Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews

The Queen of Bohemia

I sometimes fancy myself as a bit of a Bohemian. A 1920s castaway lost in the swirling techno-age sea of texts, tweets and trends that finish as soon as they’ve started. One may wonder if Dulcie Deamer would have been the Queen of Bohemian Australia in this era. I suspect she would have. Never heard of her? That’s a shame, she’s really quite fascinating.

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1890, Deamer was destined for the dramatic life. Her mother made sure of it. Yet she never made it as a dancer, an actor or a playwright. She was mildly successful as an author and more so as a journalist. But wherever she was, Deamer stole the show. Leopard skin dresses (which she fervently despised being associated with for decades after), splits whenever they were asked for, processions and ballads in her honour, voodoo magic, the rise of King’s Cross, riotous parties and her undercover journalism are all waiting for you in this (tragically) short book.

This autobiography reads exceptionally well (though her chronic name-dropping does get a bit exhausting; particularly concerning now-obscure Australian writers and actors). There is a noticeable absence of any topic that does not directly concern Deamer. Her children (at least four of them), her husband, her work colleagues, her parents – none of them get more than half a paragraph. She really wasn’t that interested with them. This book is entirely about Dulcie and her reign over 1920s/30s Sydney Bohemia. What’s an autobiography for if you can’t pick and choose your life events?

Strident and poised, spontaneous and diligently fabulous – Dulcie Deamer is a fading Australian icon. Her autobiography is scathing and funny. Australian historical writing as it should be.

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