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Lucy Frances (Lu) Rees (1901–1983)

by Patricia Clarke

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Lu Rees, n.d.

Lu Rees, n.d.

Lucy Frances Harvey Rees (1901-1983), bookseller, book collector and authority on children’s literature, was born on 19 September 1901 at Armidale, New South Wales, eldest of three children of New South Wales-born parents James Harvey Waugh, grazier, and his wife Jeannette Isabel, née Johnston.  Lu grew up on the family property Guy Fawkes, near Ebor.  Her formal education at the local school was interrupted because of a horse-riding accident.  Largely self-taught and with a retentive memory, she read her father’s collection of poetry and the classics and always had a book in her saddlebag.

The family moved to Sydney and Lu worked at Red Cross convalescent homes for World War I veterans.  She later became a saleswoman.  On 24 October 1925 at St Oswald’s Church of England, Haberfield, she married Wilfred Benjamin Rees, a salesman who had served with the Australian Imperial Force in World War I.  During the Depression they lived on a Waugh family property at Bogan Gate, where Lu cooked for stationhands and shearers.  After the director of the Australian War Memorial, J. L. Treloar, engaged Wilfred to market AWM publications in Queensland, Lu worked in the Brisbane office.

Lu Rees moved to Canberra with her three sons in 1938.  She was employed at the War Memorial, first as a clerk and then as a research assistant for A. G. Butler, writer of the official history of the Australian Army Medical Services.  Acquainted with several authors of war histories, she served (1950-75) as the inaugural secretary of the Canberra branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers.  She was a familiar figure at monthly meetings that featured prominent Australian and international writers.  It was largely through her initial approach to Andrew Fabinyi that F. W. Cheshire Pty Ltd published the fellowship’s landmark anthologies:  T. Inglis Moore (ed), Australia Writes (1953); T. A. G. Hungerford (ed), Australian Signpost (1956); and Lionel Wigmore (ed), Span (1958).  In 1955 she opened Cheshire’s bookshop in Garema Place, after only a few weeks’ training at the firm’s Melbourne headquarters.  Under her management it became a friendly meeting place and a popular venue for book launches.  On behalf of the Commonwealth government she selected and dispatched representative collections of Australian books as gifts to libraries in developing nations.  She retired in 1968.

Always interested in children’s literature, in 1957 Rees had established the Children’s Book Council of Canberra.  She was the first president, continued as an office-bearer or committee-member until her death, and wrote its history, The Children’s Book Council of Canberra (1972).  When the national body was formed in 1959, she helped to gain support from the Literature and Visual Arts boards of the Australia Council for the Children’s Book of the Year awards.  She assembled exhibitions for international children’s book fairs and at Christmas arranged gifts of books for needy children.

Rees amassed her own personal collection of children’s books and compiled archival files on Australian authors and illustrators.  The books and files lined the walls of her house at Reid and overflowed into the garage, which became an office annexe.  She was indefatigable in writing to authors, editors and publishers to seek copies of children’s books, particularly international and translated editions, and she generously shared her resources.  In 1974 her collection of 1500 books and other material became the nucleus of the archive of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, ACT branch.  Donated in 1980 to the Canberra College of Advanced Education (University of Canberra) for study and research purposes, it was named the Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children’s Literature (since 2015 called the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature).

A tall woman, rangy in build, Rees had 'immense vitality, generosity and warmth'.  Beneath a gentle manner she had a consummate ability to get things done.  Meetings of the organisations that she cherished were held in her lounge room over four decades.  People could never say 'no' to the many inspired projects that she instigated.  She was appointed MBE (1964) and AM (1983).  In 1962 she and her husband divorced.  Survived by her sons, she died on 23 January 1983 in Canberra and was cremated.  In February that year she was named the inaugural recipient of the Courtney Oldmeadow Children’s Literature Foundation’s Dromkeen medal for her contribution to the appreciation and development of children’s literature in Australia.  The Lu Rees Archives instigated the Lu Rees award for outstanding services to children’s literature in 1988.

Select Bibliography

  • Reading Time, no 76, July 1980, p 13
  • Reading Time, no 87, April 1983, p 30
  • Reading Time, vol 47, no 2, May 2003, p 6
  • Australian Author, vol 15, no 2, 1983, p 15
  • Canberra Times, 17 September 1968, p 12
  • Canberra Times, 26 January 1983, p 12
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  • personal knowledge

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Citation details

Patricia Clarke, 'Rees, Lucy Frances (Lu) (1901–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 27 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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