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Anna Deveson and Georgia Blain: women of heart and mind

Anna Deveson and Georgia Blain: women of heart and mind

15.12.16

By Jeremy Fisher

Right: Anna Deveson

Tragically, the ASA has lost two of its former Chairs in a matter of days. Mother and daughter Anne Deveson and Georgia Blain were both Chairs of the ASA at different times. Georgia died on 9 December and Anne died on 12 December 2016.

Anne Deveson was a pioneering journalist, broadcaster and filmmaker, a brilliant writer of extended narratives that explored personal and social matters and a witty and charismatic woman. She was also charming.

Anne was born in Kuala Lumpur on 19 June, 1930, and came to Australia with her parents as a refugee in 1942. She wrote many books, her most recent being Waging Peace, a memoir (2013), but she also wrote shorter pieces and works of fiction (Lines in the Sand, 2000). Tell Me I’m Here (1991) told of her son Jonathan’s schizophrenia and won the 1991 Human Rights Award for Non-fiction Literature.

In addition to her work at the coalface, she also chaired the South Australian Film Corporation (1984–1987) and was director of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (1985–1988).

She did not go unrecognised for her contribution to media and communications in Australia. She was awarded the United Nations Gold Citation, Media Peace Prize in 1980, and was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to the media in 1983.

Anne also had an important role in the royal commission on human relationships established by the Whitlam government. The commission advanced the case for social and legal changes on abortion, homosexuality and women’s status. Following the suicide of her son, Jonathan, Anne became involved in mental health issues. She was one of the founders of the Schizophrenia Australia Foundation, now SANE Australia. As a result of her work in this area she was elevated to the rank of Officer of the Order of Australia in 1993.

She was Chair of the ASA from 1995–1997, after which she was nominated as a member of the ASA Council. I did not know her as Chair, but I met her in common social circles where the admiration and respect people had for her was obvious. Her own concern for others was equally on show. At one event, she asked my partner and me whether we still felt discriminated against as gay men. We told her that we did but that we had learned to live with it thanks to the more tolerant society she had helped create. She modestly refused to accept any credit for significant changes in social attitude.

Many people I have been in contact with over the past few days have remembered Anne. Her famous Omo advertisement has been discussed, as well as her work as a lone female voice on daytime radio. One woman told me: “I remember her account of her son's mental illness, so brutally honest, but love shining through.” That sums up Anne.

Anne died from the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. She was 86. Her surviving son Joshua’s daughter had recently given birth to her first great grandchild.

I worked most closely with Georgia Blain, whom I admired greatly for her acumen, diplomacy and grace. She was, like her mother, a "woman of heart and mind", to quote Joni Mitchell. She was Chair of the ASA in 2002 and again from 2005–2007. The latter period coincided with part of my time as Executive Director of the ASA, so I worked closely with Georgia. Her modest, practical manner ensured efficient management of meetings and the organisation.

She also demonstrated compassion. When my partner was critically ill after a burst appendix she told me he was my priority and to go look after him while she looked after the ASA. For that I am forever grateful.

Georgia worked as a copyright lawyer for the audio-visual collecting society Screenrights. This was her "day job" which, as with most Australian writers, provided some income to support her writing. Again like her mother, she was a prolific in her output.

She wrote nine novels which have been well received by both the reading public and her peers. The first, Closed for Winter, told of grief and its reverberations through a family. The Secret Lives of Men (2013) was shortlisted for the 2014 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and longlisted for the 2014 Nita Kibble Literary Award. The novel Too Close to Home (2011) was shortlisted for the 2012 Barbara Jefferis Award. Her most recent novel is Between a Wolf and a Dog (2016). This book has won the 2016 Queensland Literary Awards for Fiction Book and is shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and longlisted for the 2017 Indie Awards. An exhilarating memoir Births, Deaths, Marriages was shortlisted for the Nita Kibble Literary Award.

She was also a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers and she documented her diagnosis of and treatment for a brain tumour in various editions of The Saturday Paper earlier this year. It was, again like her mother, brutally honest writing, but with love shining through.

Georgia cared for Anne after the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and following her own diagnosis of brain cancer. She died at home. She was aged 51. She is survived by her partner, filmmaker Andrew Taylor, and their daughter, and Anne’s grand-daughter, Odessa.

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© 2017 Australian Society of Authors (ASA)