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Fisher, Mary Lucy (Lala) (1872–1929)

by Cecil Hadgraft and Lorna L. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Mary Lucy Fisher (1872-1929), by Sarony Studios

Mary Lucy Fisher (1872-1929), by Sarony Studios

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23609910

Mary Lucy (Lala) Fisher (1872-1929), poet and editor, was born on 27 January 1872 at Rockhampton, Queensland, daughter of Archibald John Richardson, surveyor, and his wife Lucy Knox, née D'Arcy, sister of William Knox D'Arcy. With limited education but a cultured family background, she went to England, probably in 1892, returned and on 7 August 1893 at Rockhampton married Francis George Fisher, her father's assistant; they had two sons.

On 9 June 1897 the family left for England again. Living at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, she was frequently in London and won some small fame as a writer, songwriter, lecturer and long-distance swimmer. In 1898 she published a book of verse, A Twilight Teaching, and in 1899 edited By Creek and Gully, an anthology, chiefly of prose by expatriate Australian writers. She became a member of the Writers' Club, was a fellow of the Anthropological Society of London and was president for Queensland in the International Congress of Women. Before she left England, she had been presented to Queen Victoria at Windsor.

The family returned to Australia in 1901 when, or a little later, a temporary estrangement occurred. In Queensland until 1906 Lala Fisher lived in Charters Towers, Rockhampton and Brisbane and wrote for various papers, including the radical New Eagle of Charters Towers, edited by Frank Hill, and Steele Rudd's Magazine. In May or June 1906 the family moved to Sydney. In financial difficulties, she worked for some time as a canvasser for the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Co. and took a position as housekeeper at a hotel in the Blue Mountains. Her two sons returned to Rockhampton to live with her father's family. They and their cousins went to England for technical training in 1911 and both served in World War I. In 1909 Lala bought the Theatre Magazine in Sydney. When Frank Hill became a partner in 1912 she probably continued editing until about 1918; the magazine was sold in 1923.

Her second book of verse, Grass Flowering, was published in 1915 and the third, Earth Spiritual, in 1918; a second (revised) edition followed the next year. Since 1894 or even earlier she had corresponded with A. G. Stephens of the Bulletin, asking for advice on her poetry. In 1917 she was able to reciprocate, and to offer him a page in the Theatre Magazine for a fee of £5.5.0. From about 1920 she began to suffer some emotional or mental affliction and for two years, according to a letter to Stephens in 1922, she had been unable to work, and said that her husband 'insists that I have been mentally ill for some months'. Probably in 1923 she entered Gladesville Hospital, where she died of heart disease on 27 February 1929. She was buried in South Head cemetery.

Fisher's life and writings suggest a vigorous and active young woman, independent and even unorthodox; then a wife and mother on whom responsibilities begin to weigh; and last a woman whose physical powers fail under incessant demands. She was a poet with early submission to 'romantic' diction—a tendency never completely outgrown—but with a developing awareness. Some of the verse in her last volume has an almost metaphysical response to obscure inner promptings.

Select Bibliography

  • H. A. Kellow, Queensland Poets (Lond, 1930)
  • British Australasian, 11 Aug 1898, 23 Mar 1899, 25 Oct 1900
  • Bulletin, 2 Sept 1926
  • M. L. Fisher letters (University of Queensland Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

Cecil Hadgraft and Lorna L. McDonald, 'Fisher, Mary Lucy (Lala) (1872–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fisher-mary-lucy-lala-6176/text10615, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 15 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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