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Joan à Beckett Lindsay (1896–1984)

by Terence O'Neill

This article was published:

Joan à Beckett Lindsay (1896-1984), author and artist, was born on 16 November 1896 at East St Kilda, Melbourne, third daughter of Theyre à Beckett Weigall, barrister, and his wife Annie Sophie Henrietta, née Hamilton.  Joan’s maternal grandfather, Sir Robert Hamilton, was governor of Tasmania (1887-93), and her great uncle, Sir William à Beckett, the first chief justice of Victoria.  She grew up in a comfortable and stable household, frequently enlivened by visits from guests such as her cousins Penleigh and Martin Boyd, and from friends of her parents, including Sir Isaac Isaacs, and Professor T. G. Tucker, who was to become her beloved stepfather in 1934.  First educated by governesses, she then attended Clyde Girls’ Grammar School, East St Kilda (dux 1913), where she briefly edited the school magazine and designed the school crest.

In 1916-20 Miss Weigall studied at the National Gallery schools under Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin.  She shared a studio with her lifelong friend Maie Ryan, with whom she co-authored an unfinished novel, 'Portrait of Anna', and, in 1920, exhibited her work.  While living in London she married (Sir) Ernest Daryl Lindsay on 14 February 1922 at the St Marylebone register office.  In 1924, back in Melbourne, they held a joint exhibition, opened by their friend Dame Nellie Melba.

Although later judged 'a fine artist' by Alan McCulloch, Lindsay turned to writing after her marriage.  In the 1920s she contributed short stories and articles, mainly on art and artists, to newspapers and periodicals, in particular the Sydney journal Home.  She explored the uncanny and macabre in unpublished plays such as 'Cataract' and 'Wolf!', the latter being a joint venture with Margot Goyder and Ann Joske, who as 'Margot Neville' were among Australia’s best known detective-story writers.  Returning to England and Europe through the 1930s, she provided Martin Boyd with the outline for his desert-island novel Nuns in Jeopardy (1940).  Her own parody of popular travel books, Through Darkest Pondelayo (1936)—published under the pseudonym Serena Livingston-Stanley—contained, according to Boyd, 'one of the best collections of malapropisms in the English language'.  In 1941 the Lindsays jointly produced the profusely illustrated The Story of the Red Cross.

Daryl Lindsay’s term (1941-56) as director of the National Gallery of Victoria disrupted their life at Mulberry Hill, their home on the Mornington Peninsula purchased in 1925 and modified by Harold Desbrowe Annear.  Wartime staff shortages led Joan to become, as she called herself, a 'museum wife', working three days a week as Daryl’s assistant.  In 1949 she collaborated with Ursula Hoff and McCulloch in writing Masterpieces of the National Gallery of Victoria; she also joined Maie Casey and others in compiling Early Melbourne Architecture, 1840-1888 (1953).

With Daryl’s retirement a comparatively tranquil routine returned to their lives.  Small and delicate in appearance but vivacious and independent, Lady Lindsay served as president (1958-64) of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria.  She produced in quick succession three books.  The gently nostalgic Time without Clocks (1962) provided snapshots of the inter-war years and glimpses into her idiosyncratic perception of time.  Facts Soft and Hard (1964) was a brisker account of a 1952 trip to the United States of America.  Her most famous book, the novel Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967), evoked the brooding monolith that had fascinated her since childhood.  It further explored the elusive nature of time in its account of the disappearance of three girls and a teacher from a nearby school.  The final chapter, which partly explains their fate, was deleted at the request of the publisher (and not published until 1987).  This air of mystery was a major factor in the success of the internationally acclaimed film version (1975), directed by Peter Weir.

In 1969 a car accident left Lady Lindsay with severe injuries requiring a long convalescence.  After Sir Daryl’s death in 1976, her life settled into a new rhythm, including regular visits to the Lyceum Club, Melbourne, and to the McClelland Gallery, Langwarrin, where in 1972—many years after she had stopped painting—she held another exhibition with Lady Casey.  Her rapport with the children of Rick Amor, an artist who lived in a cottage on her property, led her to resurrect an unpublished children’s story, Syd Sixpence (1982), which Amor illustrated for her.  Joan Lindsay died at Frankston on 23 December 1984 and was cremated.  Her home was bequeathed to the National Trust of Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Boyd, Day of My Delight, 1965
  • D. Lindsay, The Leafy Tree, 1965
  • G. Catalano, The Solitary Watcher, 2001
  • T. O’Neill, 'Literary Cousins' , Australian Literary Studies, vol 10, no 3, 1982, p 375
  • Meanjin, vol 62, no 2, 2003, p 120
  • Woman’s Day, 28 July 1975, p 22
  • Age (Melbourne), 1 November 1975, p 6
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 December 1984, p 2

Citation details

Terence O'Neill, 'Lindsay, Joan à Beckett (1896–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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