Elizabeth (Betty) Riddell (also publishing as Elizabeth Richmond)
1907-1998 (b.1910 also given, but a vanity)
Elizabeth Riddell was born in Napier, New Zealand to a Virginian father, Sydney John Richmond, and New Zealand mum, Violet Whitfred Williams. She read voraciously when she found any books as a child and was a published poet at 14, publishing over 40 poems between 1925 and 1928. On the basis of these she was recommended to Ezra Norton to work on his Sydney paper from 1927 (not straight from school, as she professed).
Over several years she worked as a staff member and freelancer for Smith’s Weekly, the Sydney Sun, and the Daily Guardian and many of her poems were published in these.
She met Ted “Blue” Greatorex, rugby player and journalist, on Bondi Beach and they were married in 1935 in order to be able to share a cabin as they sailed to England. There she worked for The Daily Mirror in London, and New York and as a war correspondent in Europe in 1943.
She always felt she was a poet first and published The Untrammelled in 1940. “Journalism is a trick and a trade, but poetry’s not. Poetry’s art, poetry is person to person, like a painting,” she said in a film interview with Robert Hughes in 1993.
Elizabeth returned to Australia after the war, working as a journalist, art critic, and feature writer for The Australian, where she won Walkley Awards twice in 1968 and 1969. In 1964 Blue died from a stroke, and Elizabeth wrote no poetry for 15 years.
She published 7 books of poetry in Australia between 1940 and 1994 and won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry in 1992 and the Patrick White Award in 1995. In 1992 she was also the winner of the inaugural NSW State Literary Awards Book of the Year for Selected Poems.
Marlene Abrams, in her review of the Film Australia biography of Riddell (Australian Film Education, 2000) called her “Individualistic and forthright, with a great sense of irony” …”Ahead of her time in many ways, Riddell could be described as ‘avant garde’, both as a writer and a woman.”
Note: Several discrepancies exist in online bios of Elizabeth Riddell, often promulgated by the author herself. I have tried to correct these by going back to original sources. Marcia Russell’s Master of Literature thesis, Made in New Zealand: The Early Poetry of Elizabeth Riddell (1907-1998) (2012) is particularly informative on her early years. http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/12/ka_mate12_russell01.pdf
The Untrammelled (Viking, 1940)
Poems (Ure Smith, 1948)
Forbears (Angus & Robertson, 1961)
Occasions of birds, and other poems (Officina Brindabells, 1987)
From the midnight courtyard (Angus & Robertson, 1989)
Selected Poems (Angus & Robertson, 1992)
The Difficult Island (Molonglo, 1994)
Poems by Riddell can be found in many collections, including
Songs for All Seasons: 100 Poems for Young People ed. By Rosemary Dobson 1967
Sing in Bright Colours ed. by Alf Mappin 1975
The Collins Book of Australian Poetry ed. by Rodney Hall 1981
The Illustrated Treasury of Australian Verse ed. by Beatrice Davis 1984
The Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse ed. by Peter Porter 1996
Sunlines : An Anthology of Poetry to Celebrate Australia’s Harmony in Diversity ed. by Anne Fairbairn 2002
100 Australian Poems for Children ed. by Clare Scott-Mitchell and Kathlyn Griffith 2002
Eclipse of the Moon by Elizabeth Riddell
This is a profitable night, the moon’s eclipse
at last a reason for not sleeping.
There is a reason to wake every hour
to observe the shape and size of door and window
and wall and picture frame,
turn on the lamp, open the book
and let it fall away, reason to rise, make tea,
pad to the door,
stand on cool tiles
to watch the invaded moon.
I see a jagged one third of her beauty left
and somewhere, black layers back,
a rim of light.
Sometimes the moon strays into daytime skies
Tonight she was glittering and wild
until the mask slid down,
erasing all her gold.
Source: The ABC Book of Australian Poetry: a treasury for young people compiled by Libby Hathorn (ABC Books 2010) Retrieved from http://ozpoemaday.wordpress.com/tag/elizabeth-riddell/
Wakeful in the Township by Elizabeth Riddell
Barks the melancholy dog,
Swims in the stream the shadowy fish.
Who would live in a country town
If they had their wish?
When the sun comes hurrying up
I will take the circus train
That cries, cries once in the night
And then not again.
In the stream the shadowy fish
Sleeps below the sleeping fly.
Many around me straitly sleep
But not I.
Near my window a drowsy bird
Flickers its feathers against the thorn.
Around the township’s single light
My people die and are born.
I will join the circus train
For mangy leopard and tinsel girl
And the trotting horses’ great white haunches
Whiter than a pearl.
When to the dark blue mountains
My captive pigeons flew
I’d no heart to lure them back
With wheat upon the dew.
When the dog at morning
Whines upon the frost
I shall be in another place,
Lost, lost, lost.
From Songs for All Seasons by Rosemary Dobson
This biography was researched and compiled by Georgia Phillips.