Woman Hewett, Dorothy (1923 - 2002)


Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Novelist, Playwright and Poet

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Dorothy Hewett was born in Perth in 1923 and raised on her family's sheep and wheat farm in Wickepin WA, 214 kilometres south east of Perth. She was educated at home and via correspondence courses until the age of fifteen, when she became a boarder at Perth College. In 1944, she began an arts degree in English at the University of Western Australia (UWA). It was a formative time, when she joined the Communist Party and won a drama competition and a national poetry prize. Writing and politics would remain intertwined for the rest of Hewett's life.

She did not complete her degree, but married a communist lawyer, Lloyd Davies, with whom she had the first of her six children, a boy who died aged three. In 1948 she left Davies and travelled to Sydney with a boilermaker, Les Flood, with whom she had three sons. Her first novel, Bobbin Up, published in 1959, was written during this time and based on her experiences working in a spinning mill. It was translated into Russian and acclaimed by the left as an important example of Australia social realist fiction. Hewett wrote little else during this period, later saying:

One of the reasons I couldn't write was, I'm sure, because I was in the Communist Party ... and the other reason was because I was leading an extremely busy life, I had three children all quite close together and I was going through all sorts of emotional traumas, so the combination resulted in my not writing for eight years. And I hated that. I loathed it. (Baker, 4)

Hewett returned to Perth in 1958 when her relationship with Flood ended and took up a position teaching in the English department at UWA. She married Merv Lilley in 1960. The couple had two daughters and the marriage lasted for the rest of Hewett's life.

Towards the end of the 1960s, and particularly because of events in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring of 1968, Hewett became disillusioned with communism and left the party. During the 1970s, Hewitt began to write prolifically, with the support of a number of fellowships from the newly established Australia Council. With her husband she moved back to Sydney to strengthen her contact with the theatre world, and she wrote fifteen plays, including The Chapel Perilous, The Man from Muckinuppin and Nowhere, all performed at various times by Australia's major theatre companies. While best known as a playwright, Hewett also published eleven volumes of poetry, three novels, a collection of short stories and an autobiography, Wild Card. She was working on a second volume of her autobiography when she died of breast cancer in 2002.

Hewett's frank and often personal depiction of female sexuality and strength was at times controversial, but cemented her reputation as a leading feminist, politically aware Australian writer who mastered many genres. Her contribution to literature was recognised in her appointments as writer-in-residence at universities in Australia and the USA, and the eight Australia Council fellowships she was awarded, before she was granted a lifetime Emeritus Fellowship from the Literature Board. In 1986 she was also made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to literature.

Published Resources


  • Bennett, Bruce, Dorothy Hewett: Selected Critical Essays, Fremantle Press, Fremantle, Western Australia, 1995. Details
  • Hewett, Dorothy, Wild Card, McPhee Gribble, Ringwood, Victoria, 1990. Details
  • Williams, Margaret and Ivey, Mary Bradford, Dorothy Hewett: The Feminine as Subversion, 6 edn, Currency Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 1992. Details

Book Sections

  • Bennett, Bruce, 'Dorothy Hewett', in Samuels, Selina (ed.), Australian Writers 1950 - 1975, Gale, Detroit, United States of America, 2004, pp. 121 - 131. Details
  • Digby, Jenny, 'Coming to Terms with the Ghosts', in A Woman's Voice: Conversations with Australian Poets, University of Queensland Press (UQP), Brisbane, Queensland, 1996, pp. 218 - 240. Details

Edited Books

  • Baker, Candida (ed.), Yacker : Australian writers talk about their work, Pan Books, Woollahra, New South Wales, 1986, 184 - 209 pp. Details

Journal Articles

  • Tranter, John, 'An Interview with Dorothy Hewett', Southerly, Interview Transcript, vol. 63, no. 2, 2003, pp. 11 - 19. Details

Online Resources

See also