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Waukaringa and the Writing of The Silent Sea

Waukaringa provided the physical landscape in which much of The Silent Sea is set,note with its mines and settlement surrounded by plains of red earth and grey-green saltbush, broken by low ridges, which stretched to the distant ranges. The landscape itself may have conveyed an impression of emptiness and remoteness, but in 1890 Waukaringa and its mines were at the peak of their growth and activity.note On 29 February 1888 the Register had already reported that "quite a town of galvanized-iron and stone houses has grown up at the place, with the proverbial 'pub.' and stores, as well as a small place of worship"(p. 5). The town was proclaimed on 1 November 1888; by March 1889 its population was 475 and, as well as two hotels,note it had a wine saloon, dancing saloon and billiard hall. It also had a Wesleyan church, two stores, a bakery, and three butchers' shops.note

The novel gives the Colmar Arms an important role, and it also reflects the fact that goldfields communities included women and children, particularly at sites such as Waukaringa where men worked for wages rather than prospecting independently. However, its main focus is not the township or the larger community but the Colmar mine and its miners. At Waukaringa the reef on which the Alma and Victoria Mine and other mining operations were centred was a kilometre north of the town; the


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mine structures, with the offices where Frederick Martin worked as purser, were clustered at the base of the reef on its south side. There is no indication that these structures included an iron passage like that which plays such an important part in the novel; however, contemporary reports describe a large vaulted, sloping chamber, not unlike the cave room, in the side of the reef.note The miners at Waukaringa, as at most of South Australia's copper and gold mines, certainly included Cornishmen of the kind whose dialect, customs, superstition, devout Methodism and reputation for heavy drinking are captured in the sketches of the men who work at the Colmar mine. The Cornish mine managers, too, were typically gruff, self-taught miners like the novel's William, Trevaskis; like him, some also had successful political careers.note The one oasis of civilised living at the Colmar Mine is the comfortable and well-furnished house called "Stonehouse". Officially the mine manager's residence, it is on the north side of the reef, sheltered from the noise and dust of the mine and facing the open plain beyond an avenue of trees. Its description suggests that its original was the seven-room freestone mine manager's residence at Waukaringa,note and the detail in which its interior is described, as well as the reference to its providing accommodation for the mine purser, make it probable that this was the house whose availability enabled Catherine Martin to join her husband there.

In August 1890, when Martin wrote from Waukaringa to Richard Bentley and Son in London, publishers of An Australian Girl, to complain of the many compositorial errors in its first edition,note she may have already begun to write The Silent Sea. The novel seems to have been written, initially at least, out of her immediate experience and observation of life at the mine, although the Martins do not appear to have stayed at Waukaringa beyond the end of the year.note Late in December 1890 a short story of Catherine Martin's about marriage, "Mrs. Archibald Thorndale's Dog", was published as the Christmas fiction offering in the Melbourne Leader. However, the novel was evidently well under way, since the South Australian paper Quiz and the Lantern reported on 16 January 1891 that the Martins had sailed for Europe a few days earlier and that Catherine Martin planned


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to complete her new novel in Genoa and would then "proceed to London in order to arrange for its publication" (p. 8).

The rest of the novel appears to have been written in the course of the Martins' travels in Europe. The occasional inexactness in the quotations in The Silent Sea, which are taken most often from the Bible, Shakespeare, Tennyson and the Irish Melodies of Thomas Moore, suggests that, both at Waukaringa and while travelling, she wrote without books at hand for reference. At the end of March 1891 the Martins were in Venice and, a month later, in Antwerp. Early in November, when they had settled temporarily in Paris, Martin sent part of the manuscript to Bentley, the remainder following in early December.note Both parts are now lost.

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