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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rodd, Lewis Charles (Roddy) (1905–1979)

by Frank Farrell

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

Lewis Charles Rodd (1905-1979), headmaster, social historian and Christian socialist, was born on 12 March 1905 at Paddington, Sydney, fifth child of English-born parents Lewis Rodd (d.1916), master mariner, and his wife Lillian Amelia, née Waterhouse. 'Roddy' grew into a 'child bookworm'. He left school early, like his hero in Jude the Obscure, and read his own way to matriculation.

In 1927 Rodd entered the University of Sydney (B.A., 1931). Trained as a schoolteacher, he taught (1930-32) at Darlinghurst Public School. He excelled at psychology and economics, became fascinated with Anglo-Catholic religious traditions, and formed a friendship with Kylie Tennant. Into her young and eager ears he bubbled an understanding of the pathways to Australian identity, similar to those explored by C. J. Dennis. Rodd was transferred to Coonabarabran in September 1932. There, at Christ Church, he married Kylie with Anglican rites on 21 November that year. She was to describe their relationship in florid and sometimes contradictory detail in several of her books. Marriage provided him with an anchor of emotional stability and the opportunity to nurture her literary talent.

A founder (1931) of the Educational Workers' League, Rodd sat on the editorial committee of the Educational Worker. He achieved, through influencing Kylie's books, a wider audience for the dissemination of his ideas than through his polemical writings. He promoted the importance of teaching—and the role of a questioning and critical approach—through the many political, religious and social organizations to which he belonged, among them the Labor Educational League, the New South Wales Teachers' Federation, the Christian Socialist Movement and the Australian Peace Pledge Union. During World War II he registered as a conscientious objector.

Rodd gained further experience from postings to Canowindra (1934-36), Dulwich Hill (1936-39) and Muswellbrook (1939-41). Even while headmaster of Laurieton Public School (1941-53) and of Hunters Hill (from 1953), he remained adviser, typist and organizer of Tennant's writing. After the war he helped to form the Sirius Publishing Co., which produced cheap Australian editions of popular novels. Described by his wife as 'sardonic' and 'introverted', and as 'a meticulous planner', he collected early Australiana, the works of Arctic and Antarctic explorers, and the novels of Thomas Hardy. He invariably set off for school wearing 'an immaculate white coat, starched and crisp'.

His breakdown and retirement from teaching in November 1960 altered the balance of their literary partnership. Subject to fits of depression, Rodd attempted suicide by throwing himself under a train: he fractured his skull, and lost an arm and a foot, but survived. His publications included Australian Imperialism (Sydney, 1938), Venturing the Unknown Ways (Melbourne, 1965) with Donald McLean, and, with Tennant, The Australian Essay (Melbourne, 1968). John Hope of Christ Church (1972) was his finest book. Hope had been a close friend since 1945. Rodd saw him as an exponent of a practical theology, well suited to the struggling religious life of the inner-city. A Gentle Shipwreck (Melbourne, 1975) contained Rodd's reminiscences of Surry Hills before World War I.

Personal tragedies marked these years of productive writing. Ill health and drugs—legal and illicit—disturbed family affairs, prompting the Rodds to retreat (1977) to Shipley in the Blue Mountains. In 1978 their only son was 'pushed' from an upstairs window of a derelict house in Sydney and died of head injuries. Rodd died on 29 July 1979 at his Shipley home and was buried beside his father in Waverley cemetery; his wife and their daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Mitchell, Teachers, Education, and Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • K. Tennant, The Missing Heir (Melb, 1986)
  • Hummer, no 27, Jan-Apr 1990, p 3
  • Rodd papers (National Library of Australia)
  • New South Wales teachers' records (Education Department, Sydney)
  • Intelligence file, A6126, item 506 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Frank Farrell, 'Rodd, Lewis Charles (Roddy) (1905–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

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