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Dorothy Coade Hewett (21 May – 25 August 2002) was an Australian feminist poet, novelist, librettist, 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

Hewett was born in Perthmarker and was brought up on a sheep and wheat farm near Wickepinmarker in the Western Australian Wheatbeltmarker. She was initially educated at home and through correspondence courses. From the age of 15 she attended Perth Collegemarker, 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 1948, she married communist lawyer Lloyd Davies. The marriage ended in divorce in 1959, following Hewett's departure to Sydney to conduct a relationship with a boilermaker named Les Flood. She bore Flood three sons over nine years, during which time she wrote no poetry owing to the family's constant struggle against poverty. However, the time she spent working in a clothing factory during this period did inform some of her most famous works.


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. It was one of the few western works that was translated into Russian during the Soviet era.

In 1960 Hewett married again, this time to writer Merv Lilley, the marriage would last until the end of her life, and they had two daughters, Kate and Rose. The couple published a collection of poetry together in 1961 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 Czechoslovakiamarker. 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).

In 1975, she published a controversial collection of poems, Rapunzel in Suburbia, which resulted in the pursuit of successful libel action 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 Dorothy Hewett by artist Geoffrey Proud won the Archibald Prize, Australia's most famous portrait prize.

Later years

Hewett moved to Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountainsmarker, west of Sydneymarker, 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 Melbournemarker, 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.


Further reading

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