Nicole Moore: The preface that you wrote for Bobbin Up when Virago published it, seems to work, to me anyway, for a lot of writers of your generation as a kind of moment when you look back on your old politics and you think, what an idiot I was, what a fool I was. And there's a lot of other writers of your generation who did that in the same kind of way, or even more harshly than you did. At least you forgive yourself a bit, and say at least I was sincere about it.
Dorothy Hewett: Oh well I was absolutely dedicated. Stephen Murray-Smith was a great friend of mine. He said to me once, not long before he died: Dorothy, how could we, who were intellectuals, who went to university, fall for all that stuff that they kept shoving into our heads and not even protest? I said I don't know, Stephen, it's one of the mysteries of the universe . . .
Nicole Moore: But he protested in the end, and you did. But there were other things that you were committed to, I presume, to other parts of what was going on. Sometimes you still say that you've got Marxist politics these days.
Dorothy Hewett: Mmm, I have, it wasn't all negative, by any means. I mean being in the Communist Party taught me an enormous amount, just about human beings, particularly about the working class. I met people that, in my fairly sheltered middle-class existence I would never have known. I wouldn't have known what it was like to work in a factory. I wouldn't have known what it was like to go hungry. I wouldn't have known what it was like to have the electricity and the gas turned off. All those things.
Nicole Moore: What happens out of that? Out of middle-class people, intellectual people knowing those kinds of things?
Dorothy Hewett: Well I think it extends your region of understanding and sympathy. When you come to think of it, in Australia, there haven't been a great number of people coming from the working class who've written about their lives, for obvious reasons. So if you get a ring-in like me, it can be quite useful.
Nicole Moore: That's true. So say, Stephen Knight's article on Bobbin Up in that collection of essays about you -- he puts it in a history of working-class writing doesn't he, which is a really interesting way to read it. It's not normally read that way is it?
Dorothy Hewett: He's an interesting man Stephen Knight: I knew him in a little way, not much. But of course that was his area, working-class writing, in England mainly.
Nicole Moore: And he doesn't talk much about women in Australia who write about working-class issues, because there were people like Mena Calthorpe . . .
Dorothy Hewett: The Dyehouse . . .
Nicole Moore: And Betty Collins, there is that whole history that's not read at all.
Dorothy Hewett: It's very patchy though.
Nicole Moore: Yes that's true, and those are from the fifties, but you've got ones from the thirties and forties; that are sometimes really patronizing . . .
Dorothy Hewett: Well there's all those Ruth Park novels, who sentimentalized the whole thing, tremendously. Yet I remember when I first came to Sydney in 1949, reading that winter, in the Sydney Morning Herald, where it was serialized, The Poor Man's Orange, and being quite excited by it. No-one had written about that life before. No-one had written about Surry Hills.
Nicole Moore: There's some story of her reading it at a Fellowship of Australian Writers thing, and a man getting up from the back and saying "Australian readers don't want to read about pregnancy and slums. That's not right, that's not literature!"
Dorothy Hewett: Well that's the equivalent really, of saying, years later, that Bobbin Up's full of sex! And of course Jean Devanny got into terrible trouble with the sex in Sugar Heaven.
Nicole Moore: Exactly, yeah, and the sex in The Virtuous Courtesan which was one of hers that was banned . . . Your novels, especially, and Wild Card seem to have provoked quite a bit of shock about sex . . . differently to your plays?
Dorothy Hewett: Well for so long Australians tended to write plays that sounded a bit like television. Very naturalistic and internalized sort of plays, between only a couple of characters because no-one can afford a big cast. This trilogy of mine is set in a country town between 1920 and 1970 and it's all the characters in the town so there's twelve people in the play and even that doesn't take in all of them. I might do what that fellow in Tasmania did with his film script. I might turn my play into a novel because I think it would work quite well. But I'm still disappointed that nothing's happened because, well, what's the point of writing a play to stick in a bottom drawer? It's ludicrous.