Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Joyce Eileen Eyre (1909–1950)

by Ralph Spaulding

This article was published:

Joyce Eileen Eyre (1909–1950), teacher and academic, was born on 4 April 1909 at Sandy Bay, Hobart, eldest child of English-born parents Matthew Henry Eyre, carpenter, and his wife Annie Elizabeth, née Metcalfe. Joyce was educated at primary schools in Hobart and at Launceston, the State High School, Launceston, and the University of Tasmania (B.A., 1932; M.A., 1940). After teaching at the State High School, Hobart, in 1929-32 she worked as a lecturer and school principal with the Seventh Day Adventist Church in New South Wales and New Zealand. Following extensive overseas travel in 1938, she returned to Hobart, completed her master's degree in Tasmanian history, on Sir John Franklin's dispute with John Montagu, and lectured in English and history at Hobart Teachers' College from 1940 to 1945.

Appointed lecturer in the English department at the University of Tasmania in 1946, Eyre introduced a course on Australian literature and founded in 1947 the Glebe Theatre Players, a drama school within the department. Her Australian literature course was an optional unit, representing one-third of the final year's English programme, and was the most extensive university course of its kind taught in Australia at the time. It comprised twenty-seven lectures and seminars and examined the works of some fifteen prose writers and poets, giving particular attention to writers of the 1930s and 1940s. This work attracted national attention and was publicized in journals such as Poetry and Southerly; the editor of the former congratulated the university 'for making an innovation long desired by lovers of our own literature'.

With E. Morris Miller, Louis Triebel and the historians Basil Rait and John Reynolds, Eyre founded the Tasmanian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1947 and applauded the work of local authors such as Roy and Hilda Bridges, Marie Bjelke-Petersen and Catherine Shepherd. As corresponding secretary for the branch, Eyre was in regular contact with writers, and hosted visiting lecturers, including Vance and Nettie Palmer, James Devaney, 'Furnley Maurice' and Arthur Phillips, often entertaining them at her home at Battery Point. She encouraged all students of English to participate in regular public readings and stage productions of plays prescribed in the English syllabus. She was active in the Workers' Educational Association and the Tasmanian branch of the League of Nations Union, co-editing its journal World Review for some years.

Eyre was 'tall, fair, blue-eyed and confident'. On 9 April 1949 at Davey Street Congregational Church she married Norman Edwin Phillips (1902-1972), a Scottish-born bank clerk and former naval officer who helped with her work in drama. She was invited to present a series of Commonwealth Literary Fund lectures in Perth in 1951, but died from complications arising from pregnancy on 9 October 1950 in the Alexandra Hospital, Hobart. Her husband survived her. Joyce Phillips's premature death cut short a promising career as academic, writer and critic. Her students' admiration for her skills as a teacher and enthusiastic commitment to Australian literature was shared by her colleagues. Miller had 'cherished great hopes that she would develop into an important writer and literary leader', and Nettie Palmer described her as 'one of the best informed as well as the most attractive lecturers on our literature anywhere', predicting that in time 'she would have made her own contribution . . . as critic and literary historian'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Dale, The English Men (Canb, 1977)
  • J. Reynolds and M. Giordano, Countries of the Mind (Hob, 1985)
  • Poetry, no 20, 30 Sept 1946, p 34
  • Fellowship of Australian Writers, Fellowship, June 1947, p 4
  • Meanjin, 10, no 1, Autumn 1951, p 68
  • Southerly, 12, no 2, 1951, p 111
  • Togatus, 8 Aug 1949, 4 May 1951, p 2
  • Mercury (Hobart), 11 Oct 1951, p 6
  • Eyre staff file and K. Dallas papers (University of Tasmania Archives)
  • Fellowship of Australian Writers (Tasmania) papers (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • League of Nations Union (Tasmania) papers (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Ralph Spaulding, 'Eyre, Joyce Eileen (1909–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Phillips, Joyce

4 April, 1909
Sandy Bay, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


9 October, 1950 (aged 41)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.