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Eyre, Joyce Eileen (1909–1950)

by Ralph Spaulding

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Joyce Eileen Eyre (1909–1950), teacher and academic, was born on 4 April 1909 at Sandy Bay, Hobart, eldest child of English-born parents Matthew Henry Eyre, carpenter, and his wife Annie Elizabeth, née Metcalfe. Joyce was educated at primary schools in Hobart and at Launceston, the State High School, Launceston, and the University of Tasmania (B.A., 1932; M.A., 1940). After teaching at the State High School, Hobart, in 1929-32 she worked as a lecturer and school principal with the Seventh Day Adventist Church in New South Wales and New Zealand. Following extensive overseas travel in 1938, she returned to Hobart, completed her master's degree in Tasmanian history, on Sir John Franklin's dispute with John Montagu, and lectured in English and history at Hobart Teachers' College from 1940 to 1945.

Appointed lecturer in the English department at the University of Tasmania in 1946, Eyre introduced a course on Australian literature and founded in 1947 the Glebe Theatre Players, a drama school within the department. Her Australian literature course was an optional unit, representing one-third of the final year's English programme, and was the most extensive university course of its kind taught in Australia at the time. It comprised twenty-seven lectures and seminars and examined the works of some fifteen prose writers and poets, giving particular attention to writers of the 1930s and 1940s. This work attracted national attention and was publicized in journals such as Poetry and Southerly; the editor of the former congratulated the university 'for making an innovation long desired by lovers of our own literature'.

With E. Morris Miller, Louis Triebel and the historians Basil Rait and John Reynolds, Eyre founded the Tasmanian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1947 and applauded the work of local authors such as Roy and Hilda Bridges, Marie Bjelke-Petersen and Catherine Shepherd. As corresponding secretary for the branch, Eyre was in regular contact with writers, and hosted visiting lecturers, including Vance and Nettie Palmer, James Devaney, 'Furnley Maurice' and Arthur Phillips, often entertaining them at her home at Battery Point. She encouraged all students of English to participate in regular public readings and stage productions of plays prescribed in the English syllabus. She was active in the Workers' Educational Association and the Tasmanian branch of the League of Nations Union, co-editing its journal World Review for some years.

Eyre was 'tall, fair, blue-eyed and confident'. On 9 April 1949 at Davey Street Congregational Church she married Norman Edwin Phillips (1902-1972), a Scottish-born bank clerk and former naval officer who helped with her work in drama. She was invited to present a series of Commonwealth Literary Fund lectures in Perth in 1951, but died from complications arising from pregnancy on 9 October 1950 in the Alexandra Hospital, Hobart. Her husband survived her. Joyce Phillips's premature death cut short a promising career as academic, writer and critic. Her students' admiration for her skills as a teacher and enthusiastic commitment to Australian literature was shared by her colleagues. Miller had 'cherished great hopes that she would develop into an important writer and literary leader', and Nettie Palmer described her as 'one of the best informed as well as the most attractive lecturers on our literature anywhere', predicting that in time 'she would have made her own contribution . . . as critic and literary historian'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Dale, The English Men (Canb, 1977)
  • J. Reynolds and M. Giordano, Countries of the Mind (Hob, 1985)
  • Poetry, no 20, 30 Sept 1946, p 34
  • Fellowship of Australian Writers, Fellowship, June 1947, p 4
  • Meanjin, 10, no 1, Autumn 1951, p 68
  • Southerly, 12, no 2, 1951, p 111
  • Togatus, 8 Aug 1949, 4 May 1951, p 2
  • Mercury (Hobart), 11 Oct 1951, p 6
  • Eyre staff file and K. Dallas papers (University of Tasmania Archives)
  • Fellowship of Australian Writers (Tasmania) papers (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • League of Nations Union (Tasmania) papers (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Ralph Spaulding, 'Eyre, Joyce Eileen (1909–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/eyre-joyce-eileen-12909/text23321, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 29 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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