Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Deirdre Cash (1924–1963)

by James Griffin

This article was published:

Deirdre Cash (1924-1963), novelist, was born on 16 July 1924 at Albert Park, Melbourne, elder child of native-born parents Leo Evaristus Cash, salesman, and his wife Valerie Eileen, née Walsh, an operetta principal. Indulged as a gifted son of a highly literate, musical, self-consciously Irish-Australian Catholic farming family, Leo, an aspiring poet, disappointed them by becoming a Marxist flâneur, active behind the scenes in the 1930s New Theatre movement in Melbourne. He and Valerie were feckless parents, admired and resented; they divorced while the children were young. Deirdre and her brother were cared for by various relations, particularly Leo's family at Calca, South Australia, and, when the Depression forced it off the land, by his selfless unmarried sisters in Melbourne. Deirdre later boarded at the Convent of Mercy, Mornington. In this unsettled upbringing she began writing occasional unpublished stories.

After matriculating, Deirdre had tuition at her mother's expense at the Melbourne (Melba) Conservatorium of Music, Albert Street, East Melbourne. Her lilting, if brittle, coloratura and sensibility were attuned to informal ballad singing. A petite brunette, she was fetching, competitive, tempestuous, waspish and witty. She clung to her clan and Catholic identity while bridling against their restraints. Deirdre was pregnant when, on 4 February 1948, she married a law student Michael Damien Blackall at St Augustine's Church, Melbourne, but she was also lunging at a gentility she could not sustain. Leaving her husband and son, she earned a living as a torch-singer and ballroom-dancing teacher, occasionally on the fringe of the demi-monde. Although the autobiographical glow of her novels suggests otherwise, she was teetotal, earthy but not indecent in speech, and never in trouble with the police. Similarly, her fictional, family-based portraits are sometimes romanticized, sometimes cruel. In 1954 she met her true inamorato, a coastal seaman Otto Ole Distler Olsen, whom she followed to various ports. Her divorce having been granted on 18 October 1956, she married him eleven days later in the office of the government statist, Melbourne.

Hospitalization in Perth, for suspected tuberculosis, and the threat of having to take up occupational therapy, turned Cash from a scribbling raconteur into a fully-fledged writer. Rejected by several Australian publishers whom she subsequently scorned as jingoistic, Cash had The Delinquents (1962) launched under her Irish pseudonym ('Criena Rohan') in London, where the novel grabbed immediate attention. A compassionate tale, set in the 1950s, of defiant, street-wise, 'bodgie-widgie' teenagers oppressed by their elders and the welfare state, it was dubbed 'a back-street Tristan and Isolde' by London's Daily Mail. The Times Literary Supplement called the characterization of the heroine Lola 'a triumph'. In 1989 The Delinquents became a teenage cult film with Kylie Minogue as Lola.

Cash was dying from a now correctly diagnosed colonic carcinoma when she finalized her second novel, Down by the Dockside (London, 1963), which attempted a more complex characterization of alienated, working-class people in wartime Melbourne. While her often sentimental and melodramatic social realism lacks literary polish and form, this weakness is offset by Dickensian humour, sharp dialogue, throwaway gibes and a gutsy narrative style. She allegedly wrote a third novel, 'The House with the Golden Door', but, if so, the manuscript mysteriously disappeared. Survived by her husband and their daughter, and by the son of her first marriage, Cash died on 11 March 1963 at the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, and was buried in Fawkner cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at £1788.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Reid, introduction to C. Rohan, The Delinquents (Melb, 1986)
  • B. Reid, introduction to C. Rohan, Down by the Dockside (Melb, 1984)
  • L. Baker (compiler), Calca 1885-1991 (Calca, SA, 1991)
  • Times Literary Supplement, 16 Feb 1962, p 101
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 27 Sept 1962
  • private information.

Citation details

James Griffin, 'Cash, Deirdre (1924–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 25 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Criena Rohan
  • Rohan, Criena
  • Blackall, Deidre
  • Olsen, Diedre

16 July, 1924
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


11 March, 1963 (aged 38)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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