Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Elder, Anne Josephine Chloe (1918–1976)

by John McLaren

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Anne Josephine Chloe Elder (1918-1976), ballet dancer and poet, was born on 4 January 1918 at Remuera, Auckland, New Zealand, elder daughter of Norman Robert Mackintosh, an insurance-manager from Victoria, and his New Zealand-born wife Rena Dillon, née Bell. Anne came to Melbourne with her parents in 1921. Educated at home by a governess and at St Margaret's School, Berwick, she travelled with her family to Norfolk Island and New Zealand, and at the age of 15 to England and Scotland.

At St Catherine's School for Girls, Toorak (1934-36), she edited the school magazine, and was a prefect and dux. Inspired by Anna Pavlova, she commenced ballet lessons with Laurel Martyn. From 1938 Anne Mackintosh danced with Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and then as a soloist (1940-44) with the Borovansky Australian Ballet Company. Having learned typing and shorthand, she took a clerical job with the Australian Military Forces. On 30 April 1940 at Christ Church, South Yarra, she married with Anglican rites John Stanley Elder, a solicitor serving in the 2nd/8th Field Regiment, Australian Imperial Force. Their son was born in 1945, their daughter in 1947.

Illness troubled Elder throughout her life. Slightly built, with dark hair and eyes, and a fiery temper, she turned her creative energies to painting, poetry-writing, gardening and her house, which she filled with light and beauty. In 1960 she and her husband visited England and Europe. She 'read poetry like eating sweets', but, hurt by rejections, published little. Her strong Anglican faith was revealed in her Short History of St John's Church of England, Heidelberg (1961), and in several unpublished hymns. Encouraged by Bruce Dawe and Philip Martin, in the mid-1960s she began to publish regularly in newspapers and periodicals, including the Australian, Quadrant, Meanjin, Overland and Southern Review.

Elder's first collection, For the Record (1972), was wintry in tone, but charged with a music that affirmed the power of the ordinary moment against the bleakness of decay and death. Of conservative temperament, though an iconoclast, she refused to be classified as a feminist and objected to the use of poetry for political purposes: when three of her poems appeared in the collection, Mother I'm Rooted (1975), she was appalled by the polemical tone of the introduction. Yet her poetry was defiantly feminine, in its celebration of the domestic and in its implicit protest against the exclusion of the feminine from the public sphere. She saw the female not as equal, but as centre.

After suffering a heart attack about 1968, Elder declined in health and spirits. Passionately attached to natural beauty, she felt the encroachment of suburbia on her home at Eaglemont until in 1972 she and John moved to Parkville while awaiting the completion of Ballindean, their home near Romsey. She died of cardiopulmonary disease complicating scleroderma on 23 October 1976 in Royal Melbourne Hospital and was cremated. Her husband and children survived her. Administered by the Victorian Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Anne Elder award for a first book of poetry was initially presented in 1977.

A second collection of Elder's poems, Crazy Woman (1976), was published posthumously. In its personal lyrics and elegiacs, and its witty observation of social absurdities, she continued her defiance of death and her search for the universal as a means of overcoming individual loneliness. The poems, none the less, remain sociable: the sudden delights of a morning drive and the mysteries of family are never entirely cancelled by life's inexplicable horrors. A commemorative volume, Small Clay Birds, was published by Monash University in 1988.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Salter, Borovansky (Syd, 1980)
  • D. Brooks and B. Walker (eds), Poetry and Gender (Brisb, 1989)
  • Overland, no 68, 1977, p 20
  • Sydney Morning Herald , 22 July 1972, 10 Mar 1979
  • P. Martin, 'Introduction' to Collected Poems of Anne Elder (manuscript, privately held).

Citation details

John McLaren, 'Elder, Anne Josephine Chloe (1918–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/elder-anne-josephine-chloe-10106/text17839, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mackintosh, Anne
Birth

4 January 1918
Remuera, Auckland, New Zealand

Death

23 October 1976
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation