Dymphna Cusack

Ellen Dymphna Cusack AM (21 September 1902 – 19 October 1981) was an Australian author and playwright.[1]

Dymphna Cusack

Dymphna Cusack, 1947.jpg
Dymphna Cusack, 1947
Born(1902-09-21)September 21, 1902
DiedOctober 19, 1981(1981-10-19) (aged 79)
Alma materUniversity of Sydney
OccupationAuthor, playwright

Personal lifeEdit

Born in Wyalong, New South Wales, Cusack was educated at Saint Ursula's College, Armidale, New South Wales[2] and graduated from the University of Sydney with an honours degree in Arts and a diploma in Education. She worked as a teacher until she retired in 1944 for health reasons. Her illness was confirmed in 1978 as multiple sclerosis.[1]


Dymphna Cusack memorial plaque in Sydney Writers Walk at Circular Quay

Cusack wrote twelve novels (two of which were collaborations), eleven plays,[3] three travel books, two children's books and one non-fiction book. Her collaborative novels were Pioneers on Parade (1939) with Miles Franklin, and Come In Spinner (1951) with Florence James.[4]

The play Red Sky at Morning was filmed in 1944, starring Peter Finch.[5] The biography Caddie, the Story of a Barmaid, to which Cusack wrote an introduction and helped the author write, was produced as the film Caddie in 1976. The novel Come In Spinner was produced as a television series by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1989, and broadcast in March 1990.[6]


Her younger brother, John, was also an author, writing the war novel They Hosed Them Out under the pseudonym John Beede, which was first published in 1965; an expanded edition under the author's real name, John Bede Cusack, was published in 2012 by Wakefield Press, edited and annotated by Robert Brokenmouth.[7]


Cusack advocated social reform and described the need for reform in her writings. She contributed to the world peace movement during the Cold War era as an antinuclear activist.[1] She and her husband Norman Freehill were members of the Communist Party and they left their entire estates to the Party in their wills.[8]

Contribution and recognitionEdit

Cusack was a foundation member of the Australian Society of Authors in 1963. She had refused an Order of the British Empire,[1] but was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1981 for her contribution to Australian literature.[9]

In 2011, Cusack was one of 11 authors, including Elizabeth Jolley and Manning Clark, to be permanently recognised by the addition of brass plaques at the Writers' Walk, Sydney.[10]


  • Safety First, 1927
  • Shallow Cups, 1933
  • Anniversary, 1935
  • Red Sky at Morning, performed 1935; published 1942
  • Morning Sacrifice, 1943
  • Comets Soon Pass, 1943
  • Call Up Your Ghosts, with Miles Franklin, 1945
  • Pacific Paradise, 1955


Non FictionEdit

  • Chinese Women Speak. Angus & Robertson. Sydney. 1958.
  • Holidays Among the Russians. Heinemann. London. 1964.
  • Illyria Reborn. Heinemann. London. 1966.
  • Mary Gilmore A Tribute. Australasian Book Society. London. 1965.

Children's literatureEdit

  • Kanga-Bee and Kanga-Bo. Botany House. Sydney. 1945.


  1. ^ a b c d Marilla North (2007), "Cusack, Ellen Dymphna (Nell) (1902–1981)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 18 May 2015
  2. ^ [1] Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine, middlemiss.org; retrieved 22 March 2008.
  3. ^ Croft, Julian, 1941-; Bedson, Jack; Campbell Howard Collection; University of New England. Centre for Australian Language and Literature Studies; Dixson Library (University of New England) Australian plays in manuscript (1993), The Campbell Howard annotated index of Australian plays 1920-1955 / compiled and edited by Jack Bedson and Julian Croft, Centre for Australian Language and Literature Studies, University of New England.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) pp.68-78.
  4. ^ Spender (1988) p. 219
  5. ^ "Red Sky at Morning (1944)". ImDb. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
  6. ^ IMDB - Come in Spinner (1990)
  7. ^ Cusack, J.B. (2012), They Hosed Them Out, Wakefield Press, ISBN 9781743051061
  8. ^ Peter Coleman, "Memento Moscow", Weekend Australian, 16–17 January 1999, Review, p. 10
  9. ^ "It's an Honour – 26 January 1981". Australian Government. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
  10. ^ "Tribute to Literary Greats on Sydney Writers’ Walk", 24 October 2011; retrieved 10 April 2012.


  • Dymphna Cusack bibliography
  • North, Marilla. (2007) "Cusack, Ellen Dymphna (Nell) (1902–1981)". Entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Accesssed 11/11/2019 [2]
  • Spender, Dale (1988) Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers, London: Pandora