Australian Women Writers Gen 4

Pat Brassington*

In 2017, in my introductory post for AWW Gen 1 Week I wrote:

Gen 4, the baby boomers, the great wave of writing beginning in the sixties, more men than women, though we could name Helen Garner, Janette Turner Hospital, Thea Astley.

Gen 5 finally brings us a more cosmopolitan Australia, beginning with the Grunge movement in the 1990s – Justine Ettler of course and many others.

Gen 6, too early to say, I think, except that we are experiencing a wave of great Indigenous Lit which interestingly at least some of its practitioners say is separate from Oz Lit.

I’m surprised that that is still close to my current thinking, though in fact the second wave of Indigenous Lit (after Frank Davis, Mudrooroo and Oodgeroo Noonuccal) begins in the 1990s coinciding with Gen 5, with Kim Scott’s True Country (1993) and more importantly, Benang (1999), and Alexis Wright, born 1950 but started writing late, with Plains of Promise (1997).

So let us stick to the definition for Gen 4 that I gave at the end of Gen 3 Week: women who began writing in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. As I have discussed before, those who began writing in the 1960s were not Baby Boomers at all, but rather the new writers we boomers took up as we approached and entered adulthood.

Below is a list of all the women of this generation that I could locate and the name and date of their first novel (using a Table block for the first time). As you go through note how few of them are born even as late as 1950. Novelists it seems debut mostly in their thirties and forties.

AuthorFirst WorkYear
Thea Astley (1925-2004)Girl with a Monkey1958
Nancy Cato (1917-2000)All the Rivers Run1958
Pat Flower/Bryson (1914-1977)Wax Flowers for Gloria (Crime)1958
Elizabeth O’Connor (1913-2000)The Irishman1960
Patricia Carlon (1927-2002)Circle of Fear (Crime)1961
Mena Calthorpe (1905-1996)The Dyehouse1961
Nene Gare (1919-1994)The Fringe Dwellers1961
Elizabeth Kata/Katayama (1912-1998)A Patch of Blue1961
Gwen Kelly (1922-2012)There is no Refuge1961
Nancy Phelan (1913-2008)The River and the Brook1962
Jessica Anderson (1916-2010)An Ordinary Lunacy1963
Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920-1993)We Are Going: Poems1964
Suzanne Holly Jones (1945- Harry’s Child1964
Betty Collins (The Copper Crucible1966
Shirley Hazzard (1931-2016)The Evening of the Holiday1966
Jill Neville (1932-1997)Fall Girl1966
Neilma Gantner/Sidney (1922-2015)Beyond the Bay1966
Sue Rhodes (Now You’ll Think I’m Awful (NF)1967
Thelma Forshaw/Korting (1923-1995)An Affair of Clowns1967
Diane Cilento (1932-2011)The Manipulator1968
Lynn Foster (1913-Blow the Wind Southerly1969
Germaine Greer (1939- The Female Eunuch (NF)1970
Barbara Vernon (1916-1978)Bellbird1970
Hesba Fay Brinsmead/Hungerford (1922-2003)Longtime Passing1971
Barbara Hanrahan (1939-1991)The Scent of Eucalyptus1973
Barabara Brooks (1947-Just the Two of Us1974
Colleen McCullough (1937-2015)Tim1974
Jill Hellyer (1925-2012)Not Enough Savages1975
Anigone Kefala (1930s-The First Journey1975
Hilde Knorr (1917-2009)Shoemaker’s Children1975
Marilyn Lake (1949-A Divided Society (NF)1975
Anne Summers (1945-Damned Whores and God’s Police (NF)1975
Bobbi Sykes (1943-2010)Black Power in Australia (NF)1975
Lucy Walker (1917-?)The Runaway Girl (Romance)1975
Anne Brooksbank (1943-Mad Dog Morgan1976
Helen Hodgman (1946-Blue Skies1976
Anne Parry (1931-The Land Behind the World (YA)1976
Glen Tomasetti (1929-2003)Thoroughly Decent People1976
Christine Townend (1944-Travels with Myself1976
Faith Bandler (1918-2015) (Indig.)Wacvie1977
Helen Garner (1942-Monkey Grip1977
Colleen Klein (1921-The Heart in the Casket1977
Lee Cataldi (1942-Invitation to a Marxist Lesbian Party (P)1978
Jennifer Rankin (1941-1979)Earth Hold1978
Gabrielle Carey (1959-Puberty Blues1979
Kathy Lette (1958-Puberty Blues1979
Margaret Jones (1923-The Confucius Enigma1979
Pauline Marrington (1921-A House Full of Men1979
Blanche d’Alpuget (1945-Monkeys in the Dark1980
Robyn Davidson (1950-Tracks1980
Beverley Farmer (1941-Alone1980
Beatrice Faust (1939-Women, Sex and Pornography (NF)1980
Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007)Palomino1980
Maria Lewitt (1924-Come Spring1980
Gabrielle Lord (1946-Fortress (Crime)1980
Barbara Pepworth (1955-Early Marks1980
Dale Spender (1943-Man Made Language (NF)1980
Natalie Scott (1928-Wherever we step the land was mined1980
Leonie Sperling (1934-Coins for the Ferryman1981
Mary Gage (1940-Praise the Egg1981
Glenda Adams (1939-Games of the Strong1982
Jean Bedford (1946-Sister Kate1982
Janet Turner Hospital (1942-The Ivory Swing1982
Aviva Layton (1933-Nobody’s Daughter1982
Barbara Brooks (1947-Leaving Queensland1983
Sara Dowse (1938-West Block1983
Georgia Savage (The Tournament1983
Janine Burke (1952-Speaking1984
Dorothy Johnston (1948-Tunnel Vision1984
Valerie Kirwan (1943-Wandering1984
Amanda Lohrey (1947-The Morality of Gentlemen1984
Olga Masters (1919-Loving Daughters1984
Jennifer Rowe/Emily Rodda (1948-Something Special (Childrens)1984
Marion Campbell (1948-Lines of Flight1985
Moya Costello (1952-Kites in Jakarta1985
Stephanie Dowrick (1947-Running Backwards Over Sand1985
Kate Grenville (1950-Lillian’s Story1985
Carol Lansbury (1929-1991)Ringarra1985
Jan McKemmish (1950-2007)A Gap in the Records (Crime)1985
Gail Morgan (1953-The Promise of Rain1985
Anna Murdoch (1944-In Her Own Image1985
Margaret Barbalet (1949-Blood in the Rain1986
Nancy Corbett (1944-Floating1986
Anne Derwent (1941-Warm Bodies1986
Suzanne Falkiner (1952-Rain in the Distance1986
Jennifer Dabbs (1938-Beyond Redemption1987
Marion Halligan (1940-Self Possession1987
Judith Clarke (1943-2020)The Heroic Life of Al Capsella (YA)1988
Jill Dobson (1969-The Inheritors (YA/SF)1988
Nora Dugon (Lonely Summers (YA)1988
Lolo Houbein (1934-Walk a Barefoot Road1988
Ruby Langford (1934-2011) (Indig.)Don’t Take Your Love to Town1988
Kay Schaffer (1945-Women and the Bush (NF)1988
Renate Yates (Rural Pursuits1988

Hooton & Heseltine, Annals of Australian Literature, 2nd ed. which was my source (mostly), finishes at 1988, so no 1989. One author I deliberately left out, who wrote mostly in this period, was Barbara Jeffris whose first novel came out in 1953 and whose husband bequeathed a valuable annual award in her name for “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society.”

WG, who grew up in that place and at that time, must read Betty Collins’ The Copper Crucible (1966) “This intense tale of political unrest and seduction takes place in an isolated mining town in North Queensland [ie. Mt Isa]”

Quite a number of these women are listed as founding members of the Australian Society of Authors, which I found was begun in 1963, born out of an initiative by the Fellowship of Australian Writers in Sydney, which felt that it and other writers organizations were too state-oriented. The ASA administers a number of awards including the Barbara Jeffris Award above.

You might think that the theoretical underpinning of AWW Gen 4 is Postmodernism, and that is partly true, though the postmodernist period in Art and Literature is generally dated 1970-2000. Here is one definition

Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or mode of discourse defined by an attitude of skepticism toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism, as well as opposition to epistemic certainty and the stability of meaning.

Wiki, 7 Mar 2021

You need to understand that the professor for my course at UCQ, John Fitzsimmons, was rightly critical of my grasp of the tenets of postmodernism and all I can say is that is true too of most authors, who seemed to take to it as a fashion, or waves of fashion – including the author in the work, works about the work being written, adopting Magic Realism from South America – and not as a theoretical underpinning.

For me though, this generation is defined by the wonderful optimism of youth born into post-War prosperity which exploded into the 60s with new fashions, new music, new drugs, the Pill, Women’s Lib, the post-Communist politics of the anti-Vietnam War movement, widely available university educations, the Space race, hippies, and in Australia waves of immigration from Southern Europe which obliterated for ever our ‘white picket fence’ Anglo-centricity. And which ended a couple of decades later with the realities of earning a living, bringing up children, and in the unrestrained selfishness unleashed by the undoing of “Big Government” by Thatcher and Reagan (and Keating and Howard).

While you (and I) prepare our reading for next January, I’ll address the Gen 4 period off and on throughout the year. I have an essay on Clive James’ sarcastic take on postmodernism, The Remake (1988) to reprise; and I also must review Obsolete Communism: the Left-Wing Alternative (1968) by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and maybe even Terry Eagleton, Marxism and Literary Criticism (1976). And then, I should probably squeeze in Doris Lessing and maybe Iris Murdoch to compare with our Australians. We’ll see, my ambitions quite often exceed my abilities (and the time available).


Pat Brassington (1942- ) is a Tasmanian artist, described as “surrealist”, working in the field of photomedia. The image at the top is from ARC One Gallery and I don’t have a name or a date for it.

37 thoughts on “Australian Women Writers Gen 4

  1. This is fantastic Bill. I think we should do this over two years too? It’s too rich for one year. I will try to find that Mt Isa book. Sounds like it might even be about the miner’s strike I lived through albeit as a child.

    Love your comments about post- modernism! Oh, and thanks for the link.

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    • I think the book anticipates a big strike around the year of publication. The link – it seems the FAW was quite gracious about the time having arrived to give way to a national body.
      You have the Annals I know, and it mostly only gives the author’s surname so I spent a lot of time in wikipedia working out the author’s first name and if he/she was a woman and consequently learned a lot about them. (One author called Free had a one word book title, Wombat or something. It is very difficult finding something useful when your search term is free wombat, and free author wombat novel wasn’t much better).

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      • Haha Bill. Yes, there’s a limit to searching sometimes when you come up with search terms like that.

        BTW I checked my Debra Adelaide Bibliographic Guide to Aus Women Writers, and while most of those for whom you have no dates are there, they have no dates either EXCEPT one. Lynn Foster was apparently born in 1913!

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    • I hadn’t thought to count, but I’ve read 7 and 3 of those are non-fiction. Most I hadn’t heard of. When I set up the Gen 4 page I’ll come back to you for reviews.

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      • I’ve read 13 I think, but only a couple since blogging unfortunately (the Calthorpe and Hanrahan). I do have the Barbalet on my TBR pile, plus a couple of others, but I have been wanting to read it for a long time. However, there are several authors here I like and have read some of, just not their first ones, and other authors I’d like to try. It’s a rich list.

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      • I have a rich collection of Jolleys on my shelf now, but no Palomino. That would be the one I’d look out for first.
        Interestingly Sue Rhodes’ Now You’ll Think I’m Awful isn’t in the Annals, but seeing as I’ve always owned a copy I thought it deserved a place (it was racey at the time but even then a bit old fashioned). I’ll have to see if she admits her age on the inside cover.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa, you don’t seem to have a Faith Bandler yet, so I might try and find one for ILW. Wacvie sounded interesting – an autobiographical fiction about her father.

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      • No, indeed I don’t… but I managed to pick up a second-hand copy of If Everyone Cared, the autobiography of Margaret Tucker, published 1977, and you don’t seem to have that one on your list. She was born in 1904, so would you include her?

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      • I’m not prescriptive, it’s just that I went through the Annals looking for Ns and if I happened to pass a Greer or a Summers I paused and included them. But Tucker’s rightly has an A and I passed it by. Read it, and if you think it casts light on our discussions then I would be more than happy to include it.

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  2. Oh dear. I recognised only 15 names, and I’ve actually read works by three of them. My education has clearly been sadly neglected.

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    • 15 still gives you plenty of choice. You can start working on which one you’d like to review for next year (and it doesn’t have to be a first novel). But a work from early on (1960-75 say) so we can do the second half of Gen 4 the following year. By then hopefully I will have worked out what the themes are.

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      • I was more tempted to pick one I didn’t know, to expand my horizons! (Hang on a tick, did I just volunteer to write another review? That Bill sure is a smooth operator.)

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  3. I’ve only read 4 of the books on the list (3 of those I read as a teen cause my mum had them on her shelf – I didn’t know that A Patch of Blue was Australian)! But I have read many more other works of the authors on your list, but right now I’m too tired to think about modernism, post-modernism or any other ism tonight!
    I’ll be back….:-)

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  4. Sorry, I remember very little about it, except I enjoyed it! I just went down to look to see if I’ve kept Mum’s copy – I thought I had, but my Aussie TBR shelves are in disarray. I need to organise them. But, I did fine Nancy Cato’s Northwest by South! Her novel about John Franklin apparently! Now, that could be interesting. Of course the Barbalet is there – but that would be 2023 I think. Also some Astleys I haven’t read yet, Jolley’s (but not Palomino, either, I think), a Hospital, and others. So many I want to read that your Gen 4 might help me get onto! (But now, I’m off to bed to read – a bit earlier than usual, for a change.)

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    • It was the author who ‘turned Japanese’, she married a Japanese man in 1937 and must have spent the War in Japan, as she was interned for the last part of it (maybe she refused to be a Tokyo Rose, but I’m only guessing). She returned to Australia in ’46 or ’47 and had much trouble getting in with her young child (I wonder if Calwell was still Immigration minister)

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  5. The table looks great! I’ve never had a reason to use it that I could think of, but maybe now I will. I read loads of Terry Eagleton in undergrad, though I can remember nothing specific about it now. I’ve read Doris Lessing and am particularly fond of her short story “Room Nineteen” and the novella The Fifth Child. I read the novel The Cleft and wasn’t so in love.

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    • Thank you. The table block turned out quite easy to use (a long time ago I made a list of Australian independent women for a Page I no longer have, in a spreadsheet and copied it in. It looked much the same so the underlying code must always have been there). I started with 3 columns and 30 rows and just added or inserted rows as I needed them – the Menu box contains an icon like a window with square panes for manipulating the table.
      I have a few Terry Eagleton, because I liked him when I was studying theory. And Doris Lessing I buy whenever I see her in a second-hand shop – I see I have 10. My favourite is probably The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five.
      Do you think we could work out an author from the list for you to read/review next year?

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      • I looked up several of the authors. The books were not published in the U.S., and even when I went to look for e-books, I only see reviews of these books, not copies that I could purchase. Sorry about that. If you want to send me one, I’d be happy to review it, but other than that, they have yet to make it to the U.S.

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    • I’m sure we’d all be happy down here to swap Colleen McCullogh for Doris Lessing, if you’re willing to give her up. And you already have Kathy Lette to whose lightweight, gossipy fiction you are welcome. You probably already have Greer too, or is she still living in Tuscany, but we love the grumpy old broad anyway so we’ll continue to claim her.
      I’ll make up a short list of books, not necessarily firsts, that Melanie might be able to get and you might be interested in that too.

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      • Ugh, I saw Doris Lessing, wanted to comment on my weird relationship with her books (I only like her non-sci-fi and non-Africa books so about a third of them!) and put her into the list – doh! Kathy Lette is really silly, I recall, and I don’t still have her books in fact. Dunno where Greer is, she’s been busy being anti-trans here which has put me off her, although I chose one of her books as my prize in sixth form at school, thinking I was being all dangerous and transgressive, not realising the headmistress would probably be pleased with that actually!

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      • Liz, I’m the opposite (of course) I remember my disappointment at running into a Lessing that wasn’t SF (a lonely woman in London from memory). Sorry our Germaine has lost the plot, she probably thinks she is preserving the advances she made for women.

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  6. So many wonderful choices! I’m especially intrigued by the idea of rereading Dale Spender, her Women of Ideas I’ve long wanted to revisit. I like the idea of this lasting for longer, does that mean two years of January events, or am I misunderstanding? Surely there’s enough for a lifetime of reading overall. 🙂

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    • BIP, you are understanding perfectly. WG wishes and I obey – we will have AWW Gen 4 Weeks in January of 2022 and January of 2023.
      That would be great if you were to do something on Dale Spender. I have been a fan ever since she got me started on this track back in the 1980s when she was responsible for the republication of Australian women writers out of print for up to 100 years.

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      • I’ll jot it in my calendar. And there are many other authors in your list of interest too. Another favourite of mine is a slim collection of letters between Dale and Lynne Spender, which I absolutely adored.

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