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Dymphna Cusack: Beautiful Exile.

An Epistolary and Cautionary Tale Of What Happens to Tall Poppies When They Take On The Big End of Town

Ellen (Nell) Dymphna Cusack was born on Sunday 21 September, 1902 in the New South Wales goldmining town of West Wyalong where, in 1896, her father had pegged the famous True Blue claim. James Cusack went bankrupt about 1910 and in childhood little Nell was living with her aunt and uncle, the Leahys, and attending Guyra Public School. The Irish schoolmaster, Paddy Hawe, nurtured her gifts for storytelling and play-making. In 1916 the Leahys sent her as a boarder to St Ursula's Convent in Armidale, where the aristocratic German nuns provided a rigorous classical education. Nell Cusack topped the district and gained a bursary to Sydney University where she graduated with honours in history and psychology in 1925. A decade later she gained a prestigious post at Sydney Girls' High.

She had become increasingly well-known over the 1930s as Dymphna Cusack--playwright, poet, novelist and radio broadcaster. As a Vocational Guidance Counsellor and Teachers' Federation activist and a Committee member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers she had become increasingly involved in the public debate on matters socio-economic; she'd become 'political.' [1] By 1939 Cusack was identified with the left of the Fellowship, and she was entertaining Xavier Herbert at her flat just across the park from Sydney Girls' High. On Christmas Eve 1939, Cusack was summarily transferred from Sydney Girls' to Bathurst High School following her victory a week earlier in a landmark Workers' Compensation court case against the New South Wales Minister for Education. Her correspondence with Miles Franklin and colleagues from the Fellowship of Australian Writers eloquently tells the tale.

Article in Western Times, Bathurst, February 1940


'When the case of Miss Dymphna Cusack, teacher, is considered in all its aspects, the most generous assumption to be made is that the Education Department of NSW chose a very unfortunate moment to transfer her from Sydney to Bathurst,' states an article in Smith's Weekly.

'On December 15 Miss Cusack appeared in a case before the Worker's Compensation Court, a case in which Judge Perdriau was moved seriously to criticise the action of the department in its treatment of this teacher.

'On December 23, a week later, Miss Cusack received notice that she had been transferred to the High School, Bathurst, a transfer having no element of advancement and definite elements of disadvantage.

'In the minds of every teacher in NSW must arise the question whether it is wisdom to seek legal redress for an injustice inflicted by the department....

'Miss Cusack has been for the last five years a member of the teaching staff of Sydney Girls' High School. She has an 'A' efficiency mark and has for some time held top grade status, and has served over five years in excess of the obligatory three year period [of Country Service].

'She is an educational psychologist and has been doing vocational guidance as one of the counsellors at Sydney Girls' High School. This is specialised work. At Bathurst she will be doing general work. Her special qualifications will not be called upon.


'The Director of Education (Mr Ross Thomas) interviewed by Smith's stated that the transfer of Miss Cusack was to meet exigencies of the department, that no status was lost by her going to the country, that there was no relationship between the transfer and anything else that had happened, that she had not had such long service in the country as some others of the high school staffs, and that such a thing as victimisation was unknown in the department,' continues the article.

'The Central Cultural Council and the Fellowship of Australian Writers, of which Miss Cusack is an executive member, consider her departure such a loss culturally that protests are being sent to the education department.

'Discussing this aspect with a Smith's representative, Mr Ross Thomas, whilst agreeing with the wide principle that the final object of education is the cultural advancement of the community ... stated that Bathurst was culturally equal to Sydney, and that Miss Cusack could be as culturally useful in Bathurst as in Sydney.' [2]

As a result of the above press Dymphna was, naturally, an instant celebrity in the town: famous or notorious depending on your politics. In her own words: 'You can imagine what a bone-shaker it was for a respectable headmaster and a conservative city like Bathurst. But less than a week after, I got a cheque from the Department of Education for the full amount [[pounds]50] over which they had been haggling for two years, without a word of explanation.' [3]

Franklin to Cusack

26 Grey Street, Carlton, 2 February 1940

Well Dymphna,

Perhaps after all you'll love Bathurst. It is a delightful district with plenty of scope for you--the trial to you and your friends was the reeving away without notice.

Goody Reeves [4] rang up and asked me to bring you to the opening night of Love On The Dole. [5] Dear me, I said you were the one for this sort of thing and now I was bereft. I went and Goody took me to sit beside her. I ran into a fellow 'with a fat ass' to quote Steinbeck, in the foyer, an emigre by his accent, and his brutal insolence could only be what is looked up to by the vassals here as European sophistication.... One of the Lambert girls [Elisabeth, journalist and theatre critic] said to me that we were having a magnificent success with Pioneers On Parade. I said I didn't know as the royalty notification wasn't yet to hand. Oh, she said, she heard it was simply raging across Melbourne. Hope this was not merely politesse or politics. Then I said We couldn't make up our minds about the book yet whether it was as wonderful as its enthusiasts claimed or as bad as those whom it worried, but one thing that was certain was the way it was received showed that there was a tremendous lot of work to be done in that line--if not by you and me then by others.

A propos of you being in a great diocese for, or of, or in which to be the coadjutor bishop of Literature, as PRS [Inky Stephensen] says I am of the Monaro diocese, the enclosed has just popped out of the mail bag, one for you and one for me [a review of Pioneers]. So darling, go to, make Pioneers so famous and enjoyed up there that you'll have to be returned to Sydney to blanket it. Tho I miss you, our dear Australia is greater than ourselves: and this pretended sophistication that I noted last night with everyone rushing to Sydney is a sort of lousiness, and to go out west is to roll in the sand or a good dusty place and be cleansed. So don't look upon it as a mere deportation but a grand chance to turn the tables....

Well my dear, all sorts of good wishes and affections and I'm hungering to hear how you have settled in.


PS Florence [James, then Mrs Heyting] is so happy about her appointment [as Public Appeals Officer for RPA Hospital]. [6]

Cusack to Franklin

c/- High School Bathurst, 7 February 1940

Miles, my angel,

Your letter came as manna in the wilderness though fortunately my friends have been doing their stuff and manna has fallen frequently since my deportation. The staff at the school call it my 'fan mail.'

Sorry I couldn't be there for Love on the Dole. As soon as we are in the way of being lionised, I'm shot out. Well, well. Hope the Lambert lass is right and we're selling well somewhere. I'll be interested to see our royalties sheet and know just how many have been sold. By the way, I've been meaning to ask for months whether the 10% advance that was to be yours came to you straight or whether it should have come out of my [pounds]50. Every time I met you we had more exciting things to talk about and I just forgot. Do let me know--I'm a muddled headed creature where money is concerned. I was invited out the other night and one of the men--a local who is passionately interested on early history said: 'As soon as I saw you'd come here I thought: That's because POP walked on so many toes.' He was very enthusiastic.

It was very amusing after being deported because among other offences--'my outside activities made me too conspicuous.' The local rags published lengthy panegyrics upon my doings and the honour that was being done to Bathurst HS by my appointment here. Apparently got it from some of me Sydney journalist friends. It will bring froth to the lips of my cobbers down below. I got a copy of the Goulburn PP7 today which stated that I had been appointed here, and baldly in juxtaposition, sans comment, that I had recently had a case against the Department.

I'm settled in well and loving the place. The beige hills with their subtle contours against the distant Blue Mountains--the slim poplars accenting the sunburnt grass: masses of dark green trees and scattered regiments of pines crowning the slopes--all very lovely, incredibly peaceful. Already my mind is losing its tension, slowing down, while pictures rise on it like shadows on a negative. The quiet of it all--my lovely room upstairs in a delightful old house about 60 years old-looking out on a garden and the park where cedars and deodars and Chinese elms and golden ash make a green exotic shade. My boarding house is very comfortable--and because of the landlady is allergic to the printed word, I have snagged the best single room in the house--two windows facing north-west, a stretch of clear sky all to myself, the Cathedral spire making irregular dark patterns against the light. I feel I shall work--I am going to beg borrow or steal a large table on which I can be happily mucky, and start in.

That is, of course, if I stay. There's no knowing what may happen. Once the Gestapo starts, then the Gestapo goes on, and rumour hath it that for my sins I am to be kept on the run! I shall see a lot of NSW if nothing else. I shall be furious if they move me again, but bitterness and passions once loosed are hard to curb.

I should tell you--for copy's sake--of the various forces that made for my deportation. Our friend of the Historical Society, Mr Cramp, [8] is one of the movers. Early last year he told me I was a very dangerous woman, but I took no notice till he tried to work an incredibly dirty trick on me, in conjunction with that wesserleen [Wesleyan] bitch who was my English Mistress [Miss Cora Buckley]. It fell through and I made a few feeling and unflattering remarks but I had the feeling at the time it was a phyrric victory. Then the rumour goes around that I have been teaching too radical history--In other words, I had been refusing to serve up the dessicated venomous bilge that passes for history in the textbooks. Then apparently Mr Cramp--impassioned because I got more publicity in the Sesqui[centenary] than he did, set his espionage corps to work--and he a scholar and a historian. Then--says the chief inspector--my outside activities render me, not inefficient--that would not matter in our job--but too conspicuo us, and you remember the story of the tall poppies. Then, of course NOBODY mentions this point--I had the effrontery to bring a case against the Department for rights as a citizen!! And that, in our bureaucratic ridden cess-pool, is not done!

Well, it's all over now. And all experience is valuable. I was sickened by the revelation of petty jealousy and venom and rank disloyalty and espionage--but it has left me untouched. I came out of the whole bloody business with clean hands. Now I shall turn it to my purpose. For years I have been overworking in Sydney letting them use me like a much-cow for this Committee and that committee--for this pageant and that pageant. And it has all been excellent experience. Now I am willing to sit down in the peace of the lovely country for a couple of years and work--oh, my God, how I shall work! Only the work that my own responsibility to the children I have to teach demands. No odd jobs, no extras, no social activities, no frittering my time away in stupid meetings (to which I rarely go). Only me and the sky and the smell of the bush and the great Australian novel! One can't think in the City--People like us are like George [probably Farwell, FAW member who'd worked extensively outback and had written an account of the Birdsville Track]--we need the good old bush to revitalise us.

You don't say when you are going away, so I'm sending this to Carlton. When you are in Melbourne you might look up George Gill at the Australasian, who did that review [of Pioneers] and those articles. By the way, I've never seen my own! He still has your photo and it would be better if you bearded him and demanded it. He is a delightful fellow--Esther Paterson's husband. Also, if you have time, look up Jean Shain, she runs the Smart Library in the block, and would be delighted to see you. A friend of mine is going down to stay with Spencer the Melbourne bookseller, and is so enthusiastic that he is going to make Spencer run POP as a major display if he hasn't already done so.

Give my mother a ring if you can spare a minute, Darling. She is my real worry in this business. She was marvellous. For years she has been warning me that I would get it in the neck--and then when I got it--not a word of 'I told you so' or reproach. Nothing but a good healthy unchristian rage against the perpetrators, the determination to VOTE LABOUR next time (she never does anything else) and a practical concentration on my packing! A marvellous woman--I'm proud of her and of all my family.

Now I must go to bed. My last month in Sydney left me so exhausted that I have done little but sleep since I came up. What with the worry of my own affairs--incidentally the Teachers Federation put up a magnificent fight for me--and are convinced, from the refusal to consider the decision, that it was engineered by Drummond [the Education Minister] and was definitely a political order.... Then my beloved sister [Marge Tynan] was very ill and had a very serious op for goitre and I was the stay and support and chief-sitter-at-hospitals.

And in my leisure minded my lovely Dymphna 2 [her niece}--so sweet that leaving her hurt me more than anything except the feeling that because I'm what I am, my gallant mother's old age must be rendered less comfortable. Still, not even she would ask me to be different--so there we are-

Yes, the talk on Joseph Furphy is still on--I'll find out date and tell you. Another juicy bit of male objectivity--Mr Cramp has broadcasting ambitions--and I've beaten him to it! Isn't it revolting?

From now on I wash my minds of them all. My job is here and now. No one can take my typewriter from me--and even if they did, pencil and paper is still very cheap. We must wipe this country free of those who pervert her to their narrow, vicious ends. We must sing the qualities that will make us a nation: we must build here a country where the mind is set free and the soul without fear--Out of her spaces and the old, old hills, and the healing golden sun, she shall build a world--and we, in our wisdom, and our humility--for she is always greater than we--shall be its shapers! Ave--I say no farewells. Ave lovely land--so old and so new! Ave sweet friend, thou sharer of my vision.


Dymphna [9]

Frank Dalby Davison [10] to Cusack

7 Regent Court, Salisbury Road, Kensington, 11 February 1940

Dear Dymphna,

Thanks for your note--and apologies for not having replied sooner. I had been working too hard and got run down, nervy, and when I get that way I can't write anything, not even letters, can't even read, just wait for the tide to turn. This letter--and a couple of others written today--is evidence that the tide is turning.

It's no use saying I hope you like Bathurst, or even hoping you will. It must be bloody. In fact I hope you don't like it. I hope it's awful and that there is nobody to talk to, so that you will hurry home from school to get to your writing. And won't it sizzle!!!!

I can't help feeling that you are at a crisis, Dymphna, probably more profound than you fully realise. For what help it may be to you I want to tell you that I believe you have every reason for faith in yourself as a writer, that you are justified in taking yourself seriously as a writer. What form your best work will take no one can say. Just as a work of art is not a statement of something known from the beginning, but a voyage of discovery, so is a writer's life of work. I don't mean to preach, but am trying to tell you that I think you are worthwhile. I venture so far into a personal matter because I know that there are times in every serious writer's life when he has his doubts, when he asks himself: 'Am I barking up the wrong tree?'

I feel that shut away in Bathurst you may be at just such a period, asking yourself, 'Is the fight worth it? Have I got the real stuff in me, or am I kidding myself?' These remarks of mine are to support you in a good opinion of your abilities. Go at it, Dymphna!

I have to confess that despite urging you to get in touch with the Fellowship I couldn't get to the Committee meeting. I have made enquiries since and learn that a sub-committee of three, Bart [Adamson], Jean [Devanny] and another [AB Piddington], have been appointed to make enquiries and report as to a line of action. I will be there next Tuesday night to take part.

If you have time I would always be glad of a note from you as to how you are getting on and what you are doing, and will try in return to give you some Sydney news. One item--a sample--Miles invited me to tea with Sam Furphy and wife. It was very enjoyable; there's a lot of the old man about him, both in looks and mentality. He told good stories about Joseph; it was very pleasant meeting a son who understood his father. You could feel Joseph Furphy's presence. Marjorie Barnard was there. The occasion went off splendidly; Miles seemed very pleased.

Well, so long, Dymphna. Don't forget a line now and then.


Frank Davison.

P.S. How did Bathurst take the white hat? [11]

FitzHenry to Cusack

Fellowship of Australian Writers

Box 3448, GPO Sydney, 22 February 1940

Dear Miss Cusack,

...A deputation consisting of Mr AB Piddington, Mr Bartlett Adamson and Mrs Jean Devanny conferred with the Teachers' Federation, and after discussion it was decided that the Fellowship could best help by forwarding a letter to the Department of Education. A copy of the letter which has been forwarded is enclosed herewith, and we trust that it will have fruitful results.

We are sorry that you will not be on the Executive with us for at least some time to come, but you can rest assured that should you be brought back to Sydney in the near future that you will immediately be invited to rejoin the Committee.

The Annual General Meeting was held last night and Mr Frank Dalby Davison was elected President in place of Mr Piddington, who did not contest the office, but was elected to the Committee. There was a big change in the personnel of the Executive and your absence was all the more felt on that account.

We send you our most cordial wishes and a sincere hope that your stay in Bathurst will be of short duration....

Yours faithfully.

W. E. FitzHenry (Hon Sec)

FitzHenry to Under-Secretary, Department of Education

19 February 1940

Dear Sir,

We should like to be allowed the opportunity of presenting to you reasons why Miss Dymphna Cusack's transfer to Bathurst should be reconsidered.

We are informed by Miss Cusack that, while no fault is found with her work, the Chief Inspector spoke of her being too much engaged in 'outside activities.' As one of her activities is that she has been a valued Fellow and active member of our Executive, we feel that we are justified in pointing out that the work in which she takes part here and from which she has been removed is, in the basic sense of the term, an important part of public education....

Miss Cusack has been an active participant in the movement (now successful) to induce the Federal Government to encourage Australian Literature. She was one of the delegates to the Conference called by Sir Henry Gullett in the Sydney Conservatorium to aid the work of the Department of Information. Her writings are themselves of high literary quality.

Our general view is that such activities in the exercise of gifts of that kind definitely enhance the value of teaching....

A further consideration we would like to bring under your notice is that the Fellowship intends to establish shortly a School of Literature for the training of young writers in the techniques of their craft. We had hoped to avail ourselves of the services of Miss Cusack as one who was both trained in teaching methods and who has intimate knowledge of the problems confronting young writers. Her absence from Sydney will rob students of the benefits of her experience as a writer and her guidance as a teacher.

Yours faithfully,

Honorary Secretary FAW, W.E. FitzHenry [12]

Bartlett Adamson to Cusack

Smiths Weekly, Sydney, 7 March 1940

Beautiful Exile,

My heart sang like a concertina (country brand such as exiles know) when your various notes came, especially the one recording financial if not cultural victory.

Mr Dictator Drummond turned a deaf ear or two on our letters.... We certainly do not propose to let our cultural plea expire in a disdainful and Drummondly scheme. Glad to see you have a good fighter in McGuiness. Enclosed is a letter from a sympathiser. Wrote to him that no doubt you would reply direct. Best wishes, speedy progress with the writing business.

There once was a fellow named Drummond,

He was deaf, dull, pig-headed and rum'nd.

His deeds as a Minister

Will look somewhat sinister

When before his last judge he is summoned


Bart[lett Adamson] [13]

Franklin reports to Cusack on the situation in Sydney in relation to Pioneers and the FAW, and conflict with Kate Baker on a visit to Melbourne. She also recalls Dymphna's formal splendour at the legendary Garden Party at NSW Government house in January 1938, where Miles and Dymphna first met.

Franklin to Cusack

6 Grey St, Carlton, NSW, 7 March 1940

Dymphana me darlint,

I was uplifted by your beautiful letter and its love of siren Australia. That's right. The Gestapo can't do all it thinks fit here yet. We still have the behaviour if not the minds of a free people. The Corio by-election was a message to Menzies about conscription and a few things. You should have heard some of the mothers talk about how they did not want to send their boys to the European shambles.

I hope you are feeling well and rested. I must see you when you are down at Easter--not long now. I have a document from Angus & Robertson which looks painfully as if we had not yet cut out our hundred pounds. We must set up some more interest.

I called on Jean Sham and she said she had to get two copies of Pioneers to satisfy her clamouring clients. If she had two hundred it would be more to the point. I never saw one copy of it displayed anywhere and it was hardly ever mentioned. The book shops are rankly English Garrison. Not one single Australian book in Mullens' window until Myra Morris's novel [Dark Tumult] [14] came out and they gave it a facet of a window from top to bottom and big printed slips outside like an auction sale, which revived my spirits. I went to a number of libraries and saw no evidence of Australian literature and only in one bookshop did I see Australian books--Man Shy, Idriess and a few others. It shows that the Australian spirit as essenced in books must be powerful and deathless to persist and peep out now and again under the clouds and mountains and rivers of alien books all pushed by the sellers. Yes! let us go to. We must push Pioneers or if it does not sell it will be a clog on our next efforts.

I did not get on the Fellowship board this time so will not know what is going on. Good thing I'll put my nose down and attend to littry mischief in the hope we'll do something anon.

A queer situation met me in Melbourne. Baker OBE [Kate Baker] [15] because I got that Lit Fellowship to help with the expenses immediately took a panic that I was going to concoct a fresh book and that she would not get sufficient recognition. Wrote to the Government men and slandered me to everyone in Melbourne. I thought all would be well when I explained but not; so she still goes on fearing that she will not be the only one in the spotlight. She has a grandeur delusion that she was the sole solace and grand inspirer in Furphy's life, a position not sustainable when the papers and other evidence are examined. It shows the poor soul is not much of a judge of character to have suspected me without even writing for an explanation after she had worked with me and saw the MS. However it was a most salutary shindy. I was so enthusiastic and so full of admiration for her courage in face of deafness and increasing years that I was overly generous in painting her. I shall now be judicial. It was a surprise to find her feet were so large and of such inferior clay. It was as funny as that Angus and Robertson poster in which your name was put so small that I seeking to put the limelight on another should myself be accused of hogging it. Oh well, poor little soul, it is her breath of life and I shall do everything compatible with literary and biographical proportion and perspective to let her retain her heroineship. I must however find out the facts of the situation before I proceed further. I can't be plagued by an amateur, suspicious and ignorant of all literary procedure.

We all have our botherations, and after all they are grand. If we hadn't them we would be out of commission--life would have shelved us. It was an ordeal to be slandered, but the human impacts were in my line. I've wrestled with some strange characters and complicated situations in my day, and it was vivific to be in the firing line again.

Re the ten percent commission. I only wanted it on the first [pounds]50 pounds direct from you because I did not want it all the time but only to help with out-of-pocket expenses. I bought for distribution a dozen copies at 5/- plus postage which was a shilling to the USA. There was a cable or two and heavy postage--five shillings to one agent and many smaller letters and packets and pottering about. The return was so poor--the Bishop of Goulburn [Rev Ernest Burgmann] and the Wyatt broadcast and St J Ervine's [the English critic] diatribe-so that if you feel I do not deserve assistance I shall not complain. Otherwise the 5 pounds would look big to me at present as I may have to abandon the Fellowship, and this month I'll have to pay for repairs to the property from which I draw my tiny income more than I'll draw in rent for a whole year. However I can keep boarders--not good for literary work but they will keep me from starving.

I wonder if you have seen the Lovely Australia League person the address was Thos Johnson 10 Summer St, Orange. He might result in a boost for Pioneers. Jean S[hain] asked me what you were like and that was easy--so much pleasanter than being interviewed myself. I told her how smart you looked the day you swept by Bracegirdle as Miss Cossack--no danger of genuflection, and that fittingly you moved as smartly as a bang-tailed Orloff [16] in your crisp suit and were altogether a lovely mate. The Bathurst deportation I said was good for Bathurst and I being from a similar locality was all on the side of Bathurst and that I was one who felt it most; just when I had got such a companion but that you were full of inspiration and now you might get time to do something that in Sydney you were so socially involved and called upon that you were becoming snowed under or words to that effect.

It was freezingly cold in Melbourne--fur coats were all the go. At Lake Cooper we had great big fires at night. It was lovely in the caravan. I slept in the car and waked to see the stars and so many birds--black swans, duck, coots and sand-pipers and cranes right beside me. Oh, lovely, lovely! and to see all the Furphy reunions and the wonderful country. Oh yes my darling daughter--it is good to be pitched out into our lovely, lovely land. People with the writing gift could spend a lifetime anywhere thinking about the land and learning the people and their idiom etc. This letter is as hurried as your own to me but you will understand. Hoping to see you soon dearie, Love from Miles [17]

Cusack to Franklin

Braemar, Bathurst, 1 November 1940

Miles, My dear,

If it weren't so difficult to type in a prostrate position, body liberally be-sprinkled with ashes, and if I didn't dislike the feel of hairshirts, you'd be witnessing the whole doings of a first class penitential Henry IV-at-Canossa-ceremony. You've been in my mind so often, but I've been too lazy to look at a typewriter for weeks. Just after I last talked to you on the phone--the day I hoped you might come out, Mother took very ill and we were exceedingly worried about her. She just escaped pneumonia, and as she couldn't be moved to hospital, my sister did all the nursing, and I--the official invalid--was chief mopper-up and soother of two whooping coughy babies till we succeeded in getting some help. I felt--after the 17th mop--that the life of a childless-spinster had much to commend it! When eventually I returned to my exile, I was so busy, so bored, and occupied in skipping up to Katoomba in weekends to see how Mother was progressing--and here we are--November 1 and not a line to you.

My God, Miles, you've got to go west to know the barrenness of the Australian mind--when you get out where people are still human beings and not, as here, walking bundles of snobberies, petty gentilities, complexes and patriotisms, you strike a bedrock with a sense of coming home. But in places like this the middle-class mentality flourishes with the fertility and aridness of the Bathurst Burr [18] itself. The only effect the Camp here has is to send up the consumption of liquor and the Caste system. Our boarding house has many OFFICER's wives as guests--each one designated by her husband's rank and valued accordingly. You lose caste if you are seen Out with anything less than a Loot [Lieutenant], but of course, the best people go slumming to the Canteen. (Not me, I'm not keen enough on washing up as my form of patriotic itch.) All the favourite cliches have currency--we speak and think in militarist terms--and it is all a marvellous adventure and really war is a wonderful outlet for your surplus emotion you can't normally use in an idiotic world that relegates women--in peace time--to the social equivalent of purdah or a slave market.

This was resumed (letter I mean) nearly a week after I commenced it. Interim passed in my neat letter habit of having a bad bout of bronchial 'flu that has left me feeling like a piece of crepe paper that's been extended too far. Really my penchant for getting this and that and what-you-call it would lead me to suspect that I'm developing into a neurotic--if unrepressed spinster--if it weren't that my Dr says he's never heard of bronchitis as a neurotic symptom. Still there were some things even Freud didn't know about and maybe my sub-conscious is plumbing unknown depths....

I was most interested in the Prior results. It's most interesting to see how consistently Kylie [Tennant] [19] keeps up her output.... Well the Bulletin may be a Fascist rag but it has done a good job in the last 5 years with the Prior. And at least it does not advertise its spiritual indecencies as The Publicist does [20] with its cry of 'for politicians, business men and bankers'--It sickens me when I think of people with a real spark like PR lending themselves to such open gangsterdom. Poor old V. Crowley doesn't know any better but Inky does-or at least should. [21]

I wonder what has happened to Xavier's book? I hoped to see it carry off the Prior Prize. [pounds]300 for I know they could do with it. And from what I know of it and him I'm sure it will be good. [22]

Darling at last I'm remembering to put in a cheque for [pounds]5. I can't plead any excuse for not sending it along ages ago except that I always forgot! Freud would no doubt find some reason but I can't. I merely ask pardon. I wonder how POP is going? Someone told me that they'd been told at A&R that they were bringing out a cheaper edition, but it seemed improbable to me.

Only 5 weeks more of exile--And, my God, it is exile. Neither places nor positions matter vitally if you have the people near you who matter--But I am truly an exile. And Bathurst wears me down. The narrowness, the pettiness, the snobbery, the complacency of the average Australian is beyond belief--and I believe beyond hope. I see our future hopeful only in view of the fact that willynilly we shall be overrun in the next decade by people from all corners of the world, for our original impetus that gave us the Australia of the '90s is quite spent--in the cities and towns at any rate--I don't think I am misstating the effects of industrialisation for something more deep and more evil, tho' the two are so closely related....

Love my dear,


Franklin to Cusack

26 Grey St, Carlton NSW, 13 November 1940

Dymphana Darling,

I was longing to write to you but have been just a malingering worm without any energy, so your letter was a surprise and a treat. I also restrained, knowing that you were not up to the mark and I did not want to nag you with the feeling that you had to reply. I am sorry to hear of your mother's serious illness but relieved that she has recovered. I also meant to ring her but it is terrible to suffer a sort of malaise that stultifies all action spiritual or physical. It is the war, I believe, but we must rise above it--not be casualties too.

No, you don't need to go anywhere but everywhere to know the barrenness of the Australian mind. It's the same everywhere--of course you pick out a few congenials in a city of a million, but remember, they would be lost if spread all over Australia. What a glorious chance you have to get that Bathurst situation into your consciousness for future distilling--lucky girl! Don't let a feeling of exile take any of the edge off your tools--have avidity for the chance and you'll soon be bounding and burgeoning--and such a glorious opportunity to be a 'bounder' in J. Rankin's eyes. [23] You can't resist that I'm sure.

I don't like to hear of your frequent indispositions--I think it results from mental disharmony, as you have a fine physique, a good brain, and I believe a good old-fashioned heredity like my own, without any inbred or out-bred swell wasters, so my dear rise with a snort--I'm going to try to.

My poor old house is two years shabbier and raggeder than when you saw it last, but you must come and spend a whole night, and we'll put our feet up and take our hair down and have a sort of a sorting out of our purposes and inclinations. There'll never be a new order if people like you and me don't spoke it along. I don't mean by soap-boxing, but we must get out purpose straight to ourselves, and leave despair to those who have not our inborn armament....

Kylie, they say, keeps up her standard but does not grow--more observation than imagination. I don't think that Foveaux shows any advance on Tiburon....

I received a card to a 'win the war' luncheon of some Empire Union; Billy H[ughes] and Andrea [24] to speak. So on Monday I wobbled forth to see if it was as bad as I expected. It was worse. Billy did not turn up. There were 50 present. The catering arrangements wilted under the strain. So I paid 3/- for a large cold red saddle-flap of corn beef that I did not attempt to eat. Was at a table with two veterans, one of 78 one of 72 who think Andrea so great that I must be proud of her. They were 40 years ago, bless 'em, advocates of women's suffrage and are proud of such a result. Andrea at FAW lecture was scoring smartalecly at Noel Coward's expense. On Monday pled with us to receive him with open arms because, forsooth, he is persona grata with many high people in England that could speak well of us to them to our profit; and he is well in with the Gloucesters and the Kents, says she.... She is 'bright'--very bright and spurious, and her war work will always take her where the best food and furs are to be fou nd....

Reverting to Andrea's public speaking. Very 'bright' and lively indeed. The first time you hear her you know she cannot but be a success--it would be offensive and limited to deny that. The second speech boring--don't want to hear a third.

Now I have heard you three times and looking forward to a fourth, but that may be doting affection on my part--it's so hard to be logically distilled.

I knew the Rees' baby was due. How delightful for them to call it Dymphna. That really is something to please you. Congratulations....

I don't look forward to being swamped by immigrants into another American Melting Pot.

Only news: I was asked to give my name as a 'Draw'!! for an At Home in aid of Free Kindergarten, as such charities are being pushed to wall by patriotic war work. I spoke on Furphy. The result was [pounds]13 at 2/- per head. Not one present except Mrs Dobbie had ever heard of Tom Collins, but I kept on for nearly an hour. That was pretty plucky of me I consider. They would not let me stop. I believe I could face Bathurst after that....

Love from Miles

Cusack to Franklin

Bathurst, Sunday [November 1940]

Miles my dear,

Your letter was manna to the exile--There is something infinitely wearing--a slow process of attrition--in this place. Though perhaps it has great value in that I grow daily more self-sufficing and more terribly clear in what I see and know I must record. Slowly it is being borne upon me what an incredibly frivolous race we are. Very little true emotional lightness--joie-de-vivre. The old saltiness--so precious and so astringent--of the older generation going ... gone. Perhaps it only belonged to the best of them. Our vaunted casualness is a lack of depth--our balance, lack of imagination. Seeing the troops en masse as one sees them here, there is a brutality about them that is the breeding ground for fascism. A lack of self-discipline--discipline of the British army type has never seemed to me anything but the negation of initiative. But the discipline that comes of proud bodies and minds--the sense of social responsibility--it just isn't there. A girl can't go out on the streets without an offensive inciden t--and you know I take a very broad view of permissible unconventionalities. All the taxi drivers and the tram conductors and what have you from one side of Sydney to the other have at some time or other told their life stories. But I dislike being accosted by scum to whom the wearing of a uniform is a licence for anything.

The local lasses are enjoying the war enormously--It gives a fillip to the boredom of their normal existence and they drink and neck more than they'd ordinarily get a chance to.... I--who like my drink and am singularly free from physical repressions--abhor the small beer of love and the incessant tippling of those who drink as a substitute for living, and make love out of itch and boredom.

Only three weeks, and I cannot bear another year of it. My work is exhausting from its sheer uselessness and the huge masses of poor wretched children being flung into an educational treadmill unsuited to them and hated by them. When I look at our educational system and at our mass reactions to world disaster and individual liberty, I know with a bitterness beyond bearing that we are all being paid for perpetuating a national fraud. And when I read the papers and their slavish and horrible adulation of poor Noel Coward I know that nothing we've said about ourselves as a race is [sic] stringent enough....

Love, my dear

Dymphna [25]

Review, ABC Weekly, December/January 1940-41


Dymphna Cusack the well-known Australian writer, whose plays and educational talks have stimulated ABC audiences, uses her knowledge of history as a guiding light on the structure of modern society.

This is evident in her latest play for radio, Spartacus, the story of the rising of the slaves of Rome in 70 BC.

'In my latest series of talks, Women Today, I emphasise the fact that Fascism in all countries of the world is threatening our liberties,' said Miss Cusack.

'The tide is swinging against women as individuals, because their economic circumstances make women easy victims.'...

The talks deal with the lives of women under Fascism, under Communism, in democracy, in New China and in modern Turkey. They are presented in dialogue form.

Miss Cusack has sought out women who have lived in these countries and can present an objective study.

A teacher for the past year at Bathurst High School, Miss Cusack is extremely interested in education.

She collaborated with Miles Franklin in Pioneers On Parade, a satire on the NSW Sesqui-centenary celebrations. She wanted to make its subtitle A Guide To Social Climbing In Australia.

Writer of Jungfrau, one of the Bulletin's prize-winning novels in 1935, Miss Cusack plans a novel on the Australian countryside.

Her Red Sky At Morning, a three-act play of the Macquarie period, has been broadcast many times on the National relay.

Last year she undertook a series of talks on How the Other Woman Lives. She interviewed women on the dole and the basic wage, factory girls and a woman with [pounds]2,000 a year. [26]

When Dymphna packed her bags at Braemar for the last time and headed back to Sydney on the train in December 1940, she carried with her the legacy of a public stoush with the local squattocracy in the person of 'Asparagus King,' Gordon Edgell, which had earned her the warm mutual respect of her defender, local Federal member (Joseph) Ben Chifley. 'Chif' became Federal Labor Treasurer in 1941 and, of course, Prime Minister from 1945. (She later used Edgell and his ultra-conservative class values in her play Comets Soon Pass.)

Whilst Dymphna might have had spiteful enemies up at the Big End of Town, she also had political support from the 'progressive' Labor network. She took leave of absence from the Department in 1941, running the family's residential apartments, a block of bed-sits in Orwell Street, Kings Cross, still called Karoon. There her volatile affair with Xavier Herbert ended, his two-timing of her (and Sadie) ending when he cleared off bush without notice.

Dymphna was very active over this period with Jessie Street's wartime organisation Sheepskins for Russia and with the Australia-Soviet Friendship League. She had in fact been under CIS surveillance since International Women's Day 8 March 1940, when she had spoken at the Communist Party's Women's Conference at the Sydney Town Hall. In 1941 her left activities intensified and, according to the spooks, she spoke on the platform at the Left Book Club on 'This Russian Business,' and again at the 27 August public meeting protesting against the internment of Ratcliff and Thomas (who had been imprisoned under National Security Regulations during the illegal period of the Communist Party from 15 June 1940-December 1942.) [27]

In February 1942 Dymphna returned to work at Newcastle Girls' High. The industrial city took her to its working-class heart; the conservative burghers, of course, called her a 'hot-head.' Out of the cauldron of the staff-room at Newcastle Girls'--and fuelled with the reidual indignation against those female colleagues at Sydney Girls' who'd conspired with the male inspectorial power elite of the Department to bring about her exile--Dymphna created her classic female bitchiness' intrigue, Morning Sacrifice. (In 1999 alone, it earned production licence fees from St Mark's College, St Mary's Anglican College, The Christian School, Tyndale Dramatic Society and several other theatrical groups. Its most recent professional production was an excellent one by the Melbourne Theatre Company in 1991.)

A further year in Newcastle in 1943, at the Boys' Technical High, gave her time to consolidate the events of 1942 and do the intensive research within the BHP company itself as well as with the rank and file of the workforce, which would eventually be used in her 'industrial front' novel, Southern Steel (1953).

In 1944 Dymphna's health collapsed and she was pensioned out of the Department of Education. Unemployed at last!

Marilla North is moving towards the completion of her biography of Dymphna Cusack. She has recently finished editing the correspondence between Cusack, Miles Franklin and Florence James: 1926-1954.


(1.) This could be a particular problem for teachers, Hetty Weitzel (Ross), after being expelled from Wellington Teachers' College for distributing illegal literature, had moved to Australia in 1922 but continued to have difficulties, in a long career of teaching and working for the union--and being a prominent member of the CPA.

(2.) Western Times. Bathurst. Press Clip dated February 1940. Kept by DC in CLIPS, NLA MS 4621/14/1.

(3.) From My Experiences As a High School Teacher. NLA MS 4621/Box 17. Folder 8. pp. 131. Subsequently edited by Debra Adelaide and published as Window In the Dark.

(4.) The actress Ada Reeve was horn in 1897 in London, a comedian and singer who toured Australia many times. She entered the theatre in World War I and was a hit with the Diggers in London in 'The Big 'Ole.' She took the revue to Australia in 1919 and in 1921 married a Melbourne doctor. Widowed early, she returned to the stage. In the 1930s she became 'Miss Radio' on Sydney's 2GB. She died in 1964.

(5.) This play by Ronald Gow and Walter Greenwood was put on by New Theatre in December 1939. Probably the season went through to January 1940 in view of her reference to being 'shot out,' that is, exiled to Bathurst.

(6.) NLA MS 4621/Appendix A 1/21. And ML MS 364/30/29.

(7.) The evening edition of the Goulburn Post was earlier called the Goulburn Penny Post. The name stuck when the price increased.

(8.) Cramp was a Department of Education School Inspector and a member of the Genealogical Society. Cusack refers to him elsewhere as 'the breaststroke champion.'

(9.) Miles Franklin Papers. ML MS 364/30 ff3l-37.

(10.) Dalby Davison was a prolific short story and travel writer and novelist. He was involved in the Sydney FAW and was Marjorie Barnard's lover until he suddenly married again in 1944 and moved to Melbourne. See Carole Ferrier ed. As Good As a Yarn With You: Letters Between Miles Franklin, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Jean Devanny, Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw and Eleanor Dark, Sydney: Cambridge University Press, 1992: 5-6, 89, 156-8, 162-4.

(11.) Dymphna was noted for her high-fashion flair. Even at university the family poverty was never evident, for her mother's 'fairy fingers' kept her in Mark Foys and David Jones up-to-the-minute window display fashions. She always wore very high heels (she was barely five foot tall). Immaculately tailored frocks and suits became her 'power dressing' style. And those hats! Hats were de rigeur in the Sydney of the period. Miles shared this hat fetish.

(12.) Carbon copy enclosed with the previous letter. NLA MS 4621 Appendix A. 1/23-25.

(13.) Appendix A 1/26. Bartlett Adamson, journalist, lyrical poet and thriller writer, was on the influential Smith's Weekly from 1919 to 1950. Part of the more radical left group in the FAW, he was president three times between 1938 and 1959. See Len Fox's FAW history, Dream at a Graveside, NSW: FAW, 1988, and Carole Ferrier, Jean Devanny: Romantic Revolutionary, Melbourne University Press, 1999.

(14.) Myra Morris, 1893-1966. Dark Tumult was published in 1939 by Butterworth in the UK and exported to Australia where it paid the local author the 'Colonial Royalty' of 10% of the price paid by the retailer, who received considerable discounts. The novel tells of a colonial girl born in a Victorian sea-board town--very like Morris' native Frankstown--who leaves her local fisherman love and marries a British doctor who is visiting 'down-under.' She goes to live with him in England where she adapts well to upper-class conventions but yearns for the freer life back home--to which, indeed, she returns.

(15.) Kate Baker, 1861-1953, was a stalwart standard bearer for Joseph Furphy from 1886 till his death in 1912; collaborated with Miles on his biography that was published in 1944.

(16.) Miles is continuing her punning on Dymphna's surname from where she refers to her as 'Miss Cossack' at the Garden Party two lines above. Count Grigori Orlov was the first lover of Catherine II, who owed her power to him and his brother. (Sadly, she did not implement his scheme for the emancipation of the serfs.) Miles is probably chiacking Dymphna on her pro-Soviet sympathies and her refusal to bow to Sesqicentenary visitors. Perhaps, too, Dymphna was dressed in the style of Russian nobility!

The 'bang-tailed' horse is one prepared for dressage with a docked tail, cut at the end of the flesh part and bound with plaited leather thonging. Dymphna's suit must have been a Mark Foys original!

(17.) Miles Franklin Papers ML MS 364/30 ff. 39-40.

(18.) 'Xanthium spinosum: a plant with long triple spines like the barbary, and burrs which are ruinous to the wool of sheep.' From Morris' Dictionary of Australian Words, Names, Phrases, Curry O' Neill Ross P/L, Victoria, 1983 [1898].

(19.) Kylie Tennant's The Battlers (London: Gollancz, 1941) won the Prior and the ALS gold medal.

(20.) The Australia First monthly founded by WJ Miles and PR (Inky) Stephensen.

(21.) Valentine Crowley, with banker SB Hooper, became the partner of Inky Stephensen on the Australia First right-wing rag The Publicist.

(22.) 'Yellow Fellow,' for which Herbert received a [pounds]250 CLF grant in mid-1939, was eventually published as Poor Fellow My Country in 1975. Frances de Groen, Xavier Herbert. A Biography St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1998: 115.

(23.) Jeannie L. Rankin [Ranken] d.1945. An early feminist, she was on the Sesqui Women's Advisory Council which generated The Peaceful Army, a volume of biographical essays in honour of pioneer women. Miles contributed an essay on Rose Scott, Dymphna wrote on Mary Reiby.

(24.) Andrea was the stage name of Dorothy Gordon Jenner, born in the 1890s in Sydney. After a stint as a chorus girl here she left for the UK where she mixed with the Upper Crust and aquired an accent. She had a career in early Hollywood as an actor in the silent movies with the likes of W. C. Fields and Cecil B. de Mille. She was even subpoenaed in Rudolf Valentino's divorce case. Andrea's voice became famous on local radio back in Sydney in the late 1930s. During World War II she was an Australian war correspondent, interned in a Japanese POW camp. Post-war, she hosted a national ABC radio programme. She was awarded an OBE for services to radio. Her autobiography, Darlings, I've Had a Ball, as told to Trish Shepherd, was published by Ure Smith, Sydney, in 1975.

(25.) Miles Franklin Papers ML MS 364/30. ff 55-59.

(26.) NLA MS 4621/14/1 CLIPS. p.14.

(27.) AA:A 6119; Item 315 EDC (Freehill) ff1, 8.
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Author:North, Marilla
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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