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18. Morris, Myra.
White magic / by Myra Morris. (Melbourne : Vidler, 1929)
Born in Boort in the Victorian Mallee country, Myra Morris spent most of her life in small Victorian country towns and these form the backdrop to much of her fiction. She contributed poetry, serials and short stories to many Australian publications, notably the Bulletin. She also wrote Australian Landscape (1944).
19. Morris, Myra.
Dark tumult / by Myra Morris. (London : Thornton Butterworth, 1939)
In a letter dated 20 September, 1938, Victor Kennedy wrote to J.K. Moir that, “Myra Morris once told a yarn…that she was so pestered with fans blowing into her den at Sandringham (I think) that in self protection she had to put up a sign: ‘Miss Morris is very ill—with syphilis
20. “Somebody really nice”, by Myra Morris in Sydney Mail, 3 March 1937, p. 14.
21. “The singing gold”, by Dorothy Cottrell, in Sydney Mail, 21 Nov. 1928, p. 14.
22. Cottrell, Dorothy, 1902-1957.
The singing gold / by Dorothy Cottrell. 1st Australian ed. (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1956)
23. Cottrell, Dorothy, 1902-1957.
Tharlane (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1930). [American edition of “Earth battle”]
24. Grimshaw, Beatrice, 1871-1953.
My south sea sweetheart / by Beatrice Grimshaw. “Free supplement to the Australian Women’s Weekly”
25. Grimshaw, Beatrice, 1871-1953.
The Coral Queen. (Sydney: N.S. W. Bookstall Co. Ltd., 1920)
26. “The acid test”, by Dulcie Deamer, in Sydney Mail, 13 Jan. 1937, p. 12.
27. Deamer, Dulcie, 1890-1972.
Holiday / by Dulcie Deamer. (Sydney : Frank Johnson, 1940)
Born in New Zealand, Dulcie Deamer was a well-known figure in Sydney Bohemian circles of the 1920s and 1930s. Initially Deamer pursued a career in the theatre, but in 1907 she won first prize in a Lone Hand competition for her 'highly imaginative' Stone Age story. Her family were shocked by the voluptuous and graphic Norman Lindsay illustrations that accompanied the story when it subsequently appeared in print. Deamer later admitted that: “Even at that tender age I loved blood, murder and violence”.40 In Holiday Deamer attempts to give women an active role in the unfolding historical events (even if drama and colour prevail over narrative sense!).
28. Fullerton, Mary, 1868-1946.
Moles do so little with their privacy : poems / by E ; preface by T. Inglis Moore ; explanatory note by Miles Franklin. (Sydney : Angus & Robertson, 1942)
Like Mary Gilmore and Marie Pitt, Mary Fullerton had a bush childhood. In her early twenties, she moved to Melbourne where she took up journalism and became involved in women’s suffrage. She was a prominent member of the Women’s Political Association and Women’s Peace Army, working closely alongside Vida Goldstein, Adela Pankhurst, Bella Guerin, Cecilia John, Jennie Baines and Alice Henry. Her early published poetry provided a further vehicle for her politics. Work
that remained unpublished often explored Fullerton’s same-sex desires using the discourses of Romanticism, eugenics, and transcendentalism. In 1922, she moved to London where she set up home with Mabel Singleton and Singleton’s son, Dennis. She also became close friends with fellow writer, Miles Franklin. In the 1930s Franklin and Fullerton bluffed Australian literary circles by writing under the pseudonyms of Brent of Bin Bin and “E” respectively.
In 1942, Mary’s third collection of poetry, Moles Do So Little With Their Privacy.41 Joy Hooton suggests that it was made possible largely due to Franklin’s “bullying” of publishers.42 Angus and Robertson paid Mary only three pence per copy (the equivalent of a 7.1 % royalty).43 The poems themselves were chosen from some 450 poems Mary had, by then, sent Franklin. The title of the collection teasingly suggests the actual boredom of an underground life. Dedicated to “Virginia” (Mabel’s second name), it would contain some seemingly personal poems such as “Lovers”:
To be unloved brings sweet relief:
The strong adoring eyes
Play the eternal thief
With the soul’s fit disguise.
To be unloved gives sweet relief;
The one integrity
Of soul is to be lone,
Inviolate, and free.44
Besides these personal poems are character poems such as “Outsider,” as well as the epigrammatic, such as the following in honour of one of Mary’s favourite poets, Emily Dickinson:
If you had been more fed
Our feast had been more,
You whose mere crumbs
Leave us less poor.45
And lastly, there are more philosophical nature poems such as “Heron”:
I watched a motionless bird,
Straight by the rushy lagoon;
Lonely he seemed as a cloud
Shunned by the moon.
I went to the motionless bird,
“Why stand remote and alone?”
I spoke to rushes, the legs
Had waded and flown.
But close to the weight of my foot,
A welter of feathers and blood:
So, since love is the heart of the world,
I knew why he stood.46
With the publication of Moles, Mary Gilmore wrote to Franklin on the subject of “E”:
I think again that “E” has something warmer in her than Emily Dickinson. She is nearer the human heart & nearer the wonder that lies in a heart seeing intellectually but with a little friendly fire in it. In plain words, there is more wonder, less ego in her work than Emily.47
29. Bedford, Ruth, 1882-1963.
Who's who in rhyme and without reason / by Ruth Bedford ; with line illustrations by Judith Mauldon. (Sydney : Australasian Publishing, 1948)
Although primarily known as a children’s poet, Ruth Bedford published seven collections of poetry. The Brisbane Courier Mail approved of the fact that she had “not been caught in the stream of so-called modernism” although some reviewers dismissed her work as slight. One of her closest friends was fellow poet, Dorothea Mackellar, and they would collaborate on a number of light novels.
30. Moxham, Miriam, 189-?-1971.
Poems / by Miriam Moxham ; illustrated by the author. (Sydney : Shakespeare Head, 1936)
31. Gill, Ruby.
Princess Verdure : a poetic phantasy and other verses / by Ruby Gill. (Sydney : Building Publishing, )
32. Mackellar, Dorothea, 1885-1968.
Fancy dress and other verse / by Dorothea Mackellar. (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1926)
Born in Sydney, Dorothea Mackellar was the daughter of Sir Charles Mackellar, physician and parliamentarian. After going to University of Sydney, she finished her education by traveling overseas. She was fluent in French, German, Italian and Spanish and was able to act as translator for her family. Dorothea's best known and much loved and memorised poem 'Core of My Heart '('My Country') was written while she was in England when she was nineteen years old (although it was revised on her return to Australia). She published in a number of magazines and journals in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. She published two novels with her close friend, Ruth Bedford. Her health deteriorated in the late 1920s and eventually put an end to her writing.
33. Gilmore, Mary, Dame, 1865-1962.
The tilted cart : a book of recitations / by Mary Gilmore. ([Sydney : M. Gilmore], 1925)
Gilmore wrote of the difficulty of finding time to write:
By the time a woman has washed & baked, ironed & scrubbed, swept & cleaned & dusted, cooked three meals a day, darned & stitched & made one’s own & one’s child’s clothes by hand & has the reputation of being one who keeps the corners clean, there isn’t much time for writing…and besides…I didn’t contract when I married, to be a writer, I contracted to be a wife & mother…There are many pages for me to write yet in this living book in my hands, & it is better to write them well & faithfully than to waste my time trying to be the brilliant woman I not only am not, but never would be.(1903)
Many of the poems in The Tilted Cart feature life on the land or the small town, with a number located in Wagga and the surrounding area. Gilmore provides a series of often autobiographical-based endnotes to provide context and explanation. As with earlier published verse, a number of the poems are narrated through a colloquial working-class voice:
“Watchin’ your face, or watchin’ your nose,
Keepin’ the dam’ thing offa your clo’es—
That’s the way your Sattady goes—
Doin’ the boots for Sunday.”(“Doing the Boots for Sunday”)
Many of the poems focus on female experiences. “A Common Story,” for example, tells of the vindictiveness of small-town gossip: “We’re afraid she’s fond of the men!” “A butterfly—hardly a wife--/Poor flutterer, broken of men.”
34. Gilmore, Mary, 1865-1962.
Under the Wilgas : poems / by Mary Gilmore. (Melbourne : Robertson & Mullins, 1932)
Under the Wilgas is a good example of Gilmore’s use of poetry as cultural intervention. While Gilmore had already begun writing about the place of Aborigines in Australian history, in this collection she more often assumes an Aboriginal voice. Whereas poems like “The Waradgery Tribe” echoe her earlier collection, The Wild Swan, n mythologizing the Aborigines as a dying race, Gilmore begins to represent the present-day Aborigine as a victim of continuing injustice and discrimination. In “The Myall in Prison,” she assumes a first-person voice to emphasise her sympathy with Aborigines in custody. At the same time, she uses European poetic forms like the dirge and the elegy to mourn specific Aboriginal loss (as in “Wariapendi: A Dirge” and “The Children of Mirrabooka”). Under the Wilgas is also more self-consciously an attempt to map out a cultural history, featuring poems on specific events (The Eureka Stockade) and figures (Parkes and Lawson). A number of poems also consider trace the relationship between the English language and history through what are largely modernist terms. One example would be the aptly titled “Language”:
Flower turns to seed, and seed becomes a flower;
One seed makes many flowers, one flower much seed!
Thus form a word does mighty thinking breed,
And simple thoughts, to great, increase the dower.
Are not all words old thought new-set to power—
Late visible where we, late-come, may read,
To lose by them, the low place of the weed,
And climb, where, if unlearned, we still much cower?
Speak not of history in stone! For I
Can show you history written deeper yet;
The simple words nor youth nor age forget,
Passed lip to lip, as centuries go by;
The caravans of time these leave behind—
Shards from which man makes ladders for the mind.
History can no longer be written “in stone”. Instead, Gilmore suggests a cyclical understanding of time. Present-day language is also fragmentary, mere “shards” from a past which was more unified in meaning. Yet, it may still enable “ladders,” a pathway to greater understanding. Gilmore plays with the sonnet form to suggest that form as well as “old thoughts” may be “new-set to power”.
35. Palmer, Nettie, 1885-1964.
The south wind / by Nettie Palmer. (London : John G. Wilson, 1914)
In April 1914, Nettie travelled to London and married Vance Palmer on the 23rd of May. Her brother, Esmonde, wrote half-seriously upon hearing the news, “[W]ere you born for this? Did I do my best to bring you up only for this?…Vance’s crime…is very great”.48 Katharine Susannah Prichard was still in England and encouraged Nettie to establish a writing career for herself. Nettie’s first collection of poetry, The South Wind, was published in London, reflecting Nettie’s belief, and that of many Australians at the time that it was superior to local publication. Yet the title reflects Vance’s cultural politics in locating the poet’s voice within the fresh air of Australia. Its content too, aimed to be fresh, accessible, and Australian. Nettie was pleased with the result, writing again to Esmonde:
The poems make a decent little volume, don’t they? I think you’ll see why I left out all translations and experiments. Do you know, old soul, I’m awfully keen to see if you’ll like any of them.”49
The collection included a number of previously published poems like “In the Concert Hall”:
Who is to blame? The woman,
Just for being there
Simple and human?
The man who wants to look at her,
And slightly turns his chair,
And as he likes will watch her faintest stir?
I wonder if he guesses
How his causal stare
Stabs and oppresses;
The woman dreads to raise her eyes
Or even touch her hair;
All seems a pose to which his gaze replies.
The thing is hardly level:
Woman, if you glance
You’re called a devil;
For hours he tempts you and you endure
Behold the world advance:
You’re paying now for Cleopatra’s lure.
Here, Nettie foregrounds the power of the male gaze, revealing how woman is prescribed through it. Woman is reduced to “pose” or masquerade, pre-defined as seductress rather than self-determining.
Unfortunately, the volume itself was also judged through gendered terms as the reviewer of the “Red Page” [of The Worker] declared:
For what she writes is poetry—a poetry of limited range, a fireside poetry, domestic and human. Her verses have an atmosphere: they are burdened with scents that, analysed, are not entirely to be traced to the mere words.
A slight, little feminine song, but from an unaffected human and singing throat.50
Responding to Esmonde’s dislike of “In the Concert Hall,” Nettie reveals an awareness of how her work has been positioned:
But I do not claim that it is a transcript from life, no matter how many other sides there may be to the question. The editor of the Bulletin sent it back with the remark, “All very well, but you haven’t given the woman’s point of view!” How did he know that? What woman? Anyway, the joke is that the Red Page man falls over himself in the effort to announce me as the exponent of the feminine.51
By deeming it feminine, Nettie’s poetry can be seen to be minor, tangential to the nationalist culture-building project of writers like Vance. In England, Nettie’s book received little attention and was relegated to the “colonial shelf” at the Poetry Bookshop.
36. Palmer, Nettie, 1885-1964.
Shadowy paths / by Nettie Palmer. (London : Euston Press, )
The title of Nettie Palmer’s second collection, Shadowy Paths (1915), emphasizes a more atmospheric and abstract palate—of paths not too frequently taken. It too juxtaposes constraint and enclosure with the possibilities of freedom. In “The Window,” the narrator looks out on the wild night landscape:
Trees on the skyline darken,
Tell me, what is beyond!
Hungry and fond
Here I must linger and hearken.
37. Harford, Lesbia, 1891-1927.
The poems of Lesbia Harford. (Melbourne : Melbourne University Press in association with Oxford University Press, 1941)
One of the first women to graduate in Law at the University of Melbourne, Lesbia Harford was involved in the anti-conscription movement, promoting both pacifism and greater cultural tolerance. Attracted to the International Workers of the World, a radical labour movement, she took up their policy of direct action and was, at various times, an art teacher, a servant, and factory-worker. She became involved in the Clothing Trades Union and was the first Woman Vice-President of its industry section in Victoria. Often minimalist, her poetry focuses on the everyday, the colloquial, and the particular. It is often underwritten by a sharp awareness of class oppression. Perhaps because she intended her poetry to stay private (and indeed, most of it remained unpublished during her lifetime), it would be a vehicle through which Lesbia vividly explores aspects of female sexuality. At the same time, her poetry is marked by both sexual and spiritual ambivalence. While it had been hoped that Lesbia’s brother, Esmond Keogh, would organise a posthumous volume of her work, it did not eventuate and it was not be until 1941 that her close friend Nettie Palmer went through Lesbia’s exercise books and put together a selection. The manuscript was then sent to the Commonwealth Literary Fund. Nettie’s husband, Vance, and a friend, Flora Eldershaw, were on the advisory board. It was reviewed by Louis Lavater who reported back, “These shy, intimate blossomings of a human spirit are not for the rough surgery of criticism. One reads them—remembers them—returns to them. Certainly they must be preserved”. The advisory board decided to publish the volume.52 Later, Nettie told Guido Baracchi (who may have been Lesbia Harford’s lover at one stage and who maintained an interest in Lesbia’s literary reputation) that the poems were given the grant only because Professor Osborne, S. Talbot Smith and George Mackaness, “three old gentlemen of the censor type…have no time to read, which sometimes prevents them from fulfilling their natural function, which is to obstruct”. “Professor Osborne now says,” she continues, “that if he had read Lesbia’s Poems beforehand he would never have consented to their publication. Fortunately Flora is a strong enough character to take all such back-kicks quite calmly and the Board carries on”.53 The decision to publish was perhaps not as simple as Nettie thought, for it overlooks Lavater’s positive review. The volume too was presented as a modest venture.
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