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Rosemary Dobson in conversation with John Tranter, 2004

Rosemary Dobson, photo by Kate Callas, Sydney Morning Herald, 2011

Rosemary Dobson, photo by Kate Callas, Sydney Morning Herald, 2011

Introduction: The Australian poet Rosemary Dobson, whose first book «In a Convex Mirror» was published in 1944, and whose new «Collected Poems» came out in early 2012, passed away on 27 June 2012. She was 92 and had been living in a Canberra nursing home. John Tranter interviewed her at her home on 8 December 2004. This piece is 5,800 words long. Noted in my Journal.

Paragraph 1

Rosemary Dobson: I was born in 1920. It wasn’t a very good time. I was born in Sydney. But I want to go further back than that, actually, because… my mother was Australian, my father was English. Nobody had… none of these families that I was connected with had any money… it was all a very simple life. Of course that period was very simple, anyway. My father was the son of the English poet Austin Dobson.

[Henry Austin Dobson (18 January 1840–2 September 1921) was an English poet, critic, biographer and bureaucrat at the Board of Trade. He was noted for introducing French forms into English verse and for his studies in eighteenth-century literature. There were nine other children.]


Austin Dobson wrote [on] eighteenth-century criticism; there were quite a lot of his books… I heard about them from a fairly early age, but not before I had started writing poetry myself at about seven years.


But he [my father] (Arthur Dobson) came to Australia by way of South America. He was an engineer. And my mother really always wanted better education than she had and worked towards this, and I suppose it was natural that when they met… here was this son of an English literary family. It would have appealed to her very much to be interested in him… anyway, he was on his own in Australia. He had come here for his health. And so they got married.


I was the second child. There were two of us; myself and my sister Ruth. We lived in a house in Northbridge in Sydney. It’s quite different now.


John Tranter: Well that was before the [Sydney Harbour] Bridge was built, wasn’t it? And so to get to Sydney you’d have to go down by road...


Rosemary Dobson: You got a tram from Northbridge down to the ferry, and then you got the ferry across, which was lovely, of course. And then you were in town, and the central part of town was all around that ferry area, and all those big shops like Anthony Horderns. People then used to go ‘into town’ and have a day, you know, and enjoy it.


What happened was that my father died when I was five, and my sister was seven. My mother was really left very poorly. Her own family was seven daughters and two sons, and none of them were flourishing in any way, but they were very affectionate as a family and helped each other. And my grandmother, who was a remarkable woman, who was born in Ballarat, and who was infinitely capable, she struggled all her life because her husband, my grandfather —he used to leave the family for long time periods. And my mother — she has written a diary — but it’s obvious that they were always having to appeal to the two sons, who were meanwhile struggling in their lives, to send money. And they would send a postal order for five pounds. So it was fairly difficult. But they were a very united family. I think my mother was the first to get married.


John Tranter: Did she marry again?


Rosemary Dobson: No. She… well, what happened next was an amazing thing. One of my father’s sisters, who was called Lissant Dobson — she came to Australia by ship (which was quite a brave thing to do, for an unmarried young woman) to see how Arthur’s wife was getting on. And my mother did her best, I think, to show up well, and we were going to a small private school — private, but that doesn’t mean it was very expensive — it was just a good local school in Mosman [in Sydney].


Lissant Dobson had some introductions, and one of them was to the head of the Women’s College in Sydney, and she gave her an introduction to Winifred West, who was the headmistress of Frensham, the school at Mittagong [in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales], a boarding school, a wonderful school, particularly at that time. It’s still of course flourishing but it’s somewhat different now. And Winifred West offered my mother a job as housemistress, and said she’d take one of us to educate. It was very generous. And mother must have agonised, because she didn’t know what she’d do with the other one — presumably me. And Winifred West sent her a telegram saying ‘Come all the same and bring them both.’ Which was really wonderful. And from then on we were educated at Frensham.


John Tranter: And you lived there at the school at Mittagong.


Rosemary Dobson: Well, we had a strange kind of time because… I suppose mother sold the house at Northbridge. In the holidays, sometimes we stayed at the school, and I loved that, actually. Because everyone else had gone home, and also we were always lent a cottage, or sometimes we were asked away to places, to a friend’s, or something. Eventually my mother build a house at Mittagong, and after that she always lived there. That continued for a long time.


My sister’s subsequent career, which I might was well detail now… she had a variety of jobs but then she became a trainee for Foreign Affairs and she stayed with them all the time. She ended up the first woman career diplomat to be an ambassador. She was an ambassador in Denmark and Ireland, before she retired. So that was really a very good result… a valuable repayment for Winifred West who had given us so much… all our education under wonderful conditions… that was really remarkable. Ruth and I were never much together because she was always somewhere else being trained or working upwards in Foreign Affairs.


I stayed at school a long time, in fact after I finished — I think it was 1937 — I went on the staff as an assistant to the Art teacher. I did a lot of teaching — well, Art was my subject. So I was there a long time, but I mean I was so much a part of it all. I loved it all. It was a really interesting school, and Winifred West was able to draw potentialities from people, that they never knew they had. Winifred West had initiated a school printing press, asking Joan Phipson, who was an old girl of the school, to take charge. Joan later became a noted writer of books for children. [Joan (Margaret) Phipson, 16 November 1912–2 April 2003, born in Warawee, New South Wales, travelled widely.]


She was a great friend of mine… anyway, Winifred West asked her to start a printing press. I later asked Joan to write her account of all this and we published it in a magazine that had asked for something about the press. And it’s a very good account, because she asked Joan Phipson, who was then in London, to come back to Frensham and be Librarian and printer. Joan had never done any printing but she was really very attracted to the idea. She learned about it by going to Leonard and Virginia Woolf. This is Joan’s account [from «Biblionews», 296th issue, volume 17 number 4 December 1992, ISBN 01573276]:


In 1936, when I was living and working in London, Winifred West, founder and Headmistress of Frensham, Mittagong, wrote asking if I would investigate the possibilities of buying a small hand-operated printing press to be installed at Frensham. I replied I certainly would do so, but where should I start?


Winifred West’s reply was that she understood that Virginia Woolf had established just such a press and that it would be a good idea to get in touch with her. Leonard and Virginia Woolf were at that time living in Tavistock Square. I wrote to Virginia Woolf asking if I might call, and explaining that I was hoping for advice. I added I remembered with what seems to me now a certain degree of presumption that I was working and could only come during my lunch hour.


And then she describes going to the house… she was sent up and down the house which was a large terrace one...


‘...and was admitted to a room filled with piles of books, rolls of brown paper and yards of string. Several girls were busy working among the books packing them in parcels.’


And then she was shown to another room where she sat down. She says:


‘A cocker spaniel came in followed by a smallish, middle-aged, elderly man. He introduced himself as Leonard Woolf, and produced my letter.’


And she describes what advice he gave her, which was very good. And:


‘As I thanked Leonard Woolf and left, he said he would like to see any future productions of the Frensham press.’

* The Gregynog Press was established in 1922 by the sisters Margaret and Gwendoline Davies, and became one of the foremost Private Presses of the pre-war era. It was re-established by the University of Wales in 1978 under its Welsh title Gwasg Gregynog.


And then she went to the Gregynog Press*, which was a well-known one then, and now I think, still, and to others, and she ordered the press on the advice that Leonard had given her, and when she got established, I became her assistant (I was by then a pupil teacher), and by the end of the year we had together printed and bound my first collection of poems.


Well I’ll show you this collection of poems. Because… it’s really rather… hunted down these days… it’s interesting, seeing its beginnings… well we did all the things that were proper to do, according to Leonard, and I did this [cover illustration], which was really quite a work, a linocut; I did it with a razor blade. And because we didn’t have big enough type, I did that with the razor blade too [book title on the front cover].


John Tranter: This is a book of poems [title: «Poems»] by Rosemary Dobson that we’re looking at, published at the Frensham Press, 1937. Is this the first book you published?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes. I was seventeen, or thereabouts. It was a rather good effort, actually.


John Tranter: It must have been exciting, to have your own book of poems printed, and to be part of it.


Rosemary Dobson: When it was done, we sent a copy to Leonard Woolf, as he had asked us to do, and to Tom Jones of the Gregynog Press. Joan Phipson continues:


‘Their letters remain in my memory as perfect examples of courtesy and painless criticism. I have Doctor Tom Jones’s letter in my possession and Leonard Woolf’s is now in the National Library. In this letter he told us that the book was as good as any of the first efforts of the Hogarth Press.


John Tranter: Very tactful and kind...


Rosemary Dobson: And now of course Joan’s subsequent career was as a children’s book writer and she did very well and her books are highly evaluated. And I continued of course with what I wanted to do. Joan concludes her account:


‘From time to time we note that copies of the book are listed for sale at what seem to be enormously inflated prices.’

Before he published his first novel, «Happy Valley», in 1939, Patrick White published two volumes of verse. The first, «Thirteen poems», published in 1929 or 1930, survives in only two copies, one in the Mitchell Library in Sydney, and one in the Fisher Library at the University of Sydney. The second, «The Ploughman and other poems,» is more common, but is still very rarely met with. As with «Happy Valley,» White would never allow any of these early works to be reprinted. He is rumoured to have bought copies and destroyed them. «The Ploughman and other poems» was published with illustrations by L. Roy Davies, Sydney: Beacon Press, 1935, an edition of 300 numbered copies. 38 unnumbered leaves printed on rectos only. It was published by his mother while he was a student at King’s College Cambridge.


And so it’s like Patrick White hunting down copies of his first book of poems.


And Hal Porter, with a book he published — he called himself Harold Porter. I wouldn’t like anyone to read the poems [in my first book], but it was a very interesting project. Anyway, that was while I was at Frensham. We printed two hundred. It’s a lot to do by hand. And when I cut that [title] ‘Poems’ with a razor blade, it was very hard to do. We had Garamond type, but we didn’t have the capitals. And I forgot to reverse it, so… after all that labour it came out as “SMEOP” (laughs) and I had to do it all over again.


Then after having been three years on the staff at Frensham, and teaching art, then I wanted a different sort of experience, and I did two things that were rather strange.


One was I wrote to Professor Waldock of the English Department at Sydney University, he was a nice man, and I said that I would like to come and sit in on the class. I was unmatriculated, I think I got a row of Bs for my Leaving Certificate (as it then was), and I said I hadn’t got any of the correct things, you know, but I really wanted to come, and go to the lectures — all the lectures — and I said I would do the essays, and I would do anything that was required, the courses, and — he was so courteous and helpful — and I kept his letters, actually — he said yes, come, by all means, and you needn’t do all the other things, but… I think he must have known that I was genuinely anxious.


And the other thing I did… I had been left a little money through Austin Dobson’s death in England — my grandfather — so I had enough money to live simply on, even if I didn’t earn for two years. The other thing I wanted to do was study art, and so I went to Thea Proctor’s classes. [Thea Proctor, born Armidale, New South Wales, in 1879, died in Sydney in 1966].


She used to take about five pupils. She was pretty constrained, I think, economically. She taught us all — five was enough for her, just going from one to the other. That was lovely. She was austere and disciplined, and those were the things I learned from her. I could transpose those into poetry. It gave me a kind of guide with poetry. At the time, anyway.


John Tranter: What kind of writers were you reading at that time?


Rosemary Dobson: While I was at Frensham there were copies of the «London Mercury», which was a very informed English periodical which was coming out at that time. And I saw all the copies of that in the library. They were publishing Auden, Spender, and Day-Lewis in their earliest days, and MacNeice, whom I liked very much. So that was contemporary, but apart from that there was a very good library and I really got a grounding in — well, there was no Australian poetry, but there was some very good [writing?] [grounding?] in English poetry.


John Tranter: There was not much Australian poetry in print then, was there?


Rosemary Dobson: No, a few anthologies.

Among them would have been those edited by George Mackaness, who published dozens of monographs and anthologies, including «Selections from the Australian Poets» (1913), «The Children’s Treasury of Australian Verse» (1913), «The Wide Brown Land »(1934) and «Poets Of Australia: An Anthology of Australian Verse», Sydney, Angus & Robertson, Ltd., 1946


John Tranter: But there weren’t many books or collections of poetry...


Rosemary Dobson: No, they all came later, really. I suppose I was lucky to be able to keep up with what was happening, one way and another.


Late in the decade of the forties I had a first commercial book published. My «In a Convex Mirror» was published in 1944 by Dymocks [Then and now mainly a book store.] By then I was submitting to Douglas Stewart, at the «Bulletin», and he was very helpful.


John Tranter: Did you get to meet him? [Douglas Stewart, then poetry editor at book publisher Angus and Robertson, published my second book of poetry, «Red Movie», in 1972.  — J.T.]


Rosemary Dobson: Oh Lord yes, many times. I went quite boldly down there to the «Bulletin» because I’d submitted this poem which was called ‘Australian Holiday’, and he had it a long time, and that was reasonable, but of course I didn’t think it was reasonable — 


John Tranter: (laughs) No, you never do, do you?


Rosemary Dobson: I went down and asked if I could see the poetry editor, and he came out into a thing like a bank teller has, you know with glass around it, and we had this extraordinary conversation, at least I thought it was. I was very nervous and I used to shake, and I looked at Douglas Stewart and he was shaking. And that’s because he was a habitual smoker, and anyway… it was rather a comfort to see that his hand was shaking too.


When I’d written something, I used occasionally to take it down to the «Bulletin» office and have conversations with Douglas Stewart, and occasionally met other people, other writers. Stewart was very… helpful to me. And he put me onto… well, the man at Dymocks asked him to scout around and find a couple of people to bring out some early books; you know, simple poetry. And John Blight and I were the ones who were recommended by Douglas Stewart. And his was called «The Old Pianist», I think. [John Blight’s first collection of poems was «The Old Pianist,» 1945.]


There was a rather funny piece I had about this man, Mr Wade, I called him, who was Dymocks’ publisher, and he said… he asked me if I was any relation to Austin Dobson, and he said… in this interview… ‘You know, I haven’t seen a young poet before. We mostly have old ones coming in [to Dymocks book store]. Especially the women.’ And then he said ‘How long does it take you to write these things?’ It was quite a nice experience altogether, but the book of course died without…


John Tranter: Really? It didn’t do very well?


Rosemary Dobson: Oh no, no. And I won a [«Sydney Morning»] «Herald» prize for poetry for «The Ship of Ice.» I can’t remember when that was… in the year Ruth Park won the novel… [Ruth Park b. 1923 New Zealand won the «SMH» Novel Competition in 1946 for «Harp in the South»]


John Tranter: You won that in 1948 for «Ship of Ice».


Rosemary Dobson: And then that was published by Angus and Robertsons. But by that time I had also joined the editorial staff of Angus and Robertsons under Beatrice Davis.

Beatrice Davis, 1909–1992, was Australia’s most acclaimed book editor. As general editor at Angus and Robertson Publishers from the late thirties to the early seventies, she nurtured the talents of a host of well-known Australian writers, including Thea Astley, Miles Franklin, Xavier Herbert, Ruth Park, Hal Porter and Patricia Wrightson. Her position as a judge of several major prizes, including the prestigious Miles Franklin Award, reinforced her pivotal role in Australia’s literary culture. Jacqueline Kent has written a biography: «A Certain Style: Beatrice Davis — A Literary Life», Penguin, 2001. I am pleased to note that I was sacked as Senior Education Editor at Angus and Robertson the same day that Beatrice Davis was sacked, in 1973, by Richard Walsh. — J.T.


She was really a wonderful teacher. In those days there were about four of us. She had a tremendous influence as an editor. I remained until 1950, and Alec [Bolton] and I got married in 1952 and he was on the editorial staff. He was involved in all those management problems — Gordon Barton, do you remember, he took it over.


Alec eventually resigned before the worst of the troubles, I think, and went to Ure Smith. Sam Ure Smith asked him, really. They produced [the art magazine] «Art and Australia», and many notable art books.

Gordon Barton and friends

Gordon Barton and friends

Australia’s oldest and most prestigious bookseller and publisher, Angus and Robertson, was acquired by transport and newspaper entrepreneur Gordon Barton in 1969. Barton’s money came from his transport group IPEC and his populist left-wing weekly «The Nation Review». At that time Angus and Robertson had a large education division, and had been the country’s most important publisher of poetry for a century.
Barton asset stripped the company, sold the reduced education division to McGraw-Hill in 1974 and disposed of the Angus and Robertson bookstores to distributors Gordon and Gotch. The rump of the company, now part of US citizen Rupert Murdoch’s publishing company HarperCollins, no longer publishes poetry. — J.T.

Rosemary Dobson, by Norman Lindsay, courtesy National Library of Australia

Rosemary Dobson, by Norman Lindsay, courtesy National Library of Australia


I had my portrait painted by Thea Proctor, drawn. And Norman Lindsay. Now that’s interesting because you see they were so different.


John Tranter: I bet they were.


Rosemary Dobson: Yes. I’ve got the painting and drawings here, actually.


John Tranter: Lindsay was very conventional as an artist, wasn’t he?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes...


John Tranter: And unconventional as a man.


Rosemary Dobson: Yes. Again it was through Douglas Stewart who was a great admirer of Normal Lindsay, and he suggested to Norman Lindsay that he ought to do some drawings of writers. And he had done a couple; Robert Fitzgerald, and David Campbell, and then he did a drawing of me, and then two oil paintings of me. But it was so interesting to me because… I didn’t like any of them. I actually sold the oil painting one to the National Library. Norman Lindsay and Thea Proctor were both really dedicated artists, there was no doubt about that, but they were so different.


John Tranter: How were they different?


Rosemary Dobson: Well, she was very disciplined. I think she had had a pretty hard time, because even while I was learning from her, she had family responsibilities and earned by her work, and combined this with her teaching.


John Tranter: And then she wouldn’t have much time for her own work.


Rosemary Dobson: That’s right. But she is now a highly evaluated artist.


John Tranter: Was she married?


Rosemary Dobson: No.


John Tranter: So she had to look after herself, and do everything herself and for her mother...


Rosemary Dobson: Yes… keep up a sort of front that had been established, or that she had established earlier… she always dressed very well.


John Tranter: Whereas Norman Lindsay was a much more bohemian sort of person...


Rosemary Dobson: Yes. Of course the connection was through the Stewarts, whom we got to know very well… A couple of times we went up to see him [Norman Lindsay] in Springwood, and then Alec went to Ure Smith. Norman was writing novels and Ure Smith were publishing them. There were about three novels he wrote. Alec edited them. So then we went up to Springwood to see Norman. But he was very equable and… we took three children up with us when we went, and he would make an apple pie (laughs).


John Tranter: Really? That’s very nice!


Rosemary Dobson: ’Tis nice, yes. So there was all that as well. And meanwhile I’d had this good time at the university. I enjoyed it so much, really… I loved it. And the painting classes.


John Tranter: What kind of degree did you do at university?


Rosemary Dobson: None. No, I just had the pleasure and gain of doing it.


John Tranter: You just went to all the lectures.


Rosemary Dobson: Yes, in the English Department.


John Tranter: All the fun, but no responsibility.


Rosemary Dobson: (laughs) That’s right. And that’s why it was so good of Professor Waldock, because he might have had a bunch of people following me, and just trying to enjoy it, and so on… It might have seemed a rather frivolous thing to do, but anyway, he took it on, and it was great for me. I was there for one year.


[pause in the recording]


John Tranter: When did you come to Canberra to live?


Rosemary Dobson: At the end of 1966 Alec was appointed to… having… not intending to go on with Ure Smith forever… I can’t remember how it all happened, but it was all quite agreeable because we were all good friends. But he was offered Angus and Robertson’s London office, to be the London editor. They wanted to brisk it up. So Alex and I and the three children all went off to London in 1966, and we were there for six years.


John Tranter: I went there that year too!


Rosemary Dobson: Well we stayed there till 1971 and really had a wonderful time. The children were very happy. We’d landed into a very good happy house in Richmond which had three other families in flats — one of those big houses. And we were all friends, and they all had children the same age, and it was just lovely. The children were very happy.


There were some of my father’s family around to get to know, too. And Alex worked in London during that time, but that was when he decided really he wanted to do printing. So he went to night school in London and learned to print, as he said, with apprentices about half his age. But he enjoyed that, and came back pretty well… able, for what he wanted to do. Then in 1972 he was appointed to the National Library as the first Publishing Director. And that was a big thing for him to do. He had to initiate a book publishing program, and also all the serial [magazine] publications for the Library. And all the time he thought he would like to get his own press.


Eventually he took early retirement from the Library, and down at the other end of the house here [in the suburb of Deakin in Canberra] he had a printing press. He had two very large printing presses. As the children were now going off the school, or work or whatever, they were leaving home, he was able to have the end of the house. It had been inhabited earlier by a sculptor, and she had a reinforced floor and proper lighting for her sculpture, and he just moved his press in there. And then he got three presses — very large ones, actually. And it was all type-case printing.


John Tranter: Metal printing. It was all metal?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes.


John Tranter: Didn’t he have a litho press at one time?


Rosemary Dobson: No. But he had illustrated books, so he had various types of illustration to print. And he enjoyed it all very much, I’m glad to say.


John Tranter: So how many books did he produce on his own press?


Rosemary Dobson: Twenty-three.


John Tranter: And how did he get them bound?


Rosemary Dobson: That’s the only thing he didn’t do himself. There were good binders in Canberra, and some further afield. And he had some very good illustrators also, Barbara Hanrahan and Roslyn Atkins, whom he invited to work on various books.


John Tranter: Did you go to Europe?


Rosemary Dobson: Oh yes, several times, when we were in England.


John Tranter: You were interested in European art, weren’t you?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes, I always was. Even at Frensham they had some wonderful books on European schools of art, and I was very familiar with those, and of course wrote about them as well.


John Tranter: Did you find a difference from the illustrations in the books to the real thing in the museums?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes, in scale of course, too, particularly. We went to a lot of galleries. That was great. And I had a lot of time in Greece, because for a while my sister was there as Counsellor in the Australian Embassy, and she was established — I think she was there for about two or three years. So while she was there, we were able to see her. We went to Crete, which I just think is a wonderful place. I love Crete. And to a remote island called Berneray off the coast of Scotland — we all loved that.


We had some wonderful experiences; it was great, that English period. And I suppose I was writing poetry a lot at the time, although no, that’s not true… I think I write more when I’m in Australia. I think [when I’m away] I’m trying to take in too much, or something… and I feel more settled when I’m back in Australia. When I’ve come back, I’ve suddenly written a lot more.


John Tranter: Did you meet any English poets when you were in London?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes, but not any particularly by choice… they happened to be relations of people we knew, or they lived nearby… Anthony Thwaite… and some others. We had the opportunity of hearing some wonderful programs. There was a series of readings: Auden, Robert Lowell, and European poets, English poets, American poets.


John Tranter: The Australian artist Ray Crooke, you did a book on him, didn’t you?

The literary quarterly «Australian Letters» was founded in 1951 by Bryn Davies, Geoffrey Dutton and Max Harris, and ran for ten years, publishing poetry, stories and essays, and also articles on non-literary subjects. From 1960 the covers carried reproductions of original paintings or drawings by Australian artists specially commissioned for the magazine. In all nineteen artist-poet collaborations were published in the series, which included the works of Clifton Pugh and Russell Drysdale illustrating the poems by, respectively, Judith Wright and David Campbell, whose contribution (Australian artists and poets booklets, no.2, c.1961) was titled «Cocky’s Calendar». ‘Cocky’ refers to ‘cow-cocky’, a jocular label for a (dairy) farmer.


Rosemary Dobson: Yes. How was that organised? In «Australian Letters», the Adelaide magazine run by Geoff Dutton, they published ‘partnerships’… they chose the people, I think...


John Tranter: An artist and a writer...


Rosemary Dobson: Drysdale and some poet...


I don’t know how it came about exactly, but Ray Crooke and I were put together, and I really enjoyed doing it.


John Tranter: So did you look at his work, and talk to him?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes. They were in Sydney then. And I probably did what you’re doing now (laughs) because I had to learn how to do it.


John Tranter: You went and interviewed him.


Rosemary Dobson: Yes. (laughs) And kept up with him. His wife Jean was a very nice person. She’s had a lot to cope with, I think: if only the number of times they have changed houses. I think they were in Balmain, where they had a beautiful house, and then they went to the Southern Highlands [of New South Wales] to Moss Vale, where they completely put in proper pipes in the whole of the house… and then they moved out again!


John Tranter: (laughs)


Rosemary Dobson: Yes, I’ve seen them and been in touch lately.


John Tranter: So you… didn’t want to paint, yourself, did you? Or did you?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes, well I did. In the early days I did, yes.


John Tranter: You didn’t think you’d want to make a career out of that?


Rosemary Dobson: No, no. I knew what I wanted to do. (pause)


John Tranter: There was a large wave of new poetry coming out in the 1940s… Francis Webb, McAuley, and Harold Stewart, and the Ern Malley thing happened… Judith Wright’s first book («The Moving Image »in 1946), and your own first book from a commercial publisher, «In a Convex Mirror», published in 1944 by Dymocks.


Rosemary Dobson: There seemed to be a lot of writers from Melbourne too...


John Tranter: Did you feel part of a large new poetic generation?


Rosemary Dobson: Well, no, it was really mostly through (the Sydney weekly) the «Bulletin», I suppose, because I can remember how feverishly one waited for the publication to come out on Wednesday, and see who was on ‘the Red Page’ [the poetry section] (laughs). and there were a lot of people… William Hart-Smith, I loved his work...


John Tranter: He was originally a New Zealander, wasn’t he?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes, he was. And...


John Tranter: John Blight, as you say...

Peter Hopegood, 1891(Essex, UK)–1967, served as a soldier in WWI, and emigrated to Australia in 1924. He worked on a pearling boat in Broome, and as a jackeroo on cattle stations in north-west WA, and worked as a journalist and freelance writer. Hopegood Place in the Canberra suburb of Garran is named after him, as is Hopegood Place in Lynwood, Melbourne.


Rosemary Dobson: Yes, but a lot of them came into Angus and Robertson’s, of course, and we’d meet them all. And… Peter Hopegood, a very very nice person.


And there were the sustaining people for a publisher, like Vance and Nettie Palmer in Melbourne.


John Tranter: That was where «Meanjin» magazine was published in the late 1940s… [«Meanjin» was founded in Brisbane by Clem Christesen in 1940, and moved to Melbourne in 1945 at the invitation of the University of Melbourne.] «Southerly» magazine began then too [correction: in 1939]… you had a poem in «Southerly» in 1943, didn’t you?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes, that was pretty early on.


John Tranter: Did you have poetry readings, and read out your poems?


Rosemary Dobson: The English Association, which was a body in Sydney [and the publisher of «Southerly» magazine], they had readings...


John Tranter: Did they? Did they have big audiences, do you remember?


Rosemary Dobson: Not big audiences, but...


John Tranter: What, fifty or so?


Rosemary Dobson: Yes...


John Tranter: It’s always been the same, actually… it’s always about fifty...


Rosemary Dobson: (laughs) Yes. (pause) There were people springing up all over the place, now I come to think of it, in that period. Ones we’ve mentioned, and a younger lot still… by the end of the 1940s of course… some of whom haven’t survived, or… where would you put Bruce Beaver? What period would you put him? Because I have been looking through some letters. I have some very nice letters from Bruce, writing about poetry. I’ve given them to the Library.


John Tranter: I always liked Bruce. I met him around 1965, I think. His first book was 1964. [Correction: his first book, «Under the Bridge», was published in 1961.] So he didn’t start that early, did he? Although he wrote his first poem when he heard on the news about the bombing of Hiroshima [in 1945, when he was seventeen. His fourth book, a breakthrough volume, «Letters to Live Poets», was published in 1969.] My generation of writers thought of Bruce as one of us, because he published in our little magazines. We all got to know him and we’d go to his place; now and then he’d have a party.


Rosemary Dobson: His wife Brenda was wonderful, wasn’t she? Such a supportive wife.


John Tranter: I don’t think he would have survived without Brenda. They supported each other.

[See my interview with Bruce Beaver in 2003, and my obituary article article about him in 2004, both on this site. — J.T.]


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