Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 13, 2010

Vale Jessica Anderson (1916-2010)

It is sad to see the news via Twitter that Australia has lost another great Australian writer.  Jessica Anderson, who won the Miles Franklin Award twice, for Tirra Lirra by the River in 1978 and for The Impersonators in 1980, has died.  She had a long and productive writing career as the author of many short stories which were published in The Bulletin, Meanjin and Heat.  Her other novels were:  An Ordinary Lunacy (1963) The Last Man’s Head (1970) The Commandant (1975) Taking Shelter (1989) and One of the Wattle Birds (1994).

Jessica Anderson also received these awards for her work:

  • 1978: Australian Natives Association Literary Awards for Tirra Lirra by the River
  • 1981: New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction for The Impersonators
  • 1987: The Age Book of the Year for her collection, Stories from the Warm Zone and Sydney Stories

The much loved Tirra Lirra by the River was often on school reading lists, but I can’t find my copy of it tonight.  Instead, here are the opening lines of The Impersonator:

‘Jack Cornock’s daughter is coming back, ‘ said Keith Burtenshaw.
Marjorie Burtenshaw sat at her dressing table, dabbling and fussing, making the best of her daytime face.  ‘I didn’t know he had a daughter.  What’s her name?
‘Sylvia Foley.
”Then she’s married.’
‘Divorced.  She has picked her time.’
‘How old?
Keith Burtenshaw surmised as he selected a shirt.  ‘There was Bruce, killed in the war.  Then Stewart.  Then Sylvia, a long time after.  In her late thirties? Yes.’

Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1980, First Edition, p3.

Sue at Whispering Gums has recently reviewed The Commandant.

I am indebted to Wikipedia for some of the above information.

Update,18.7.10 courtesy of Ivor Indyk at Heat magazine:

Jessica Anderson’s funeral service is to take place this Monday 19 July at 1.30 pm, at the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park Crematorium, Military Road, Matraville.


  1. Always feel awful when I’ve not heard of a writer, and especially when they seem as interesting as Jessica Anderson was. I hope I come across her at some point, all the best Stu


  2. I remember when ‘Tirra Lirra, By The River’ made a big spash in the US. I read it then, thought it was wonderful I also read her following book, “The Only Daughter’, which apparently was ‘The Impersonators’ in Australia.


  3. Sad to hear this, Lisa. I read ‘Tirra Lirra, By The River’ years and years ago. I’ve got a feeling it was my sister’s copy as I think she studied it at school … ? She’s four years younger and seemed to study a lot more Aussie fiction than me; my English teachers seemed to have a “thing” for dystopian fiction, as remember reading Orwell, John Wyndham and “Flowers for Algernon”…


  4. Oh, did she die? Sad, but I guess she had a good life. I’m at a full-on three-day conference (from yesterday to today) on Informatiion Technologies for Indigenous Communities and the uni course I’m an online tutor for went back this week so I am clearly out of it.

    I have One of the wattle birds next to my bed – but haven’t got to it yet.

    I’ll look out for some obits.

    Thanks for the link.


    • I haven’t seen anything in the papers yet, but it was a bit of a rush this morning so I may have missed it…


  5. BTW I found my copy of Tirra Lirra (serves me right for tidying up the library, no wonder I couldn’t find it at first LOL). I browsed the first few pages while waiting for my computer to boot up and am once again so impressed by the way she manages to convey the inner woman so economically….


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