Dorothy Hewett

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Dorothy Coade Hewett, (May 21, 1923 – August 25, 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.


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Later years
  • 4 External links
  • 5 Reference
  • 6 Further reading

Early life

Hewett was born in Perth and was brought up on a sheep and wheat farm near Wickepin, Western Australia. She was initially educated at home and through correspondence due to the isolated nature of her home. From the age of 15 she attended Perth College, which was run by Anglican nuns. Hewett later recalled that the nuns' primary task was to make clear to the students that they would never enter the kingdom of heaven. As an atheist, which she remained all her life, Hewett disregarded this information out of hand.

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.

Hewett married for the first time in 1948, to a communist lawyer, Lloyd Davies, whom she met at university. The marriage ended in divorce in 1959.

The marriage had effectively ended in 1947 when Hewett ran off to Sydney to live with her lover, a boilermaker named Les Flood. She remained with him for nine years and bore him three sons: Joe, Michael and Tom. During this time she wrote no poetry due 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 down than up, in 1967. As the title suggests it was a semi-autobiographical work based on her time in Sydney, the novel was a very 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!.

By 1967 Hewitt was starting to get disillusioned with communist politics, as was evidenced by the collection The Hidden Journey which was published in that year. Although she would remain on the left for her whole life, she had little time for the petty bickering and infighting that effectively paralysed communist politics.

Things came to a head on August 20, 1968 when the Red Army brutally suppressed the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. These events, coupled with her pre-existing disillusionment with the cause, forced Hewett to renounce her membership of the Communist party.

Hewett had inherited property and had a large house in South Perth. She encouraged and constructively criticised the work of young poets and her house at this time became a meeting-place for many who later achieved success, such as Rod Moran and Lee Knowles. This was not a political group, but was united by a common interest in poetry. She had many friends of different political persuasions, such as the anti-communist intellectual and writer Professor Patrick O'Brien.

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 grant. 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 Came Rolling Home (1976) (this play was based on her experiences working in the clothes factory), The Chapel Perilous (1972), and The Golden Oldies (1981).

She published the first volume of her autobiography, The Wild Card, in 1990. The book is primarily centered around her lifelong quest for sexual freedom and the negative responses she received from those around her: whether it was the inhabitants of provincial Western Australia, the members of the Communist party, or bourgeois Perth society. Two years after this 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

As she got older Hewett began to experience a number of physical problems, most notably osteoarthritis. Having always been a free-spirit Hewett found dependence and confinement very difficult to cope with. As she lost the ability to drive, and eventually walk, she relied on her writing and her imagination to transport her to other places.

In the 1984 video Rapunzel in Suburbia she had confessed that her terror of dying, a large part of this was because she felt she still had so much work inside of her still to write. However, as she got older she began to become more obsessed with these thoughts, and would often have nightmares about the nothingness after death.

At the time of her death, from breast cancer, she was working on the second volume of her autobiography The Empty Room.


  • Hewett, Dorothy (1990). Wild Card: an autobiography, 1923-1958. London, Virago, ISBN 1-85381-143-2.

Further reading

  • Adelaide, Debra Australian Women Writers: A Bibliographic Guide . London. Pandora. ISBN 0-86358-149-8

NAME Hewett, Dorothy
SHORT DESCRIPTION Twentieth century Australian feminist poet, novelist, librettist, and playwright
DATE OF BIRTH 21 May 1923
PLACE OF BIRTH Perth, Western Australia, Australia
DATE OF DEATH 25 August 2002
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