Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Helen Joyce Haenke (1916–1978)

by Delyse Anthony

This article was published:

Helen Joyce Haenke (1916-1978), poet and playwright, was born on 9 May 1916 at Wickham, New South Wales, daughter of native-born parents Walter Charles Petherbridge, medical practitioner, and his wife Lily Myrtle, née Wood. Helen was educated at Methodist Ladies' College, Burwood, where she was a prefect (1933) and competed in the senior swimming team. After training as a commercial artist at East Sydney Technical College, she studied painting under Max Meldrum in Melbourne. On 9 October 1937 at All Saints Church, Petersham, Sydney, she married with Anglican rites Willis Lynn Haenke, an industrial chemist from Queensland; they were to have three daughters. During World War II Willis was engaged in munitions production in Adelaide and Melbourne, but returned to Queensland in 1943 to run the family coal-mining concerns. At Ipswich, Helen Haenke became an influential figure in the local community; she used her historic home, Rockton, as a focal point for the creative arts, and held recitals, play readings and concerts there.

She began her writing career by contributing prose and poetry to literary magazines. Throughout the 1950s her short stories appeared in the Australian Women's Weekly. Her unpublished play, 'Truth to Tell', won an Ipswich drama competition award in 1960, and in the following decade Southerly published her poems and short stories. In 1968-78 Haenke studied a range of arts subjects at the University of Queensland. Several of her unpublished one-act plays—including 'Black Out' (1967), 'First Performance', 'In Memoriam', 'Late Warning', 'Return to the Fray' and 'Time and the Bell'—are held by the university's Fryer Library. She occasionally used the pseudonyms 'Winkle' and 'Inglewick'. Her one-act play, Firebug, was performed at Brisbane's Warana Festival in 1978 and published in 3 Queensland One-act Plays for Festivals that year. Haenke also wrote several full-length plays. The three-act Summer Solstice (originally titled Under the Bridge) was first performed in 1964 by the Brisbane Arts Theatre, and her 'Anti-thriller in Two Acts', The Bottom of a Birdcage (originally Emoh Ruo), had its first performance in 1976 and was published in 1978. The Ipswich Little Theatre performed Haenke's last play, The Passage, in 1978.

Haenke's first published poem won a Courier-Mail competition in 1965. She subsequently published two volumes of poetry: The Good Company appeared in 1977; Prophets and Honour was published posthumously in 1979. Her writing was characterized by 'wit, compassion, perceptive awareness of people and fine control of language'. She also maintained her musical interests: her libretto for the opera, The Pied Piper, was performed in Brisbane in 1971. Impeccably groomed and strikingly attractive, she was a foundation member of the Ipswich Forum Club, an office-holder in the Ipswich Business and Professional Women's Association, an executive-member of the Australian Society of Authors and a board-member (1968-77) of Ipswich Girls' Grammar School. She died of cancer on 7 December 1978 in St Andrew's Hospital, Ipswich, and was cremated; her husband and daughters survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Freer (ed), Square Poets (Brisb, 1971)
  • Luna, 4, no 1, 1979, p 20
  • Alumni Association of University of Queensland, Alumni, 11, no 1, Mar 1979, p 25
  • Fellowship of Australian Writers, Scope, 24, no 3, Apr 1979, p 4
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 27, 29 Sept 1965, 5 Mar 1976, 30 June, 28 Sept 1978.

Citation details

Delyse Anthony, 'Haenke, Helen Joyce (1916–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Petherbridge, Helen
  • Winkle
  • Inglewick

9 May, 1916
Wickham, New South Wales, Australia


7 December, 1978 (aged 62)
Ipswich, Queensland, Australia

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.