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Gabrielle Carey (1959–2023)

by Caroline Overington

from Australian

Writer Gabrielle Carey, most famous for the bodacious coming-of-age novel Puberty Blues, which she wrote with Kathy Lette, has died.

She was 64, and there are no suspicious circumstances.

Carey, who left school at 15, had in recent years become a leading Joycean, as well as the host of brilliant Bloomsday events, but she bounced into the national consciousness as a teenager, writing about pashing boys and surfing waves in one of Australia’s most famous, and surely best-loved books.

Carey and Lette also wrote the wild Salami Sisters newspaper column in the 1980s. Both girls loved to shock with their frankness.

As an adult, Carey moved on from Puberty Blues decisively and deliberately.

Her principal artistic interest, in recent years, has been the study of Ulysses.

She was a regular contributor to The Australian, among other publications. She was most recently urging readers to get behind her determined campaign to have a ferry named for one of her idols, the near-forgotten Australian novelist Elizabeth von Arnim.

She also wrote recently about the suicide of her father, Alex Carey. In The Sydney Morning Herald four months ago, she noted he had died on the day he turned 64; she, too, was 64.

“I became terrified of that number,” she wrote. “If I have inherited my father’s disposition for depression, did that mean I would also end up in an early grave?”

Carey said a 1987 stockmarket crash had decimated her father’s super, and he had lost his role as a lecturer and activist. She had recently been “voluntarily separated” from her part-time employment at a tertiary institution, lost much of her meagre super, and she was in a “perilous financial state” as so many writers in Australia are.

Carey wrote two autobiographical books, including Just Us, which was about the time she went to Parramatta Jail as a young woman and fell in love with Terry Haley, who was serving 27 years for abduction and rape.

She married him in jail. The film version of the book starred Catherine McClements.

A second memoir, Waiting Room, was largely about her beloved mother, Joan, who had cancer. She died in 2009.

Her 2020 book, Only Happiness Here, was shortlisted for the prestigious 2021 Nib Literary Award.

She as working on a book about James Joyce when she died.

The Australian’s chief literary critic, Geordie Williamson, said: “Gabrielle was the very model of a committed writer.

“She could have coasted on the early success of Puberty Blues, which she co-authored with Kathy Lette, but chose to become an expatriate (at least for a time) and to write very different books after her debut.

“She lived in Mexico, where her first child was born, and later spent a period cloistered in Ireland – a culture to which she felt a powerful ancestral pull. She was a reader as much as a writer – a woman who loved, passionately, authors diverse as Randolph Stow, James Joyce, and Elizabeth Von Arnim, each of whom she wrote about with deep affection and critical acumen.

“She was respected as a teacher and loved as a friend. Her Finnegans Wake reading group became an urban legend; her Day of the Dead parties were a convivial joy.

“Her life has been cut short, cruelly. In other cultures an author of Gabrielle Carey’s gifts would have been widely feted. Instead, like so many Australian writers before her, she laboured for decades in relative anonymity and with only scant support.”

In a statement, Lette said: “I’m deeply saddened by this tragic news. I have such happy memories of our teenage years. They were halcyon, heady days full of love, laughter and adventure. We made some mischief and broke some barriers by writing “Puberty Blues” – our raw, earthy take on the brutal treatment of young women in the Australian surfing scene which is sadly, still so relevant. My heartfelt condolences to her family and friends.”

Original publication

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Additional Resources

Citation details

Caroline Overington, 'Carey, Gabrielle (1959–2023)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Salami Sisters

10 January, 1959
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


2 May, 2023 (aged 64)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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