Helen Darville

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Helen Dale
Born Helen Darville
(1972-01-24) 24 January 1972 (age 44)
Other names Helen Demidenko
Alma mater
Occupation Lawyer
Known for 1994 Australian literary controversy
Notable work The Hand That Signed the Paper

Helen Dale (born Helen Darville; 24 January 1972), previously known by her pen name Helen Demidenko, is an Australian writer and lawyer.

A daughter of British immigrants, Dale was educated at Redeemer Lutheran College in Rochedale, a suburb of Brisbane. While studying English literature at the University of Queensland, she wrote The Hand that Signed the Paper, a novel about a Ukrainian family who become both bystanders and perpetrators during the Holocaust. In 1993, the novel won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. It was first published in 1994 under the pseudonym Helen Demidenko and won the Miles Franklin Award, becoming the award's youngest winner. The following year, she became the subject of a major Australian literary controversy about her false claims of Ukrainian ancestry.[1] The misrepresentation has been described as a "literary hoax"[2] in The Sydney Morning Herald[3] and the novel was subsequently reissued under her then real name, Helen Darville.

Dale is currently a senior adviser to David Leyonhjelm, a Liberal Democrat member of the Australian Senate.

The Hand That Signed the Paper: novel and controversy[edit]


Darville's debut novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper, tells the story of a Ukrainian family trying to survive a decade of Stalinist purges and state-imposed poverty and famine while being abused by the drunken local commissar and refused treatment by the village doctor and his sneering wife (a secular Jew). The German invaders were hailed as liberators by the Ukrainians. Many volunteered for the German armed forces—Wehrmacht, SS, and Ordnungspolizei—and the novel stresses the arbitrariness of their allocation to military formations. A Ukrainian could just as easily end up fighting on the front alongside the Wehrmacht as in a death squad.

In the novel, the 16-year-old Evheny and 19-year-old Vitaly are separated, the younger to Nazi Einsatzgruppen C (a mobile killing squad) and the elder to the SS training facility for Ukrainians at Trawniki in Poland. Evheny is implicated in the massacre at Babi Yar outside Kiev while Vitaly is posted to Treblinka death camp as a guard. Evheny is later sent to a front-line Waffen SS formation on the Eastern Front while Vitaly is posted to northern Italy as part of German antipartisan activity in the wake of that country's withdrawal from the Axis alliance.


The novel is primarily told from the point of view of Kateryna, sister of the two brothers, and Magda, Vitaly's common-law wife from the Polish village near the Treblinka death camp. Kateryna has a relationship with a German SS Hauptsturmführer. Magda assists a Jewish prisoner to escape after the Treblinka prisoner revolt in August 1943. The family's story is gradually revealed by the investigation of Fiona, Evheny's Australian-born daughter, after her uncle Vitaly is charged with war crimes in the early 1990s.

The novel's frankness about the antisemitism of its major characters (who blamed Jews for the excesses of Communism), and Darville's sympathetic focus on the lives of Ukrainian perpetrators of war crimes rather than the story of their victims as is more usual in Holocaust literature, led to accusations of antisemitism and condemnation by leaders of Australia's Jewish community. This impression was reinforced by the perception that the personal attitudes of "Helen Demidenko" might be informed by her own Ukrainian identity, until this was revealed to be a pseudonym.


The deception was revealed by the Australian media when her novel won the Miles Franklin Award, one of the most prestigious literary awards in Australia. This created a furore and much debate on the nature of identity and ethnicity in Australian literature.[4][5]

Despite adverse publicity, the novel still went on to win the 1995 Australian Literary Society Gold Medal.

The novel was initially submitted to the University of Queensland Press in 1993 and was said to be based upon recorded interviews with her own relatives, among others her uncle "Vitaly Demidenko". The Sydney Morning Herald mistakenly reported in 2005 that it was submitted as non-fiction,[3] a claim justified by quoting the author's note that she submitted with the manuscript, which read: "The things narrated in this book really happened, the things they did [are] historical actualities." After indicating that the work was based on history, the note went on to position the author's presentation of her work as fiction, saying: "But this is also a work of fiction. I have presented it as fiction...."[6]

Books that discuss the scandal[edit]

The controversy that surrounded The Hand that Signed the Paper led to publication of at least two books offering assessments of the novel: Robert Manne's The Culture of Forgetting: Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust and Andrew Riemer's The Demidenko Debate, both published in 1996. Manne is very critical of Darville's book. Riemer is not.[7]

Later work and recent years[edit]

In 1995, the Australian culture journal Meanjin published a short story, Pieces of the Puzzle, also by Demidenko although the journal also mentioned that Demidenko had "taken back" her previous name as Darville. She now admitted that she had met Ukrainian witnesses and based the story on them, resulting in correspondence from the Simon Wiesenthal Center demanding that she identify these possible war criminals.[citation needed]

Darville was briefly a columnist with the Brisbane daily newspaper The Courier-Mail before being dismissed over accusations of plagiarism for repeating jokes originally from the Evil Overlord List in one of her columns and passing them off as her own.[8][9] She continued to write freelance features for other News Corporation newspapers and magazines, and occasionally the Fairfax press.

In 2000, she was again accused of anti-semitism after choosing to interview historian and Holocaust denier David Irving, for Australian Style magazine during his failed libel trial in London.[10] She wrote a post-11 September article in The Sydney Morning Herald.[11] Darville is reported to have worked variously as a graphic designer, property law lecturer and physical education teacher.

After working as a secondary teacher for several years in Australia and the UK, she returned to the University of Queensland in 2002 to study law. Graduating with a first class honours degree in law in 2005, she commenced work as a judge's associate for Peter Dutney, a justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland.[12]

Previously a regular contributor to the libertarian group blog Catallaxy files[13] under the name 'skepticlawyer,' Darville now has her own blog in this name.[14] In recent times, she has also appeared on the SBS program Insight, and as a guest of the University of Melbourne's Publishing and Communications Program. She has a strong involvement with the Australian Skeptics, and has written for both their in-house magazine and Quadrant, a conservative journal. Darville is reported to be working on a second novel, more than a decade after the publication of the first.[15]

Dale completed the Bachelor of Civil Law programme at the University of Oxford, where she was a member of Brasenose College.[16] In 2008 she started reading for an MPhil in Law (Jurisprudence).[17] She then went on to complete a Graduate LLB degree at the University of Edinburgh School of Law in 2012.[18][19] During that time she won the Law Society of Scotland's student essay competition. The topic of her prize-winning essay was equal marriage.[19] Dale then completed a post-graduate qualification before start working in 2013 as a trainee solicitor with the law firm MBM Commercial.

In 2014, Dale returned to Australia, becoming a senior adviser to David Leyonhjelm, a Liberal Democrat member of the Australian Senate.[20]


  1. ^ "Helen Darville aka Helen Demidenko - Update". Australian Humanities Review. Retrieved 27 January 2012. 
  2. ^ "hums3001 - Literary Hoaxes". Hums3001.unsw.wikispaces.net. Retrieved 27 January 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Knox, Malcolm (9 July 2005). "The Darville Made Me Do It". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  4. ^ Egan, Susanna (October 2004). "The Company She Keeps: Demidenko and the problems of imposture in autobiography". Australian Literary Studies. 
  5. ^ Stewart, Ken (May 1997). "Those infernal pictures: reading Helen Darville, her novel and her critics". Australian Literary Studies. 
  6. ^ China, Corey (2003). Under the Influence of Prize Culture:Helen Demidenko and the Australian/Vogel, Miles Franklin,and ALS Gold Medal Awards (PDF). Culture and the Literary Prize Conference. 
  7. ^ Riemer, Andrew (1996). The Demidenko Debate. St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin. p. 84. ISBN 1-86448-109-9. 
  8. ^ Greason, David. "The Review – TZADIK". Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Retrieved 26 September 2006. 
  9. ^ "Editor dumps Darville". The Australian. 5 February 1997. p. 3. 
  10. ^ Cauchi, Stephen (29 February 2000). "Irving View Under Attack". The Age. 
  11. ^ Darville, Helen (1 October 2001). "Were we US-Bashers wrong all along?". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  12. ^ Merrit, Chris (15 March 2007). "Hand Not Signed to This Paper". The Australian. 
  13. ^ "catallaxy". Catallaxyfiles.com. 21 January 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2012. 
  14. ^ Legal Eagle (31 January 2014). "So long, thanks for all the fish from Legal Eagle…". Skeptic Lawyer. Helen Dale. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  15. ^ Devine, Frank (11 January 2007). "Literary rebirth in progress for the hand that signs the blog". The Australian. Retrieved 16 August 2007. 
  16. ^ "About: skepticlawyer is Helen Dale". Skeptic Lawyer. Helen Dale. 27 May 2008. Retrieved 27 January 2012. 
  17. ^ Dale, Helen (5 July 2008). "We made it :)". Skeptic Lawyer. Helen Dale. Retrieved 27 January 2012. 
  18. ^ "Graduate LLB student, Helen Dale, wins Law Society of Scotland New Lawyer Essay Competition". ed.ac.uk (Press release). 2012. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  19. ^ a b Dale, Helen (13 August 2012). "A plea in law for equal marriage". The Journal Online. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  20. ^ "Helen Dale, known once as Helen Demidenko, to advise key federal senator". The Australian. 

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
The Grisly Wife
Miles Franklin Award recipient
Succeeded by
Highways to a War