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Rees, Coralie Clarke (1908–1972)

by Lesley Reece

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Coralie Clarke Rees (1908-1972), journalist, broadcaster and author, was born on 23 October 1908 in Perth, eldest of six children of Guildford Clarke, a newspaper publisher from South Australia, and his Victorian-born wife Sylvia Frances, née Norton. Coralie attended Perth Modern School where she began her literary career as editor of the magazine Sphinx. Finishing equal top in English and history in the Leaving certificate examinations (1925), she attended the University of Western Australia (B.A., 1929). There she was active in the dramatic society and was sub-editor (1927-28) of the undergraduate magazine, Black Swan. In 1929 she collaborated with its editor Leslie Rees in writing a play, Centenaryitis (a satire on Western Australia's centenary celebrations) in which she played the leading role of Westralia. That year her one-act play 'Shielded Eyes' appeared in Black Swan; it was produced in 1930 with (Sir) Paul Hasluck in the main role.

After graduating, Coralie Clarke edited the Dawn, a monthly feminist magazine published in Perth. Her writing convinced Professor (Sir) Walter Murdoch of her 'outstanding literary ability' and led in 1930 to a travelling scholarship to study dramatic literature at the University of London. On 19 September 1931 at the register office, St Pancras, she married Rees, who was by then working as a journalist. A strikingly attractive woman, with 'masses of curly hair', 'a broad brow and wideset, large greeny-grey eyes', she worked the next five years as a freelance journalist, writing the well-received 'London Woman's Diary' for the West Australian and contributing regularly to the Sydney magazine Woman's Budget and to the Australian Women's Weekly. She published interviews with prominent British women, such as Lady Astor, and Australian writers living in England, among them Henry Handel Richardson and Mary Grant Bruce.

In 1936 Mrs Rees returned to Australia and toured as secretary to the concert pianist Eileen Joyce. She and her husband then settled at Neutral Bay, Sydney. While raising two daughters, she freelanced as a writer and as an occasional broadcaster. She and Leslie produced travel features which were broadcast in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. In 1946 she wrote Silent his Wings, an elegy in memory of her brother Max who was killed in 1944 while serving with the Royal Australian Air Force in Canada. It is widely regarded as her finest work. Her play for an all-child cast, Wait Till We Grow Up (1948), was performed at primary schools in Sydney.

Despite suffering increasingly from ankylosing spondylitis, a crippling spinal condition, Coralie continued to travel with Leslie to remote places, gathering material for their best-selling books: Spinifex Walkabout (1953), Westward from Cocos (1956), Coasts of Cape York (1960) and People of the Big Sky Country (1970). She also continued to write children's stories which were published as a collection, What Happened After? The Nursery Rhyme Sequels (1972). Survived by her husband and daughters, she died of cardiorespiratory failure on 14 February 1972 in her home at Balmoral and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Rees, Hold Fast to Dreams (Syd, 1982)
  • Womanspeak, Aug-Sept 1987
  • H. de Berg, interview with Coralie Rees (transcript, 1968, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Lesley Reece, 'Rees, Coralie Clarke (1908–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rees-coralie-clarke-11496/text20503, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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