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Evans, Ellen Alice (Nellie) (1883–1944)

by Dulcie Deamer

from Truth (Sydney)

A week ago Nellie Evans was buried. She was a poetess whom Masefield, who visited Australia some years back, praised for the singing quality of her work. Yet that work was never collected and published in book form, and Nellie Evans had little honor in her own country.

Neither had Henry Lawson until after his death. We have a statue of him now in the Domain — but does that help the poverty that he suffered? Literally, 'he asked for bread,' and we 'gave him a stone.'

I knew Nellie Evans for a number of years. So did all the literary and journalistic fraternity of Sydney.

Her musical and charming verses, of a simplicity that rendered them capable of being appreciated by any-one, yet irradiated with authentic beauty and her own lyrical philosophy, were printed in many journals.

I do not doubt that very many people clipped them from papers and magazines and treasured them, little dreaming of the hard and bitter road that the writer of them walked.

For Nellie Evans, burdened with chronic ill-health, had to battle for years to earn what was literally only a crust. Like Lawson, like Chris Brennan in his latter days, the cheapest lodgings and the cheapest eating houses were her background.

Yet she was ever ready to help someone else in even more dire straits. One writer of this town tells how, meeting him when he was penniless, she offered him a ten shilling note — meaning more to her than a ten-pound note would to some of us — and advised him where bedrock meals could be obtained, so that it would go farther.

Now she has passed beyond the daily battle. Her many friends mourn her, and will always remember her and her lyrical verses, and also her brave heart. But must it be always so among us here?

Must our poets — the 'voices' of Australia—struggle with poverty, writing, as it were, upon the rack?

A bronze plaque or a monument after the poet's death is ironical in view of the facts.

It is time the public imagination and public conscience woke from their stupor in the matter of Australia's unhappy poetic children while they are still alive.

Nellie Evans has gone — the best memorial to her would be to see to it that other real poets do not have to suffer as she did.

Original publication

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Citation details

Dulcie Deamer, 'Evans, Ellen Alice (Nellie) (1883–1944)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/evans-ellen-alice-nellie-29955/text37127, accessed 22 September 2020.

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