Dorothy Hewett

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Dorothy Coade Hewett (21 May 1923 – 25 August 2002) was an Australian feminist poet, novelist and playwright. She was also a member of the Communist Party of Australia, though she clashed on many occasions with the party's leadership.

Early life[edit]

Hewett was born in Perth and was brought up on a sheep and wheat farm near Wickepin in the Western Australian Wheatbelt. She was initially educated at home and through correspondence courses. From the age of 15 she attended Perth College, which was run by Anglican nuns. Hewett was an atheist, remaining so all her life.

In 1944 Hewett began studying English at the University of Western Australia (UWA). It was here that she joined the Communist Party in 1946. Also during her time at UWA she won a major drama competition and a national poetry competition.

In 1944 she married communist lawyer Lloyd Davies and had a son who died of leukaemia at age three. The marriage ended in divorce in 1948, following Hewett's departure to Sydney to live with Les Flood, a boilermaker, to who she three sons over nine years. During this period Hewett wrote very little however, the time she spent working in a clothing factory did inform some of her most famous works.

Career[edit]

Following the end of this relationship in 1958 Hewett returned to Perth to take up a teaching post in the English department at UWA. This move also inspired her to begin writing again. Jeannie (1958) was the first piece she completed following her enforced hiatus; Hewett later admitted to finding this a rejuvenating experience.

Hewett published her first novel, Bobbin Up, in 1959. As the title suggests it was a semi-autobiographical work based on her time in Sydney, the novel was a cathartic work for Hewett. The novel is widely regarded as a classic example of social realism.[who?][citation needed] It was one of the few western works that was translated into Russian during the Soviet era. Vulgar Press re-published the book in 1999, 40 years after its first publication.

In 1960 Hewett married Merv Lilley and the marriage would last until the end of her life. They had two daughters, Kate and Rose in 1960 and, in 1961 the couple published a joint collection of poetry entitled What About the People!.

In 1967 Hewett's increasing disillusionment with Communist politics was evidenced by her collection Hidden Journey. Things came to a head for her on 20 August 1968, when the Red Army brutally suppressed the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. She renounced her membership of the Communist Party. This and her critical obituary of the Communist novelist Katharine Susannah Prichard, caused several Communist writers to circulate material attacking her.

In 1973 Hewett was awarded one of the first fellowships by the newly formed Australia Council. The organisation granted her several fellowships, and later awarded her a lifetime emeritus fellowship. Hewett returned to Sydney that year with the hope that this move would further her career as a playwright. During her life she wrote 15 plays, the most famous of which are: This Old Man Comes Rolling Home (1967), The Chapel Perilous (1972), and The Golden Oldies (1981). Several plays, such as The Man From Mukinupin (1979), were written in collaboration with Australian composer Jim Cotter.[1]

In 1975, she published a controversial collection of poems, Rapunzel in Suburbia, which resulted in the pursuit of successful libel action[2][3] by her ex-husband Lloyd Davies in relation to specific verses and their quotation in a review by Hal Colebatch in The West Australian newspaper.

Virago Press published the first volume of her autobiography, Wild Card, in 1990. The book dealt with her lifelong quest for sexual freedom and the negative responses she received from those around her. Two years later she published her second novel, The Toucher.

In 1990 a painting of Hewett by artist Geoffrey Proud won the Archibald Prize, Australia's most prominent portrait prize.

Later years[edit]

Hewett moved to Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, with her husband Merv Lilley in 1991. She suffered from osteoarthritis but continued to write prolifically, including a novel, Neap Tide (Penguin 1999), a collection of poetry, Halfway Up The Mountain, a play commissioned by the Playbox Theatre in Melbourne, Nowhere, and other unpublished works. At the time of her death, from breast cancer, she was working on the second volume of her autobiography, The Empty Room.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fitzpatrick P Who's Turn Is It To Shout?, AustralianMusicals, 2001
  2. ^ Dimond J and Kirkpatrick P Literary Sydney: A walking guide Univ. of Queensland Press, 2000. 193 pp. ISBN 0-7022-3150-9, ISBN 978-0-7022-3150-6
  3. ^ Dorothy Hewett passes away ABC radio (PM) transcript, 26 August 2002

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