Dorothy Hewett

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Dorothy Hewett
Dorothy Coade Hewett

21 May 1923
Died25 August 2002 (aged 79)
  • Feminist
  • novelist
  • playwright

Dorothy Coade Hewett AM (21 May 1923 – 25 August 2002) was an Australian feminist poet, novelist and playwright. She has been called "one of Australia's best-loved and most respected writers".[1] She was also a member of the Communist Party for a period, though she clashed on many occasions with the party leadership. In recognition of her 20 volumes of published literature, she received the Order of Australia, has a Writer's Walk plaque at Circular Quay, and a street named for her in Canberra. The Dorothy Hewett Award for an unpublished manuscript was established in 2015 by UWA Publishing.[2] She was a recipient of the Christopher Brennan Award.

Early life[edit]

Hewett was born in Perth, Western Australia 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 of Australia (CPA) in 1946 and began writing most of The Workers Star, the WA Communist newspaper, under assumed names. 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 1948, following Hewett's departure to Sydney to live with Les Flood, a boilermaker, with whom she had three sons, Joe, Michael and Tom, over five years. During this period Hewett wrote mostly journalism under pseudonyms for the Communist paper, Tribune (the Menzies government had made it illegal), however the time she spent working in a spinning mill and volunteering for the CPA did inform many of her later works.[3]


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.[4] 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 (1919-2016), 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 Warsaw Pact forces led by the Soviet Army brutally suppressed the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. She renounced her membership of the CPA. 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.[5]

In 1975, she published a controversial collection of poems, Rapunzel in Suburbia, which resulted in the pursuit of successful libel action[6][7] 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.

Hewett was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 1986 Australia Day Honours for service to literature.[8]

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.


In June 2018, Hewett's daughters, Kate and Rozanna Lilley, alleged that they had been sexually assaulted as teenagers by writer and journalist Bob Ellis, artist Martin Sharp, and other men on several occasions, with their mother's approval.[9]


Plays and music theatre[edit]

  • This Old Man Comes Rolling Home (1967)[10]
  • Mrs Porter and the Angel (1969)[11][12]
  • The Chapel Perilous (1972)[13] (first performed in late 1970)
  • Bon-Bons and Roses For Dolly (1972)[14]
  • Catspaw (1974)[15]
  • Joan (1975)[16]
  • The Tatty Hollow Story (1976)
  • The Golden Oldies (1977)
  • Pandora's Cross (1978)
  • The Man From Mukinupin (1979)
  • Golden Valley (1981)
  • Song of the Seals (1983)
  • The Fields of Heaven (1983)
  • Christina's World (1983)
  • Me and the Man in the Moon (1987)
  • Nowhere (2001)
  • Jarrabin


  • Bobbin Up (1959)
  • The Toucher (1993)
  • Neap Tide (1999)


  • What About the People! (1963) (with Merv Lilley)
  • The Hidden Journey (1967)
  • Windmill Country (1968)
  • Rapunzel in Suburbia (1975)
  • Greenhouse (1979)
  • Journeys (1982) (with Rosemary Dobson, Gwen Harwood & Judith Wright)
  • Alice in Wormland (1987)
  • A Tremendous World in Her Head: Selected Poems (1989)
  • Selected Poems (1991)
  • Peninsula (1994)
  • Collected Poems: 1940–1995 (1996)
  • Wheatlands (2000) (with John Kinsella)
  • Halfway Up the Mountain (2001)
  • The Gypsy Dancer and Early Poems (2009)
  • Selected Poems (2010)


  1. ^ Birns & McNeer.A Companion to Australian Literature Since 1900, Camden House, 2007
  2. ^ "The Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript". UWA Publishing. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Fitzpatrick P Who's Turn Is It To Shout?, AustralianMusicals, 2001
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Dorothy Hewett passes away ABC radio (PM) transcript, 26 August 2002
  8. ^ "Dorothy Coade Hewett". Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  9. ^ "Dorothy Hewett's daughters Rozanna and Kate Lilley talk about re-casting their mum's image in the age of #MeToo". 21 June 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  10. ^ Hewett, Dorothy (1976), This old man comes rolling home, Currency Press, ISBN 978-0-86937-049-0
  11. ^ Mrs Porter and the Angel (18 May 1969 - 1 June 1969) [Event description], 1969, retrieved 20 August 2016
  12. ^ Hewett, Dorothy (1900), Mrs. Porter and the angel : a modern fairytale in two acts, retrieved 20 August 2016
  13. ^ Hewett, Dorothy (1972), The chapel perilous : (or, The perilous adventures of Sally Banner), Currency Press, ISBN 978-0-85893-008-7
  14. ^ Hewett, Dorothy; Hewett, Dorothy, 1923-2002. Tatty Hollow story (1976), Bon-bons and roses for Dolly ; The Tatty Hollow story : two plays, Currency Press, ISBN 978-0-86937-047-6CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Hewett, Dorothy (1900), Catspaw : a musical in two acts, retrieved 20 August 2016
  16. ^ Hewett, Dorothy; Flynn, Patrick, 1936-2008 (1984), Joan, Yackandandah Playscripts, ISBN 978-0-86805-009-6CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]