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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sanders, Dorothy Lucy (1907–1987)

by Lisa MacKinney and Jenny Gregory

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

Dorothy Lucy Sanders (1907-1987), novelist, was born on 4 May 1907 at Boulder, Western Australia, second of five daughters of Irish-born William Joseph McClemans, Church of England minister, and his New Zealand-born wife Ada Lucy, née Walker. Sheila McClemans was her sister. Dorothy began writing at an early age, despite her father’s scepticism about her ability. Educated at Perth College (where she formed a lifelong friendship with Alexandra Hasluck), University of Western Australia and Claremont Teachers’ College, she qualified as a schoolteacher in 1928. She taught in Western Australian state schools until 1936. On 5 September that year in the Perth College chapel she married with Church of England rites Colsell Smurthwaite Sanders, also a schoolteacher. She travelled with him to London, where he completed a doctorate in education while Dorothy taught in girls’ schools. They returned to Perth in 1938. Colsell Sanders was registrar (1940-54) and professor of education (1954-69) at the University of Western Australia. The couple had three children.

About 1945 Dorothy began producing articles and short stories that were published in the Bulletin and the Sydney Morning Herald. Her first novel, Fairies on the Doorstep, was published in Sydney in 1948. Six for Heaven (1952) was the first of six novels that became known as the Pepper Tree Bay series, later described by Colsell as a ‘commentary on Western Australian social life in the nineteen twenties and the thirties along the picturesque Swan River’. She also wrote using the names Dorothy McClemans and Shelley Dean and, most famously, Lucy Walker, under which pseudonym she published over thirty ‘romance’ novels that were tremendously successful in Australia and overseas, particularly in Britain and the United States of America; over twelve million copies were sold. The stories were meticulously researched and Sanders travelled extensively in the Western Australian outback, recording details of scenery, personalities and social customs in her notebooks and diaries. They were often serialised in magazines such as the English Woman’s Weekly, before their publication in book form by William Collins.

In the main the novels were reviewed unfavourably and criticised for their ‘romantic’ depictions of the Australian bush and its inhabitants and for plots that were, according to one critic, ‘a zany blend of the idiotic, the possible and the authentic’. The Loving Heart (1960) was excoriated by Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch (1970) as an example of a genre that portrayed women as ‘cherishing the chains of their bondage’, a response to romance literature that was fairly typical of first-wave feminism. More recently Sanders’s work has been re-evaluated by Juliet Flesch and Claire McLisky, both of whom argued that her social commentary, treatment of race and gender, and challenging of conceptions of ‘Australian legend’ bush imagery were noteworthy for the period in which they were written.

Joining the Society of Women Writers & Journalists, London, the Fellowship of Australian Writers and the Australian Society of Authors, Sanders was a member (1968-79) of the Library Board of Western Australia and of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s local advisory committee. She was also, at one time, a member of the Perth Children’s Court. Widowed in 1986, she died on 17 December 1987 at Menora and was cremated. Her daughter and two sons survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham (ed), Reflections (1978)
  • J. Flesch, From Australia with Love (2004)
  • West Australian, 22 Feb 1979, p 56
  • Bulletin (Sydney), 8 May 1979, p 50
  • AWAG Mag, June 1988, p 12
  • C. McLisky, Imagining Romance (BA Hons thesis, University of Sydney, 2003).

Citation details

Lisa MacKinney and Jenny Gregory, 'Sanders, Dorothy Lucy (1907–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 5 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 18

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