A Simple Enigma: Juliet Dawson Profile – Part 3

Sydney University in the late 1950s and early ‘60s was a far more interesting place than it is today. Intellectually it was stimulating for an 18 year-old Juliet inexperienced in big city ways. The people of the city were noisy and brash and in a hurry, and although she had stayed with her artist aunt Thea, who lived in Paddington, before it was hard to keep up for a girl from Murdoch Flat. And she was still a girl, very much so in the early months, until the influences from her academic life began to migrate into other parts of her day-to-day existence.

University was a refuge from the bustle, a welcome outlet for thought and expression and somewhere Juliet felt able to flex her considerable intellectual muscles. She felt awakened by the free lectures held at the Women’s Studies centre and mixed with members of the collective both on campus and off – her housemates, in what has been described as a “pigsty full of apprentice dykes” (the first recorded quote by notorious misogynist Alistair Graves, well before he ever became a District Court judge, in fact when he was still a first year Law student and a classmate of Juliet’s), were all members of the collective too. She became radicalised by the views she heard at the Women’s Studies centre and those opinions led to strident debates in law tutorials as it became clear to everyone associated with her that this woman had a formidable and rather fertile mind.

Poetry continued to play a large role in her life, especially after an old school friend ran into her half-way through her first year at university and asked if she’d written anything lately. The answer – yes, a feminist analysis of torts in essay form – was not what the school friend was expecting to hear, and this got Juliet thinking, and she decided to write poetry with themes of liberation and equality and thereby marry her chief concerns with the means of her artistic output. Before long she was reading her work in refuges and housing commission areas, and as a consequence her academic work began to suffer. She loved meeting women who had fallen on hard times and derived a lot of satisfaction from giving them hope and telling their stories, through poems like ‘The Landlord And The Devil’s Arse’.

Something had to give, she felt, and she seriously considered abandoning her studies. Just when she was on the brink of making this big decision she met Miles, and her life changed once again. Miles was in third year, a Law student, and Juliet passed him outside Professor van Hoogen’s office. He was leaving and she was entering, and he knocked her coffee cup out of her hand, and hot coffee spilled all over her. “I was drinking a lot of coffee in those days,” she told me. “I needed it to wake me up. It was in the years before everyone starting offering you other things that were a bit stronger. Only a little while later you could get uppers, downers, and everything in between, and it seemed like everyone had access to these drugs and wanted to share. But this young man, who was bustling out of the Professor’s office, he was always going somewhere, going rather too quickly, headlong, without a thought for other people, well, he was so polite and so helpful when I needed help. He introduced himself as Miles, and I’d seen him around, always with a serious look on his face, always walking quickly towards the library, and he said he would have asked me out for a cup of coffee but it looked as though I already had one of those, and I looked into his eyes, a dreamy cobalt pair of piercing eyes, and said that yes, I would go out with him. I used to do that then: challenge people. He didn’t expect me to say that but he smiled when I did.”

“He was a member of the Conservative Lawyers Society, which I didn’t realise at the time, and politics was one of the many things we argued about. But we’re still friends after all these years, so that’s something.”

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Published in: on March 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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