Memories of Kylie Tennant

Ken Buckley

In the previous issue (No. 27) of The Hummer, Rowan Cahill painted a sensitive and sympathetic picture of the relationship between Kylie Tennant and her husband, L.C. Rodd. It seems appropriate to add a couple of memories of Kylie herself.

In the first place, Cahill suggests that Tennant and Rodd exhausted themselves in -their various activities in the two decades before the Cold War of the 1950s, to the extent that Tennant became ‘a self- confessed “old yoke-weary apolitical person”.’ She may have said this in self-deprecation, but it was not true. On one occasion during the anti-Vietnam War years, I travelled by ferry from Hunters Hill to Circular Quay to attend a big protest demonstration in Sydney. Coincidentally, Kylie (who also lived in Hunters Hill) was on the ferry for the same reason. We chatted and I have a vivid memory of her bubbling over with excitement and enthusiasm for the demo. She was far from being yoke-weary or apolitical.

Secondly, Cahill refers to Rodd’s indubitably strong involvement with Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney. This High Anglican institution is said to have attracted Christian socialists and been influential in social struggles. Perhaps so historically – but not, I suspect, in the past two decades or so. For example, some church groups played an honourable role in the struggle against the Vietnam War but, as far as I know, Christ Church St Laurence was not among them.

Although Kylie Tennant had a connection with this church through her husband, her literary friends do not recall her showing any interest in religion. Nevertheless, the church claimed her as its own at the end. Her funeral service was held in the church and I attended it out of respect for the author of The Battlers and other novels. I also had a common interest with her in biographical work on H.V. Evatt.

There were remarkably few of Kylie’s literary and political friends present at the service, one obvious reason being that the funeral notice in the Sydney Morning Herald, giving details of time, and place, was listed under ‘Rodd’, not ‘Tennant’. No doubt the censer-swinging priests, scattering fumes of incense all over the church, thought they were doing a good job; but I for one came away with the feeling that an attempt had been made to rob Kylie of her true identity.

Fortunately, this attempt was doomed. She will be remembered in Australian history as a fine author, a woman with a social conscience who wrote under the name of her own choice: Kylie Tennant.