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Norma Lochlenah Davis (1905–1945)

by Margaret Scott

This article was published:

Norma Lochlenah Davis (1905-1945), poet, was born on 10 April 1905 at Glenore, Tasmania, second of three daughters of Samuel Davis, farmer, and his wife Alice Laura, née Plane, both Tasmanian born. Norma attended the state school at nearby Whitemore, but, like Helen Power who grew up in the same district, gained much of her education from her own reading. With loving scrutiny she came to know the bush and farmland surrounding her home and was to write not only of birds, trees and flowers, commonly accepted as beautiful, but also of bats, insects, snakes and the scaly surface of rocks, rough with 'flaxen moss . . . as harsh as jute'.

About 1914 Davis moved with her parents and younger sister to Glenarvon in the township of Perth. There, only 14 miles (23 km) from her birthplace, she continued to explore the countryside for which she possessed a spiritual affinity. While recuperating after falling from a tree, she began to write to occupy her time. Living quietly with her family at Glenarvon, she played the piano, painted in water-colour, and contributed nature poems to the Australian Woman's Mirror and the Bulletin. She used such pseudonyms as 'Glenarvon' and 'Malda Norris'.

It was only in the early 1940s, shortly before her death, that Miss Davis concentrated fully on writing. In 1943 Angus & Robertson Ltd published Earth Cry, her collection of sixty-one poems. Most reviewers, including Douglas Stewart, were enthusiastic, though A. D. Hope was to publish a corrosive critique in 1945. Other poems by Davis appeared in Meanjin Papers and the South Australian periodical, Poetry; Flexmore Hudson, editor of the Jindyworobak Anthology (1943), singled out her contribution, 'Awakening', for special commendation. The public response, expressed in a flow of admiring letters, was equally warm. Davis's nature poetry went beyond precise, imaginative descriptions of places and animals. Her work, agreeable and competently crafted, was filled with hints of love betrayed and images of creatures lost, mocked and destroyed: it reflected the qualities both of the land she knew and her own seemingly placid life, darkened by pain and isolation.

Although she was suffering from cancer, Davis went on to complete I, The Thief (Melbourne, 1944), an extended dramatic monologue describing the release of Barabbas and Christ's crucifixion through the eyes of the felon who was nailed to the cross at Jesus's right hand. She produced a poem of private religious experience which, despite its Victorian mannerisms, was a moving representation of physical agony and ultimate, mystical vision. Davis died on 5 November 1945 at Glenarvon and was cremated; according to her request, her ashes were scattered in the bush near her home.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Stewart, The Flesh and the Spirit (Syd, 1948)
  • M. Giordano and D. Norman, Tasmanian Literary Landmarks (Hob, 1984)
  • L. Hergenhan (ed), The Penguin New Literary History of Australia (Melb, 1988)
  • Southerly, 5, no 4, 1944, p 58
  • Poetry, 15, 1945, p 31
  • Bulletin, 10 May 1944
  • Examiner (Launceston), 6 Nov 1945.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Margaret Scott, 'Davis, Norma Lochlenah (1905–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 29 May 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
  • Glenarvon
  • Norris, Malda

10 April, 1905
Glenore, Tasmania, Australia


5 November, 1945 (aged 40)
Perth, Tasmania, Australia