Patsy Millett doesn’t pull any punches in her new book about her famous mother, Dame Mary Durack.
She adored her mother, who made her name with the best-selling Kings In Grass Castles, the saga of the Durack family’s pioneering days in the Kimberleys – but she resented the many people who took advantage of Mary’s generous nature.
Above all, she resented the two key people in Mary’s life – her husband, aviation pioneer Horrie Miller, and her sister, artist Elizabeth Durack.
Horrie, “with no pretension to background or breeding”, was a 45-year-old divorcee when he wooed and won the charming and talented Mary, 19 years his junior. It was “a blighted mismatch” which horrified her parents.
He was selfish and chronically pessimistic, with little time for his children. Patsy pictures him as ”one who growled in ceaseless complaint, whose shadow fell to darken my young existence.”
Elizabeth she paints as a talented but frustrated artist, hungry for the critical recognition which always seemed to elude her. Mary was always her financial and moral backstop and Elizabeth never hesitated to call on her when she needed help.
Patsy had huge admiration for her mother.
“There emanated from her such warmth, intelligence and empathy that she was almost without exception loved at first sight…Kindness ruled every aspect of her life, and it was to the great good fortune of anyone who came within the perimeter of her amazing grace.”
Patsy, born in 1939, was the first of Mary’s six children. She was followed by Robin (1940), Julie (1942), Andrew (1944), Marie Rose (1950) and the surprise last-born, Johnson (1956).
Inseparable Elements is an absorbing book which covers a broad sweep of the characters and events of the times as well as giving a perceptive portrait of the remarkable Mary Durack.
Patsy Millett has her mother’s love of history and in her researches she spent years going through the revealing letters and the daily journals kept by various members of the Durack family.
She has a refreshingly caustic style of writing and does not hesitate to give her frank opinion of many of the characters who people the narrative.
She admits that her relationship with her mother was not always smooth.
“I tried to get rid of all the nuisances in her life – all the mendicants who wanted a piece of her,” she said in a recent radio interview.
“I would have killed for her, but she never thanked me for being what she called was ‘too concerned’.”
Inseparable Elements: Dame Mary Durack, a Daughter’s Perspective, is published by Fremantle Press.