March 12th 2012 is the centenary of the birth of novelist Kylie Tennant, who was born at Clifford Avenue, Manly. On the anniversary I am planning to give an illustrated lecture about Tennant’s childhood, asking, what was Manly like in the 1910s and 1920s? There is a short biography, Kylie Tennant by Jane Grant, which gives illuminating detail on Tennant’s later life, but says comparatively little about her early years, and Tennant’s autobiography, The Missing Heir, is cryptic and not terribly helpful.
I have been looking into the name ‘Kylie’. Where did it come from? A commonly accepted explanation up to now has been that it came from an Aboriginal word for a type of boomerang, and in that sense the word was used in several newspaper reports from the 19th century. However, ‘Kylie’ was also used to refer to a type of Scottish cattle from the Kyle locality, imported to Australia from the 1870s, and either derivation seems as likely as the other.
The earliest use of ‘Kylie’ as a forename that I have found was for a girl called Kylie Brown, who was a helper on a stall at the bazaar of Manly Cottage Hospital in 1898 (see SMH 17 October 1898). Her mother, Mrs Mary Brown, was on the hospital’s fund-raising committee, and her father was a Mr Alexander Brown; they lived for a time at Crescent Street, Manly. Kylie Brown later married Frank Leonard Row, otherwise known as ‘Banger’ Row, a prominent rugby union player, who represented NSW against Queensland and Great Britain. In fact, her full name was Mary Kyle Brown, so in this case, ‘Kylie’ was more of a nickname than a forename in its own right, and again links to Scotland rather than to boomerangs. However, her local popularity may have prompted other Manly parents to choose the name, because as well as Kylie Tennant, there was also a Kylie Lough, who was a year or two Tennant’s junior.
Only one Kylie was listed in NSW birth records prior to 1912, a Kylie Morgan, born at Bowral in 1907. Was she the first Aussie Kylie?
As it happens, Kylie Tennant was christened Kathleen, and it is not clear when this became Kylie, but she was certainly referred to as Kylie at school at Brighton College, Manly, and she was the first person to be listed in NSW marriage records as ‘Kylie’. She may be somewhere in this photograph of pupils at Brighton College, perhaps in the row of older girls on the upstairs balcony, but I have not been able to identify her. (I feel sympathy for the little boys in the photo, overwhelmed by the girls!)
Her celebrity, even notoriety, in the 1930s and 1940s led to a wave of parents choosing the name for their girls in the 1950s and 60s, and then along came the other Kylie, and global domination was assured.
Labels: Brighton College Manly, Frank Leonard Row, Kylie Tennant