VALE, DOROTHEA LAVERY
OUR OLDEST MEMBER
12.11.1917 – 12.11.2016
By Meryl Brown Tobin
Longtime member and a past president of The Society of Women Writers Victoria, Dorothea Lavery, who wrote under the name Dorothea Trafford Lavery, passed away on Saturday, November 12, 2016.
She died on her 99th Birthday and would have been the society’s oldest member up to that time.
Friends and relatives travelled from as far away as Hong Kong, Brisbane and Sydney to pay tribute to her. At her Celebration of a Life, her second son Anthony (Tony) described her as ‘always beautifully-groomed with red nail polish and red lipstick and with a slightly regal air’. He also pointed out, ‘She was always ready with a little advice. A great conversationalist, she had boundless enthusiasm and made the best of all situations.’ Those who knew her would recognize what he meant when he said, ‘She was a force to be reckoned with. She was imperious and sometimes I felt I had had more of an audience with royalty than a conversation with my mother.’
He described how she had taught him how to address an audience. He pointed to his feet which were slightly apart. “She had feet at 10 to 2, waited for silence and made eye contact with everyone across the room before she spoke.
Born in Hong Kong in 1917 where her father was Superintendent of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company for all Asian areas, Dorothea developed a love of oriental art and literature from an early age. In 1923 when she was five or six years old, she came to live in Australia.
After completing her primary and secondary education, she attended the University of Melbourne Conservatory of Music to study piano and singing for a year. Though she then went to London to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama, war broke out and her course was put on hold. To help the war effort, she worked for the Censorship Department in the Irish Mail Department. Later her course resumed, but was relocated to part of Exeter University in South-West England. After a year she again left to help in the war effort and, as she knew many young men in the RAF and RAAF, she applied for a position with the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate and was accepted.
Following that she did a three months’ course in General Engineering, passed with Honours, and worked at Avimo, a small parts factory at Taunton. An appointment as senior inspector, lecturer and examiner at the head school at Bristol followed.
One morning while living in England, her decision to walk to work saved her life. The bus she would normally have caught was bombed. All on board were killed.
While Dorothea had been studying speech therapy and dramatic art in London, she met up with Hugh Lavery who had partnered her in her debut ten years earlier and who was then attached to the RAF. They married in Bristol in 1943.
Dorothea joined Hugh at Thornaby where he was stationed and they rented part of a council house near the airfield for three months. Because he had to do further service in Azores and Gibraltar and Dorothea was expecting their first baby, in 1944 she returned to Australia by herself on the MV Brisbane Star––a hazardous voyage across the Atlantic in wartime.
Later in 1944 Hugh was recalled by the RAAF and he returned to Australia to train squadrons in rocket projectile activities at Williamstown, NSW. After the war he resumed work in a bank and spent two years in Sydney with Dorothea and their two sons Peter and Anthony who had been born by then. Then he returned to Melbourne and joined his father David in his export business of dairy products. Soon Dorothea and Hugh also had a daughter Gillian. In Melbourne Dorothea spent much of her time looking after her family, working on school committees and doing social work including being President, Tempo Alcohol and Drug Foundation and President, Toorak Group Penguin Club of Australia––Victorian Division. When she became a Director of Hugh’s company, she also travelled widely to different countries of the world.
In 1978 Dorothea’s good friend Margaret Hazzard, the founder of The Society of Women Writers (Australia), Victoria Branch invited her to join the society. She became a member and from 1982-84 she served as President.
Tragically, in 1987, Dorothea and Hugh’s daughter Gillian died of cancer shortly after the birth of her fourth child Tori. At Dorothea’s Celebration of a Life, Tori read a speech from her sister Indi who was in Burma and unable to attend. ‘At 70 Gar [Dorothea] stepped into the role of mother again and dedicated herself to her Davis grandchildren.’ Dorothea babysat and took the children to and from school each day.
Tori also paid tribute to Dorothea. ‘She was more than a grandmother––she was the hostess with the mostest and experimented with hors d’oevres and cooked just about anything in her microwave.’ Tori can still remember the cheese and cucumber sandwich Dorothea gave her to eat when she was nine. With many relatives and friends nodding she said, ‘She was truly one of a kind—in every way. Without her, I would not be the person I am today.’
Peter’s daughter Amelia, who flew back from her home in Hong Kong, also spoke of her grandmother’s abilities as a hostess with food always served perfectly with Georgian silver. She also taught her dress sense, telling her what colours she could wear with silver or with gold. Both gold and silver can be worn with white. [Amazing the tips you can pick up at a Celebration of a Life.] ‘Gar always had energy,’ Amelia said. ‘She could outwalk me around Malvern Central at 80….She had an amazing figure. Once I saw her at the pool and I thought ‘My god, my grandmother has a good figure!’ Amelia said her grandmother said, ‘Enjoy life––have fun.’ She made an impact, and we’re taking it on for her.’
Speakers at the funeral mentioned Dorothea’s passion for haiku. Always interested in Asian Art and Literature, she developed a particular passion for haiku, ‘a concise Japanese form of poetry which captures the essence of a moment’, as she used to say. In 1986 she published her first book, New Moon Haiku in the Little Golden Books series published by the SWWV. Her haiku have also appeared in Poppy Seeds and Laurel Trees, an anthology of winning entries from a Papyrus Publishing literary competition, The Multicultural Magazine, The Australian Writer, The Write Angle, Write Away and The Waterline News. She also judged Papyrus Publishing competitions and helped edit Janka Abrami’s book, ‘I’d Rather Be Laughing’, Papyrus Press, 1996.
After Pat Kelsall’s SWWV Haiku Magazine Group folded, Dorothea, a keen student of classical haiku, resurrected it as a workshop group. She became its leader and ran workshops from her home. Members’ work culminated in Thoughts in Miniature, a small book of haiku she and Meryl Brown Tobin co-edited in 2003. Each of the five members of the group, Rhona Fahey, Janet Howie, Rebecca Maxwell, Dorothea and Meryl contributed a small booklet to the book. With the title made up by Dorothea and one of her pencil sketches on the cover, Thoughts in Miniature won a Commended in the Fellowship of Australian Writers (Vic) Nat Lit Awards for 2003, Malvern News Sheet Community Writers Award for an anthology by a community writers’ group.
In 2004 as MC at the launch of Walk in the Forest by Meryl Brown Tobin at Readings, Hawthorn by actor Maggie Millar, Dorothea pointed out that women once were little heard of in public life. ‘Tonight you have seen two creative women in their individual fields showing what women can achieve,’ she said. The well-groomed, eloquent MC, whom the audience was stunned to learn was 86, could readily have included herself as another, and no doubt she would have included many other women she knew.
As recently as 2008, Dorothea won both 1st and 2nd prizes in a haiku competition run by the FAW (Vic) magazine Australian Writer.
In 2012 Dorothea was made a Life Member of the society for her hard work and dedication to the society. A member for 38 years, Dorothea has contributed much by working hard to make it an enjoyable and enriching experience for its members and by sharing her passion for haiku and enthusiasm for writing and writers. She attended meetings regularly until her 90s, and, virtually to her passing away, she took a keen interest in all of its activities and its members.
Five members of the society represented the society at Dorothea’s Celebration of a Life, Agnes Chatfield, Del Nightingale and the three remaining members of the Haiku Group, Janet Howie, Rebecca Maxwell and Meryl Brown Tobin.
At her Celebration of a Life, Anthony described her dying on her 99th Birthday as ‘her great final gesture’.
Hudson, Susan ‘A top gun with butter in a global success story’, The Age, 21.11.2002
Lavery, Dorothea Bio-Notes
Thompson, Lauren ‘Dorothy Trafford Lavery’, article in Write Away, Feb 2013
Speeches at Celebration of a Life for Dorothea Lavery by Anthony Lavery, Tori Davis, Amelia Lavery
Meryl Brown Tobin