Eleanor Dark

Eleanor Dark

Eleanor Dark.jpg
An undated photograph of Dark
Born (1901-08-26)26 August 1901
Died 11 September 1985(1985-09-11) (aged 84)
Education Redlands College for Girls
Alma mater Stott & Hoare’s Business College
Occupation Author
Notable work
Spouse(s) Eric Payten Dark
Awards Australian Literature Society Gold Medal
Alice Award (1978)

Eleanor Dark AO (26 August 1901 – 11 September 1985) was an Australian author whose novels included Prelude to Christopher (1934) and Return to Coolami (1936), both winners of the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal for literature,[1] and her best known work The Timeless Land (1941).

Life and career

Eleanor Dark memorial plaque in Sydney Writers Walk at Circular Quay

Eleanor Dark was born in Sydney, the second of three children of the poet, writer and parliamentarian Dowell Philip O'Reilly and his wife, Eleanor McCulloch O'Reilly. She studied at the Redlands College for Girls at Cremorne, and was known as Pixie O'Reilly. On finishing school and unable to enter university, having failed mathematics, she learnt typing and took a secretarial job. In February 1922 she married Dr Eric Payten Dark (1889–1987), a widower and general practitioner who wrote books, articles and pamphlets on politics and medicine. She became step-mother to his two-year-old son. Eric Dark was an active member of the Labor left in New South Wales, was involved in contemporary political debate and was a committed socialist. His books include The World Against Russia and Who are the Reds. They lived in Katoomba, New South Wales, where Eleanor bore their son Michael and wrote eight of her ten novels, including short stories and articles[2] and was a frequent contributor to Walkabout magazine where Eric Lowe described her love of Australian flora[3] which is evident[4] in her sense of its life and light in a 1951 article about the beauty of Central Australia:

This is luminous country. The naked hills […] are incandescent, and such other colours as exist to afford contrast – the bonewhite trunks of the graceful ghost-gums, the pale yellow tufts of spinifex, and the blue of the sky – seem only to emphasise their furnace glow.[5]

She also wrote under the pseudonym "Patricia O'Rane".[6]

In the 1950s the Darks bought a farm in Montville, Queensland, where they spent part of the year for seven years. Eleanor wrote her last published work, Lantana Lane at the farm. Their son Michael had also moved to Queensland, where he eventually married and had two daughters. The move to Queensland has, by some,[citation needed] been associated with the desire to escape a growing sense of persecution and isolation within the Katoomba community due to growing attacks on members of left-wing parties in the press and by the Menzies Government. Dr Dark's political writing and involvement in left-wing circles attracted attention from anti-communist elements within the Menzies Government and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). Like many writers and social commentators of the time who were critical of Menzies or were left-wing, it is certain that the Darks were under surveillance. This surveillance extended to Eric Dark's first son from his first marriage, John Dark, and possibly to his second son with Eleanor, Michael Dark.

Eleanor Dark's best known work is The Timeless Land (1941), the first part of a trilogy, with Storm of Time (1948) and No Barrier (1953).

She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours of 1977.[7] In her later years she suffered writer's block, osteoarthritis and depression, and lived upstairs as a virtual recluse, rarely seeing friends or relatives. She died in 1985, aged 84.

Michael Dark inherited the family home 'Varuna' in Katoomba, which in 1988 was turned into a writers' centre known as Varuna, The Writers' House. It is managed by the Eleanor Dark Foundation, of which Michael Dark remained President until his death in July 2015.[8]