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, and her best known work The Timeless Land (1941).
An undated photograph of Dark
|Born||26 August 1901|
Croydon, New South Wales, Australia
|Died||11 September 1985 84) (aged|
Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia
|Education||Redlands College for Girls|
|Alma mater||Stott & Hoare’s Business College|
|Spouse(s)||Eric Payten Dark|
|Awards||Australian Literature Society Gold Medal|
Alice Award (1978)
Life and career
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 and was a frequent contributor to Walkabout magazine where Eric Lowe described her love of Australian flora which is evident 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.
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, 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. 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.
- Papers of Eleanor Dark (1901–1985) at the National Library of Australia
- "Dark, Eleanor". AustLit. 25 July 2006. Retrieved 31 March 2007.
- Eric Lowe, ‘Our Authors’ Page: Eleanor Dark’, Walkabout, May 1951, 8.
- Eleanor Dark, ‘The Blackall Range Country’, Walkabout, November 1955, 18
- Eleanor Dark, ‘They All Come Back’, Walkabout, January 1951, 20.
- "Dark, Eleanor (1901-1985)", Trove, 2008, retrieved 8 October 2018
- It's an Honour. Retrieved 9 January 2014
- Australia Council. Retrieved 6 December 2015
- Coote, William (2005) "Eleanor Dark's Slow dawning: a woman in rural practice in the 1920s", Medical Journal of Australia online Accessed: 2007-12-09
- From an unfinished novel by Eleanor Dark
- Noble, Jenny Austin (2005) Representations of the mother-figure in the novels of Katharine Susannah Prichard and Eleanor Dark (Thesis at the University of New South Wales)
- Varuna: The Writers House