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Masters, Olga Meredith (1919–1986)

by Susan Lever

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Olga Masters, n.d.

Olga Masters, n.d.

Manly City Council, 001269

Olga Meredith Masters (1919-1986), author and journalist, was born on 28 May 1919 at Pambula, New South Wales, second of eight children of Joseph Leo Lawler, labourer, and his wife Dorcas Esther Jane, née Robinson, both born in New South Wales. Leo was a Catholic and Dorcas an Anglican. Olga was educated in the south coast area of New South Wales, mostly at state schools, including Cobargo Public School, which she left aged 15.

In 1937 Olga moved to Sydney, where she worked as a clerk and typist. She married Charles Frederick Masters, a schoolteacher, on 28 December 1940 at St Michael’s Catholic Church, Stanmore. They began the peripatetic life of the country schoolteacher’s family, moving around towns in northern New South Wales, including Grafton, Urbenville and Lismore, then, from 1963, various suburbs of Sydney. By 1961 they had five sons and two daughters.

In the late 1950s Olga became a part-time journalist for the Northern Star, Lismore, writing regular social columns. After the family returned to Sydney, she wrote for suburban papers before taking a full-time position on the Manly Daily in the early 1970s. Determined to write fiction, in 1977 she retired from full-time work. Olga and Charles moved to Austinmer in 1985. She visited the Soviet Union that year as part of a delegation from the Literature board of the Australia Council for the Arts.

The Home Girls, Masters’ first collection of short stories, was published in 1982, when she was 63; this book won second prize in the National Book Council awards in 1983. She received three general writing grants from the Literature Board. Her novel, Loving Daughters (1984), was highly commended in the National Book Council awards in 1985. That year she received a $20 000 grant from the Australian Bicentennial Authority and A Long Time Dying, a novel comprising a collection of interrelated stories, was published. A further novel, Amy’s Children (1987); a collection of stories, The Rose Fancier (1988); a play, A Working Man’s Castle (1988); and a collection of her journalism, Olga Masters Reporting Home (1990), were published after her death. Her fiction drew mainly on her experiences in a poor rural family during the Depression, and on her observations of small-town life as a country schoolteacher’s wife. She wrote from the perspectives of children and women whose power to change their situation was limited and she lavished care on the small domestic pleasures that gave them hope.

Masters’ acute understanding of the pain of ordinary life seemed to be reserved for her fiction, while she herself maintained the outward appearance of a cheerful, witty matriarch. She enjoyed family life and often declared that her children were her greatest achievements. With a good-humoured face and a crooked smile, by the 1980s she had the approachable manner of an experienced grandmother. Diagnosed with diabetes in the 1970s, she was careful about her diet and health but died of a cerebrovascular accident on 27 September 1986 at Wollongong and was cremated. Her husband and their children survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Lewis, Olga Masters (1991)
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol 325 (2006).

Citation details

Susan Lever, 'Masters, Olga Meredith (1919–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/masters-olga-meredith-14948/text26137, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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