Dunedin Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute

Book: West Island (December 2019)

By Stephanie Johnson

December 18, 2019

Five notable twentieth-century New Zealanders who made their lives in Australia are the subject of this fascinating biographical investigation by award-winning author Stephanie Johnson.

Roland Wakelin, Jean Devanny, Douglas Steward, Eric Baume and Dulcie Deamer had little in common in personality, proclivities or politics.  Yet they all experienced fame and/or notoriety in the ‘West Island’ while being largely forgotten in their country of origin.  They also occasionally crossed paths in the course of eventful lives.

The works of painter Roland Wakelin place him as a founder of Australia’s Modern Movement.  The forthright feminism and creative integrity of communist and novelist Jean Devanny led to bitter battles with the men who tried to control her.  Douglas Steward was one of the most famous ‘Australian’ writers of his period and a long term gatekeeper for Australian letters.  Born into an unusual and unorthodox Jewish family, Eric Baume gained prominence in Australia as an early prototype of the modern-day ‘shock jock’.  A lifelong gambling addict, he died in debt.  Dulcie Deamer was a writer and libertine known for her leopardskin attire and wild behavior.

Stephanie Johnson, a writer with strong connections to both countries, draws on her experience of life on both sides of ‘the ditch’ in restoring these striking New Zealanders to our national narrative.  In so doing, she reflects on the trans-Tasman diaspora and illuminates the curious lacuna that exists at the heart of the complex relationship between the two nations.

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