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Perry, Grace Amelia (1927–1987)

by Dot Jensen

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

Grace Amelia Perry (1927-1987), poet and medical practitioner, was born on 26 January 1927 in South Melbourne, only child of Queensland-born parents Robert Reginald Perry, journalist, and his wife Grace Jennett, née Symes.  After some years in Brisbane, Grace completed her schooling at St Gabriel’s School, Waverley, Sydney, and studied medicine at the University of Sydney (MB, BS, 1951).  On 6 December 1951 at the registrar general’s office, Sydney, she married Harry Kronenberg, a fellow medical student.  She had a home-based medical practice at Five Dock and served as an honorary physician at the Renwick Hospital for Infants and as an honorary paediatrician at the Fairfield District and South Sydney Women’s hospitals.

As a girl, Perry had written poetry:  three collections, Staring at the Stars (1942), I Live a Life of Dreams (1943) and I am the Songs You Sing (1944), were published by Consolidated Press Ltd.  Guy Howarth acknowledged her 'genius' in a review of the first book.  She began writing poetry again in 1961 but was advised by Howarth to forget her early rhymed poetry.  Under his guidance she read modern 'free verse' and in 1962 joined the Poetry Society of Australia.  Her work Red Scarf (1963) contained several poems whose graphic medical images shocked some readers, but nonetheless proved popular overseas.

As the editor (1962-64) of Poetry Magazine, Perry gave preference to new poets such as Bruce Beaver, Roland Robinson, Geoffrey Lehmann, Rodney Hall, Craig Powell and William Hart-Smith.  Following a rift over the selection of Australian poets for an English-French edition of Poetry Magazine in 1964, in a secret meeting Perry was expelled from the poetry society by Robinson, J. M. Couper and others on the grounds that she was publishing poetry that had already been printed or that came from non-members.  She established a new magazine, Poetry Australia, which she edited until her death.  Through her company, South Head Press (founded in 1964), she published Poetry Australia and collections of poetry, of her own and others.  Frozen Section (1967), with its frequent images of containment and repression, was the only record of her response to her exclusion from the poetry society.

Perry gained funding for several university workshops, which were major poetry events of the 1960s and 1970s.  Her growing community of poets was enriched by the major poetry magazines that she received from overseas; she also sent Poetry Australia to libraries in other countries.  She produced State and international editions, including the work of poets from New Zealand (1966), Canada (1967) and Japan (1970).

In 1968, from her beach house at Bilgola, Perry corresponded with Les Murray and John Tranter while they were overseas and paid them for their poetry.  When she insisted on publishing a collection of Tranter’s brash 'new' poems, she almost lost funding from the Australia Council.  As well as producing her magazines she also wrote five unpublished novels.  Another collection of her poetry, Two Houses (1969), which was favourably reviewed by James Dickey, celebrated her purchase of a property at Berrima, where she bred Simmental cattle and merino sheep.  With John Millett, who worked with her on Poetry Australia, she co-authored a play, Last Bride at Longsleep (1981).

Black Swans at Berrima (1972), Berrima Winter (1974), Journal of a Surgeon’s Wife (1976) and Snow in Summer (1980) were written in lyric sequences on poetic themes.  The repetitions of sounds, words, themes and phrases are juxtaposed in symphonic harmonies of language that create emotional highs and lows to express the paradoxes of vision and a move towards a sense of inner harmony.  In Perry’s final book, Be Kind to Animals (1984), the effect was a postmodern pastoral in which unhappy bulls roar in the paddock, made irrelevant by the use of artificial insemination.

Perry won a medal at the New South Wales premier’s literary awards in 1985 and was appointed AM the next year.  In 1987 she committed herself to publishing ten volumes of Poetry Australia and providing a Bicentennial poetry award.  Failing to acquire funding for the award, she was in very poor health and felt abandoned by her supporters.  When she described herself in Berrima Winter as 'a hologram' reflected in 'too many mirrors', she was acknowledging her multiple roles and loss of self.  Survived by her husband and their son and two daughters, she committed suicide on 3 July 1987 at her Berrima home and was buried in the Anglican section of the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Poetry Australia, no 45, 1972, p 45, no 74/75, 1980, p 50
  • Antipodes, vol 1, no 2, 1987, p 107
  • D. M. Jensen, Grace Perry: Australian Poet and Publisher, Her Dynamic Role in the 1960s and 1970s (PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 1996)
  • Perry papers (State Library of New South Wales and National Library of Australia)
  • J. Millett papers (Australian Defence Force Academy)

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Dot Jensen, 'Perry, Grace Amelia (1927–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/perry-grace-amelia-15084/text26286, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 October 2018.

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

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