Dorothy Hewett is remembered as a leading poet, playwright and novelist. Admired for her passionate and politically charged writing, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to literature in 1986.

But what will happen to her legacy in the light of revelations of the sexual abuse of her teenage daughters?


Sisters Kate and Rozanna Lilley say they were sexually assaulted by the men who visited the family home in the 1970s. The abuse, they say, was encouraged by their mother.

Illustration for article titled Nick Tsagaris - Dorothy Hewetts Daughters Rozanna And Kate Lilley Talk About Re-Casting Their Mums Image In The Age Of Metoo

The women have named late Labor speechwriter Bob Ellis and pop artist Martin Sharp amongst those who assaulted them.

The sisters have written of their experiences in two separate books, and have received criticism from some artistic circles for coming forward with their stories.


“This has all been very well known for a very long time,” says Kate Lilley, who is a poet and academic.

“I think that a lot of the blowback saying that we’re harming Mum’s reputation is really just in disguise a critique of men from that generation, the kind of men who abused us and their supporters, who don’t want their behaviour to be examined.”


Lilley says that her mother’s work has always been polarising, with many finding her confronting descriptions of sex distasteful.

“Mum wrote plenty about competing sexually with us,” she says.

In one poem, Hewett wrote about young men partnering “her naked girls”.

Kate Lilley, who has written about her experiences in the book Tilt, says people are looking at her mother’s poetry with fresh eyes, in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

“People are looking at it again in a different context, because they’re focussing on what we have to say.”

Rozanna Lilley is a writer and autism researcher. Like her sister, she has come forward with her own stories of abuse, in her book Do Oysters Get Bored.

“I don’t actually think it’s my job at this point to worry about my mother’s reputation,” she says.

“This is not about impugning my mother’s reputation as a writer, in fact it’s not even about impugning my mother.

“It’s about writing a story about what happened to me in a particular point in time, in my adolescence.”


“It is very difficult for me to understand her position at that time. When I think of her I have a whole range of feelings.”

In her book, Rozanna Lilley says her mother did not intentionally hurt her. But she didn’t protect her either.


“She had a pretty good idea of what was going on in her own house, and she imaginatively recast those predations as adventures, confirming our familial superiority to restrictive moral norms,” she writes.

“Forty years later, I am still coming to terms with that carelessly broken childhood.”



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