Ellen Dymphna Cusack AM (21 September 1902 – 19 October 1981) was an Australian author and playwright.
Born in Wyalong, New South Wales, Cusack was educated at Saint Ursula's College, Armidale, New South Wales and graduated from the University of Sydney with an honours degree in Arts and a diploma in Education. She worked as a teacher until she retired in 1944 for health reasons. Her illness was confirmed in 1978 as multiple sclerosis.
Cusack wrote twelve novels (two of which were collaborations), eleven plays, three travel books, two children's books and one non-fiction book. Her collaborative novels were Pioneers on Parade (1939) with Miles Franklin, and Come In Spinner (1951) with Florence James.
The play Red Sky at Morning was filmed in 1944, starring Peter Finch. The biography Caddie, the Story of a Barmaid, to which Cusack wrote an introduction and helped the author write, was produced as the film Caddie in 1976. The novel Come In Spinner was produced as a television series by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1989, and broadcast in March 1990.
Her younger brother, John, was also an author, writing the war novel They Hosed Them Out under the pseudonym John Beede, which was first published in 1965, republished in 2012.
Cusack advocated social reform and described the need for reform in her writings. She contributed to the world peace movement during the Cold War era as an antinuclear activist. Her husband Norman Freehill was a member of the Communist Party, unlike Dymphna Cusack who remained a liberal progressive humanist in all her writing and activism. She had been wrongly called a Communist prior to the first doctoral dissertation on Cusack being published, which used extensive archival research in Berlin, Potsdam and Canberra to prove that she was a left-leaning feminist and not a Party member.
Contribution and recognition
Cusack was a foundation member of the Australian Society of Authors in 1963. She had refused an Order of the British Empire, but was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1981 for her contribution to Australian literature. Cusack was instrumental in promoting the democratic, progressive traditions of her much loved country, both as a sought-after celebrity speaker in Australia as well as a cultural commentator during her long stays in Europe from the 1940s to the 1970s.
"Cusack was a foundation member of the Australian Society of Authors in 1963. Hers was a socially engaged, writerly stance shared by her famed mentor Miles Franklin and other great names in Australian literary history. In 1998, the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), based in Geneva, honoured Dymphna Cusack's role in postwar European culture and politics by acknowledging the first doctoral thesis written on the author. The IFUW created "The Australia Award" for Dr. Tania Peitzker's literary and cultural studies analysis of Cusack, funded by the University of Potsdam, Germany."
In 2016, Dymphna Cusack's legacy experienced a second renaissance when Marilla North republished her 2001 biography "Yarn Spinners" and took the new trilogy entitled Come in Dymphna - dedicated to Cusack, Miles Franklin and Florence James - on a national book tour throughout 2017. The Yarn Spinners website explains:
"Yarn Spinners is the first volume in Marilla North’s biographical trilogy Come in Dymphna, which reanimates the life and times of Australian writer Dymphna Cusack for a contemporary audience. Inspired by the letters exchanged between Dymphna Cusack, Florence James, Miles Franklin, and their contemporaries, North has woven together the threads of history that shaped these women’s lives and brought alive the struggles they encountered as they fought for human rights and social justice … and forged a path for Australian women writers in a male-dominated world.
First and foremost, however, Yarn Spinners expresses the ‘heart and soul’ of the powerful friendships that grew between these strong, passionate and witty women as they corresponded, collaborated and supported one another. Together and individually they produced an extraordinary body of work that tackled issues central to the creation of a civilised and humane society. Their stories are becoming increasingly more relevant as we face the challenges of the 21st Century."
- Safety First, 1927
- Shallow Cups, 1933
- Anniversary, 1935
- Red Sky at Morning, performed 1935; published 1942
- Morning Sacrifice, 1943
- Comets Soon Pass, 1943
- Call Up Your Ghosts, with Miles Franklin, 1945
- Pacific Paradise, 1955
- Jungfrau (1936)
- Pioneers on Parade (1939) with Miles Franklin
- Come In Spinner (1951) with Florence James
- Say No to Death (1951)
- Southern Steel (1953)
- Caddie, the Story of a Barmaid (1953) [Introduction only]
- The Sun in Exile (1955)
- Heatwave in Berlin (1961)
- Picnic Races (1962)
- Black Lightning (1964)
- The Sun is Not Enough (1967)
- The Half-Burnt Tree (1969)
- A Bough in Hell (1971)