Wellington and the Katherine Mansfield Conference

I’m in Cambodia at the moment, but things aren’t going exactly to plan - so (sadly) I’m not on the island for reasons I can’t write about yet.

Camped out in a back-packers’ hostel in Sihanoukhville (not the best experience) and fondly remembering Wellington and the Katherine Mansfield Conference, which now seems very remote and civilised in comparison to what’s around me here! Wellington is a fantastic city. We had three wonderful days of packed activity and intense discussions carried on over some great meals
 before a final dinner as guests of the Minister for Culture in the NZ Parliament building.

Neil and I were staying in the historic Shepherd’s Arms on Tinakori Road close to the house where Katherine was born, and walked every morning over to the university through the Botanic Gardens.  They are very beautiful and the views of the city and the harbour are genuinely breathtaking.  We got lost walking back on the first night we were there and ended up stumbling around in the dark gardens at midnight trying to find a way out! 
Botanic Gardens at Thornden
A highlight of the conference was the New Zealand launch of a new collected edition of the complete stories of Katherine Mansfield - including some recent discoveries.  It’s a very impressive piece of work, edited by Professor Vincent O’Sullivan (himself a fine writer) and KM scholar Gerri Kimber.   This is the Edinburgh University Press editor Jackie Jones with Vincent at the Parliamentary dinner.

Another highlight was a performance of cello music by one of New Zealand’s earliest composers - Arnold Trowell - the twin brother of Garnett, who was the father of Katherine’s illegitimate baby.
It was very exciting for me to be able to have another look at the Katherine Mansfield manuscripts previously owned by the family of John Middleton Murry.  Last time I saw them they were in storage boxes and it was a great privilege to be allowed access to them for the biography.  I was also able to draw up a rough catalogue for the family to help them decide what to do with the collection.  I’m so happy that they chose the Alexander Turnbull Library as the best resting place for these precious papers - it was very pleasing to see how much they are valued there.  This is just some of the manuscripts being shown off with pride to delegates at the conference.
One of my favourites is Katherine’s passport - a sad record of how many times she changed countries in the last couple of years of her life in her desperate search for health.

We tried to stay on in Wellington for an extra day to fit in all the things we hadn’t managed to do while we were there, but the hotel couldn’t give us another night.  So we decided to go back to Christchurch via ferry and train, slipping out of the harbour on a cloudy Monday morning aboard the Kaitaki, which used to be a cross-channel ferry called the Pride of Cherbourg and is now plying the Cook Strait instead!  I felt quite sad as I watched the city disappear over the horizon and wondered when I'd manage to get back there again.


  1. what an exciting time you had in NZ. No wonder you found it hard to leave.

    What a shame things are not right in Cambodia. Fingers cross they work out.

  2. Hello Kathleen,
    Hope things improve soon in Cambodia. What a wonderful posting... Wellington, Mansfield AND the whale poem. He must have been terribly excited as you were to see those whales...the poem is so full of passion and lust and a mixture of plain and fancy language.


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