they had cleared him completely, they looked at the dead man in
silence. Helen traced with her finger the eyebrows, the closed
lids, the nose, the full-lipped, gentle mouth. The dead man lay
there, black as the peat around him, at one with it. Part of it."
year old Helen Lytton, a recently retired research scientist,
travels to Australia determined to prove her theory right –
that there had once been water in the far, arid north of Western
Australia. Along with her husband and an Aboriginal schoolteacher
who knew the area well, the expedition unearthed far more than
could not have known that her adventure would coincide with one
begun many years ago and many miles away. Perhaps, as a scientist
and a mature woman, she should have foreseen the risks that lay
ahead as well as the excitement that was about to happen; the
threats arising from the ambition and pride, the secrecy and the
greed of man.
Profile : Doris Leadbetter
28 December 1927 – 27 November 2004
“When I die don’t let them keep the bones
to marvel at the load they bore;
nor the ashes to wonder at the quantity.”
from The Fat Lady’s Song.
was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, on 28 December, 1927. Her enduring
interest in Roman history probably came from living near Roman ruins
in her home town.
She attended Bradford Girls’ Grammar School and then, just
after the Second World War, studied at London University, attaining
a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.
was a member of the Bradford's Playhouse and Theater School and
participated in many productions, working both as a director and
backstage. It was here that Doris received her theatre training
that made her such a great poetry performer in later years. She
worked with theatre luminaries such as Ken Russell, Dirk Bogarde
and Dame Judy Dench. Ken Russell was godfather to Doris’s
1963, she migrated to Australia with her mother and her children,
Vicki and Dominic. She met her second husband, Richard Leadbetter,
in Perth in 1968 and they were married in 1969.
1964 to 1984, Doris worked as CSIRO Librarian (Perth Labs) and Head
Office Librarian (CSIRO Canberra). During her time in Perth, she
went on several field trips out into the desert. She also met many
scientists, engaging in long, lively discussions and developing
an interest in a wide range of scientific subjects. This resulted
in Doris joining the Australian Skeptics and the Australian Rationalists.
It also provided the ideas and the background for her first, soon-to-be
published novel Forgotten Dreams in which a woman scientist finds
a bog body in north-west Australia.
took early retirement, and she and Richard moved to Bendigo in 1984.
She began to develop her writing skills and published a number of
books, including educational materials and poetry. She also wrote
a weekly humorous column for the Bendigo Advertiser for four years.
Subjects came from her keen observations of life in a large country
town, including Kamikaze Corner and trying to buy new shoes. Readers
would often stop her in the street to tell her that her column was
the first thing they read in the paper. She became involved in community
writing and taught a number of workshops around Victoria, and became
a highly sought-after after-dinner speaker.
the late eighties Doris spent several months as Writer-in-Residence
in Tasmania, travelling around giving readings and workshops. Doris
loved meeting the people of Tasmania while completely ignoring the
scenery. “I have no urge to watch/ I usually just buy postcards.”
(from Looking at Scenery)
1994, Doris and Richard moved to Melbourne and she started teaching
in the Diploma of Arts – Professional Writing & Editing
at Chisholm TAFE in Berwick. From there, she moved to Victoria University
TAFE and later also taught at NMIT and CAE in the same course. Doris
always had a great impact on her students, whether they were 19
or 70. She made them laugh and cry as she shared her own experiences
and encouraged them to write about their own. But above all, she
encouraged them to be professional, to take themselves seriously
and to take risks.
first collection of poetry The Fat Lady’s Song was published
by Pariah Press in 1995 in a joint book with Kristin Henry’s
What If the Plane Goes Down? Doris had written poetry and short
stories for many years and was published in most of Australia’s
literary journals and magazines. She was a memorable performer and
twice won the Melbourne Poetry Cup. Her collected poems The Fat
Lady Sings will be published in January 2005 by NMIT’s newly-created
Flat Chat Press.
July 2004 she attended a writers’ conference in Wales where
the manuscript of her novel Forgotten Dreams was taken up by an
editor from Transita, UK. It was accepted for publication shortly
after, and Doris had the great pleasure of signing her first novel
contract and seeing her advance cheque. Forgotten Dreams will be
published in June 2005.
On her return from the conference, she was too unwell to continue
teaching, and was eventually diagnosed with terminal bone cancer.
She died on 27 November 2004. She wrote her own death notice, which
included the quote inspired by Spike Milligan: “She told you
she wasn’t feeling well.”