Mollie Skinner.

Lawrence had stayed at Skinner’s guesthouse in Darlington but it was the lesser known author, who was born in 1876 and was a contemporary of Edith Cowan, Katharine Susannah Prichard and Mary Durack, who captured Conte’s attention and became the focus of her Masters of Arts research at WAAPA.

“She became more interesting to me than her association with Lawrence and I was surprised she had been practically lost to time,” Conte said.

“When her father died the family lost their financial support and she became a nurse to make a living. Her brothers were gamblers and her mother used all their money to pay their debts.

“Because of this, Mollie couldn’t focus on her writing. She snatched time to write and this hindered her career. In her circle, she was well known and respected but her legacy is fractured.

“She was a brave, kind woman who suffered medical issues that affected her education and confidence. She was a woman searching for meaning in her life and she bravely openly discussed her struggles with her sexuality, faith and sense of self.”

Conte has spent the past two years researching the life of Skinner and finding a way to dramatise that life.

The result is Sparrow, on at Subiaco Arts Centre from May 2 to 5, featuring Conte in a one-woman show taking moments from Skinner’s life, adapted from her autobiography The Fifth Sparrow, to tell her story.

“Her autobiography is raw and bittersweet and I loved her honesty,” Conte said.

“It’s named after a Bible verse, about the low cost of buying a sparrow and often a fifth one would be thrown in for free. It is an interesting insight into how Mollie saw herself.

“I decided from the beginning that I would only use Mollie’s words from books, letters and notes to tell her story. It was hugely important to me it was her voice that would come through. She had been silenced by time and history and circumstance. I would not also do the same.”

Conte said she hoped audiences found a connection with Skinner and it encouraged them to seek other forgotten women from history to tell their stories.

THE ESSENTIALS

What: Sparrow

Where: Subiaco Arts Centre

When: May 2 to 5

Tickets: www.ptt.wa.gov.au