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Andrea Stretton (1952–2007)

by Sheila Brown

Andrea Stretton, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1995

Andrea Stretton, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1995

National Library of Australia, 22982594

The arts journalist and TV presenter Andrea Stretton, who died last Friday night aged 55, was a much-loved and respected figure in the nation's literary, arts and media world.

Her death was a shock to the many who knew her, as she was diagnosed with lung cancer only two weeks before her death. Family members described her as gracious, warm and generous with her time until the end.

Stretton was perhaps best-known as a presenter on the ABC-TV arts program Sunday Afternoon, from 1998 to 2001. Before that she was a popular presenter on SBS TV's The Book Show and Masterpiece.

She had also been a short-story writer, a book reviewer for The Sydney Morning Herald, the artistic director the 1998 and 1999 Olympic Arts festivals, contributor to the Keating government's Creative Nation cultural policy and a well-known figure at Sydney Writers' Week and other literary events.

Andrea Stretton was born in Melbourne. Her mother once said she was named after the Robert Browning poem Andrea del Sarto.

She had two older brothers, John and Peter. Her father, the late John Stretton, was a National Bank executive. Her mother, Dulcie Stretton, CBE, was a conference organiser, publicist and head of the Australian Library Promotion Council, and was passionate about encouraging her children to love books.

Stretton grew up in the south-east Melbourne suburb of McKinnon, attending the then McKinnon High School and La Trobe University, where she studied English and gained a BA.

After university she worked in an art-framing shop, mixed with the art and literary crowd in Melbourne and the Victorian city of Castlemaine, and married the Melbourne artist Andrew "Drew" Southall, the son of the children's author Ivan Southall. Their son, Jacob (known as Jake), was born in 1975.

The marriage broke up after six years and Stretton and her son moved to Sydney's Paddington, "for a few weeks" with "no job, no money", as she once said, but she stayed.

Life wasn't easy for her as a struggling sole parent. While many of her female peers had been forging careers in the post-'70s "liberated" climate or travelling overseas, Stretton had been raising Jake, working as a housekeeper and part-time at the Art of Man Gallery in Paddington. Her career successes and overseas travel were to come after the age of 35.

A keen fiction writer, she had stories published in literary magazines and won a Canberra Times short story competition. But her literary ambitions were soon to evolve into a passion for journalism.

She started working as a journalist and producer at SBS radio in 1986 and later put together a proposal for a books program on SBS television, which she was soon presenting regularly, first with co-presenter Dinny O'Hearn, who died of cancer in 1993. She was to stay at SBS for 10 years and was a seen as one of the station's top stars. Colleagues were struck by her naturalness on camera and her warm but gently challenging rapport with those she interviewed.

In 1998 she moved to the ABC, but her time there was not to be easy. She became "the face of ABC arts" and there was criticism in some quarters that the ABC had chosen glamour over substance. Family and friends say nothing could be further from the truth. During this time she also ran the Olympic Arts Festival.

Stretton left the ABC in 2001 when her contract was not renewed. Her working life was then more fragmented, but friends say she was always positive and enthusiastic about the many activities she undertook.

Stretton nursed her mother during her last months with a brain tumour before Dulcie died in 2001. She then worked in Lesley McKay's bookshop near her home in Woollahra and in recent years organised literary events at Woollahra library, often working with Ross Steele, a professor of French at Sydney University.

She was awarded the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government in 2000 for her contribution to arts and culture, and for fostering French-Australian relations. She taught TV journalism at Macleay College, took part in events at the Art Gallery of NSW and took tour groups to Fiji, teaching creative writing classes there.

Stretton's life touched many people and the names of her friends read like a who's who of the cultural landscape: David Malouf, Robert Dessaix, Robyn Davidson, Salman Rushdie, the art figure Daniel Thomas, the cartoonist Bruce Petty. She knew the novelist Doris Lessing and British TV's Melvyn Bragg. She interviewed names ranging from Germaine Greer to Margaret Drabble.

Friends speak of her deep intelligence, love and knowledge of literature, arts, linguistics, film and travel.

Professionally, she was praised for her intelligence, knowledge and, above all, her thorough research, diligence and understanding.

Stretton is survived by her partner of the past seven years, the writer and arts historian Alan Krell; her brothers Peter and John and families; and her son Jake, 32, his partner, Jenny, and their daughter, Phoenix, 4.

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Citation details

Sheila Brown, 'Stretton, Andrea (1952–2007)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Andrea Stretton, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1995

Andrea Stretton, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1995

National Library of Australia, 22982594

Life Summary [details]


11 March, 1952


16 November, 2007 (aged 55)
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (lung)

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.