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Awarded for service to the Arts
Entered on roll: 2005
To all, to lovers, to friends
secure beyond the falling out of love,
time brings at last their last time on earth together.
Let memory lie like sunlight
On this desolation of weeds.
(‘Sunset, Oyster Cove. To the memory of Edwin Tanner’ from Selected Poems )
Gwen Harwood was born in Brisbane and educated at Toowong State School and Brisbane Girls Grammar School. She studied piano and composition privately. After finishing school, she completed a music teacher’s diploma and was an organist at All Saints’ in Brisbane. After a brief stint teaching, Gwen began work as a typist in the War Damage Commission in 1942.
Gwen married Bill Harwood in September 1945. Soon afterwards they moved to Hobart where Bill took up a position at the University of Tasmania. Although she had written poetry for many years and had her first poem published in 1944, it was not until her four children were at school that she began to regularly submit her work for publication. Gwen corresponded on a regular basis with a wide circle of friends, including fellow poets Vincent Buckley, AD Hope, Vivian Smith and Norman Talbot.
Gwen Harwood’s poetry and critical writing appeared regularly in Australian literary journals from the 1950s. She was an accomplished librettist who worked closely with contemporary composers. Two volumes of her correspondence have also been published, providing a valuable record of Australia’s literary culture.
In 1973, Gwen received a Literature Board Grant that enabled her to retire from her position as a medical secretary and devote more time to her writing. During this period, she embarked on a range of speaking and reading engagements across Australia and participated in seminars and workshops on a regular basis. Gwen also served as President of the Tasmanian Branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and of the Lady Hamilton Literary Society.
Gwen published more than 430 works during her life including 386 poems and 13 librettos. Her first volume, Poems, was published in 1963, Poems Volume II in 1968, The Lion’s Bride in 1981, the award winning Bone Scan in 1988 and The Present Tense in 1995.
Gwen was the recipient of many awards including the Grace Leven Prize (1975), Robert Frost Medallion (1977), the Patrick White Award (1978), Victorian Premiers Award (1989) and in 1990 the Age Book of the Year Award (for Blessed City). She received Honorary Doctorates from the University of Tasmania, the University of Queensland and La Trobe University.
In 1989, Gwen was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for her services to literature. The Gwen Harwood Memorial Poetry Prize was established in 1996.