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Jessie Litchfield

Jessie Litchfield

More information about Jessie Litchfield can be found in the AWAP register.

Jessie Sinclair Litchfield is well known in the Northern Territory yet barely appears as a blip on the radar of people south of Alice Springs. Born in 1883 in Ashfield, Sydney, she moved to Darwin where she married a handsome miner she met on a ship. There she stayed, well after he died in 1931, leaving her a widow with seven children and an established author who had already published Far North Memories (Sydney, 1930) based on life in the diamond-drill camps. She had previously sent work for publication to the Victorian church publication The Messenger when she was a newly arrived bride in and isolated part of the Northern Territory.

This started her on the road to a life of writing for a living. A passionate and prolific writer, she completed five books, as well as short stories, articles and verse. She advanced her career as a journalist when, desperately in need of an income, she overwhelmed objections and in 1930 captured the editorship of the Northern Territory Times and Government Gazette. Vigorous, self-reliant and enterprising, she edited the Times until June 1932 when it was purchased by its union-owned rival, the Northern Standard, with which Jessie, vociferously conservative and anti-communist, had fought many an ideological battle. She was Darwin press representative for several Australian and overseas papers, including Reuters for six years.

A self-trained photographer and historian, she was something of a local expert on Territory affairs. Writing to influential people, she crusaded for Darwin, which she envisaged as 'the Great Front Door of Australia', and for Territory self-government. In 1951, when 68, she unsuccessfully contested the Territory Federal seat as an Independent, campaigning by taxi over 3000 miles (4828 km).

In 1953 Jessie Litchfield was presented with the coronation medal for outstanding service to the Northern Territory and in 1955 became its first female justice of the peace. In 1954 she helped to establish the North Australian Monthly, serving as assistant editor and Territory correspondent. She died on 12 March 1956 at Richmond, Victoria but her ashes were carried back to Darwin, where they were scattered. Amongst those who sent tributes was Dame Mary Gilmore, who had taught Jessie when she was a school girl in Neutral Bay.

Her manuscripts and estate of £3000 were left to the Bread and Cheese Club, Melbourne, to establish an annual Jessie Litchfield literary award for Australian literature, preferably dealing with Territory life.

Nikki Henningham


Image details: Jessie Sinclair Litchfield (1883 - 1956), by Lillian Dean, courtesy of Roderick Collection, Northern Territory Library. PH0110/0588. .