Janet Gertrude ‘Nettie’ Palmer

Janet Gertrude ‘Nettie’ Palmer (1885-1964).

Nettie Palmer and her writer husband Vance lived in Emerald between 1915-17 and 1919-1925. Nettie believed in the importance of the bush and in cultivating an appreciation of the land. At the time she wrote a literature page for the Argus newspaper and a series of articles by her was later published as The Dandenong’s (1952).

Nettie’s upbringing by strict Baptist parents was austere. She was home schooled until sent to Miss Rudd’s Seminary at Malvern. From 1900-03 she attended Presbyterian Ladies’ College (PLC) where she matriculated with honours in English Literature, French and Latin. She also excelled in history.

In 1905 Nettie enrolled at the University of Melbourne where she completed a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts. Whilst there she became actively involved in student affairs and joined the Literature Society of Melbourne.

In 1910-11 Nettie travelled overseas to study in Germany, France and England. She returned to Melbourne in 1912, taught modern languages at PLC and began to write cultural criticism for the socialist press

Nettie revisited London in 1914 and married Vance Palmer whom she had met at university in 1909. They were in Brittany when the war broke out and returned to London where their first daughter Aileen was born. Nettie also published two volumes of poetry, South Wind (1914) and Shadowy Paths (1915).

On their return to Melbourne in 1915 they moved in with Katharine Prichard in Rose Charman’s cottage at Emerald. Their second daughter Helen was born in 1917. During this time Nettie became an outspoken critic of both censorship and conscription. During Vance’s absence in 1918-19 with the Australian Imperial Force she lived with her aunt Ina Higgins in Malvern and worked as a private tutor.

The publication of Modern Australian Literature 1900-1923 (1924) saw Nettie emerge as one of Australia’s most important literary critics. Her words were distributed widely on a weekly basis through her regular contributions in the Illustrated Tasmanian Mail, the Brisbane Courier, All About Books and the Bulletin Red Page.

Prior to the outbreak of World War Two she became heavily involved in the fight against fascism. After living in Spain in 1936 with her family, she became a member of the Spanish Relief Committee and the Joint Spanish Aid Council. She was Melbourne editor of a Sydney anti-Fascist journal for women, a member of the Victorian branch of the International Refugee Emergency Committee and taught English to migrants.

Nettie was committed to the development of a national literature as a means of achieving a more enlightened community. She continually encouraged young writers to publish in journals and through the 1940s and 50s edited memoirs, collections of poems and short stories, wrote introductions and translated texts.

She died at Hawthorn on 19 October 1964.

Other works include: Henry Bournes Higgins: A Memoir (1931), Talking It Over (1932), The Memoirs of Alice Henry (1944), Fourteen Years: Extracts from a Private Journal (1948), Henry Handel Richardson: A Study (1950) and Henry Lawson (1952).