Cold War, Home Front: Australian Women Writers and Artists in the 1950s: Dorothy Green Memorial Lecture Association for Australian Literature Annual Conference, Melbourne, July 2001

By Sheridan, Susan | Australian Literary Studies, May 2002 | Go to article overview
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Cold War, Home Front: Australian Women Writers and Artists in the 1950s: Dorothy Green Memorial Lecture Association for Australian Literature Annual Conference, Melbourne, July 2001


Sheridan, Susan, Australian Literary Studies


DOROTHY Green, for whom this lecture is named, was a leading voice in Australian literary and cultural criticism in the 1970s, though her formative years stretch back to the late thirties and World War Two. In paying tribute to her today, I would like to recall for you her generation of women writers and artists who emerged in the 1940s and '50s. Though fifty years later they are often invisible, their various commitments to articulating a broad and critical social vision made a major contribution to progressive cultural politics and hard-won artistic achievement through the Cold War years. What makes these women's achievements all the more praiseworthy is the fact that they were all serving on the `home front', domesticity, during those years, most of them in severely straightened circumstances--sometimes with partners and children, like Dorothy Green and Judith Wright, or--as in the case of Sydney painter Elsa Russell--earning a living doing other people's domestic work along with various other chores.

It's necessary to reintroduce Dorothy Green from time to time, even to this audience, on this the tenth annual Dorothy Green lecture. (1) Born Dorothy Auchterlonie in the north of England in 1915, she came to Australia with her family as a child. She was educated at North Sydney Girls' High School and then Sydney University, which she attended as an evening student while employed as a pupil teacher at a girls' school. The philosopher John Anderson was one of her teachers, and fellow students included Amy Witting and Judith Wright, as well as James McAuley, Harold Stewart, Donald Home and others of that stellar generation. During the war, with a research Masters degree completed, she made a second career in journalism, most notably setting up the ABC's independent news service in Brisbane. In 1944 she married H.M. Green, the noted literary historian and former librarian at Sydney University, and during the next decade when their two children were small she continued with casual employment at the ABC and occasional writing. Returning to school teaching in 1955 she was appointed co-principal of Presbyterian Girls' College in Warwick, Queensland; later, she held university posts in English at Monash (1961), ANU (1964-72) and ADFA (1977 until her retirement in 1980). Among many other honours, she was made one of the first Life Members of ASAL in 1978. She died in Canberra in 1991.

As well as three volumes of poetry published as Dorothy Auchterlonie (see Ayres) Green published a magnificent study of Henry Handel Richardson, Ulysses Bound, and spent years revising H.M. Green's History of Australian Literature. Many of her essays and reviews are collected in the volumes The Music of Love (1984) and Writer, Reader, Critic (1991). This listing, though, hardly indicates her real and lasting significance for Australian writing and for literary education. As Drusilla Modjeska pointed out in introducing The Music of Love, it was because Dorothy Green's work stood out as a point of critical engagement between literature and modern social thought that it spoke to students of our generation in the late sixties and early seventies. Modjeska identifies `in the breadth of Dorothy Green's thinking `themes of religion, populism and cultural independence' woven into `criticisms of colonialism, capitalism and militarism' (3).

Dorothy Green's passionate pursuit of justice and truth led to her becoming an activist in the anti-nuclear and anti-war movements--a fact which makes her final teaching appointment at ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy, especially ironic. It also led to her writing satires like `The Second Coming', a long poem in rhyming couplets about the American President's visit to Australia at the height of the Vietnam War, when then Prime Minister Harold Holt made the infamous statement that Australia would go `all the way with LBJ'. Dorothy Green's forthright association between women and traditional female virtues and peace making, while it made later feminists nervous, was an attitude shared with her contemporary Judith Wright, and may be traced to their strong reactions to the carnage of two world wars.

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Cold War, Home Front: Australian Women Writers and Artists in the 1950s: Dorothy Green Memorial Lecture Association for Australian Literature Annual Conference, Melbourne, July 2001
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