Famous Australian playwright uses daughters for sex

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Famous Australian playwright uses daughters for sex

Post by Belle » Fri Jun 08, 2018 7:14 pm

This shocking story appears in today's "Australian" newspaper. I was working in television in those days and I knew some of the people referred to as complicit in these events; it doesn't surprise me because some of them were vile human beings everybody fawned over!! Many of them were outright scum bags and I fulminate when I think about how self-righteously they behaved - especially about politics!! These were the bien pensant.

Playwright Dorothy Hewett’s daughters say their mother’s men used them for sex.

It’s easy enough to see why people might have envied the Lilley girls. Rozanna and Kate, daughters of celebrated playwright Dorothy Hewett and merchant seaman turned author Merv Lilley, spent their adol­escence and early teenage years at the heart of the 1970s bohemian arts scene — meeting the famous and feted at parties, rehearsals and film shoots; winning roles in high-profile films or radio plays with which their mother or her associates were involved.

Swaggering, starry identities — among them Brett Whiteley, Patrick White, Martin Sharp, Bob Ellis and British photographer David ­Hamilton — passed through the girls’ lives; many illustrious names from the theatre, film, literary and visual art worlds were frequent visit­ors to the family terrace in Woollahra in Sydney’s east.

Rozanna, now a 55-year-old anthropologist, author and autism researcher, characterises the Lilley family’s home as a “party house”. Her older sister Kate, 57, a poet and associate professor of English at the University of ­Sydney, is far more blunt. “It was just — as an acquaintance says — like a brothel without payment.”

Four decades on, these daughters of true ­believers say they were casualties of a predatory sexual code within the 70s libertarian arts ­culture that saw underage and teenage girls as “fair game”. “People liked having us at a party. We were these nubile girls, we were interesting jailbait objects,” says Kate, who claims she was sexually assaulted by a film producer at 15 and raped by a visiting poet several months later.

While the #MeToo movement has ­unearthed many grave allegations of sexual miscon­duct within the arts and entertainment business in recent months, the Lilley sisters’ story has an unsettling twist: both agree it was their mother, a revered feminist and left-wing radical, who encouraged their early ­sexualisation.

‘She didn’t call that rape — I did’. Indeed, Kate maintains the abuse she and her younger sister endured was “facilitated” by Hewett, while Rozanna recalls how “my mum partly built her profile on these stories of being outrageous. People referred to her sometimes as being a female Don Juan. We were brought up thinking that was something to emulate; it was something to be. I would say she basically ­encouraged that … Mum had a strong belief that sex was good and she saw herself as having been ­constrained by Victorian parents. I think she genuinely believed she was offering this ­unfettered, uninhibited lifestyle to us.”

Hewett was an ex-communist who had six children to three men. A highly regarded poet, novelist and author of plays including The Chapel Perilous and This Old Man Came Rolling Home, she had talent to burn, a rough charisma and she equated sex — even underage sex — with freedom.

She died in 2002, and Rozanna recalls her mother reclining regally at home on a gold velvet sofa, beret atop her waterfall of white-blonde hair, smoking a diamante-encrusted pipe, holding court. (In her later years she was driven around town in a hearse by the mercurial Merv Lilley, whose widely admired book, Gatton Man, maintained that his father had been a serial ­killer. He too had many affairs while married to Hewett.)

The girls initially bought in to their mother’s view that sex was in itself a form of liberation. Rozanna recalls that as she and her sister slept with men twice their age, “we felt we were ­special people doing special things”.

By the time the girls turned 16, the legal age of consent, Kate had slept with six men and ­Rozanna with “at least a dozen”. Virtually all of them were older artists and allegedly included now-deceased figures, including writer and film director Ellis and painter Sharp. Photographer Hamilton took pornograph­ic images of Rozanna, she says, when she was “14 or 15” and met him for what she thought would be a modelling session. “It was unbearable at home,” says Kate, whose calm, measured way of speaking forms a striking contrast to the disturbing events she describes. “There were constantly men staying in the house and hardly any man came to the house who didn’t try to have sex with one or more of us (Kate, Rozanna or her mother).

“I used to have sex with men to prevent them ­having sex with Rosie, and then I would find out they did have sex with Rosie. I think because Mum was this figure of sexual licence, we were particular targets.”

She adds that when gay men from the theatre scene were around, the house felt safer.

Parties where the girls were left to their own devices weren’t safe, either. Kate says that, when she was 15, she went to a party where a film producer pushed her into a toilet and ­masturbated against her body.

Several months later, she says, she was raped in the family home when her parents were away, by a poet from interstate. “There were very few instances in which I said no (to men who wanted sex). We were not brought up to say ‘no’,” she reveals. She refused the poet’s ­advances, “but he was not in the slightest bit interested in that, so I just gave in. I was 15 then and told Mum about that. She didn’t believe me. She said she asked him, and he said that I had consented.”

According to Kate, the poet who allegedly sexually assaulted her went on to have an affair with her mother. He was not only the man who slept with her and Hewett. “We were very ­explicitly encouraged, even enjoined by Mum to think, like her, that sexual attention was the be-all and end-all of everything,” says Kate.

Echoing her older sister, Rozanna says their mother “would often say that the greatest thing in life was sex. So you sort of became quite keen to get involved because that is what she encouraged us to do.”

For decades, the sisters refrained from discuss­ing their experiences of exploitation and abuse with each other or their parents. Rozanna says that, in the 1980s, her mother once ­demanded: “What’s all this excrement about me being a bad mother?” She adds drily: “Mum tended to go on the offensive.”

In an extraordinary coincidence of timing, both women have launched books this month that address their traumatising experiences of sexual abuse in the self-consciously bohemian 70s arts milieu.

Kate’s new book, Tilt, is an elegant poetry collection that references her troubled teenage years, as well as the 70s green bans, Greta Garbo and organised crime. Rozanna’s book, Do ­Oysters Get Bored?, is a “hybrid” account of her “carelessly broken girlhood” and a wry, ­tender exploration of her later life as a committed ­parent to her autistic son, Oscar.

Both books include emotionally stark poems that describe specific incidents of abuse the ­sisters endured as schoolgirls. Those experi­ences range from rape and molestation to ­consensual sex (including underage sex) with older men. None of the perpetrators are named.

However, in candid interviews with Review, Rozanna and Kate reveal how they were sexually abused or exploited by Sharp, Ellis, Hamilton and several other men who are still practising artists.

Rozanna says she had sex once with Sharp, Australia’s leading pop artist, when she was 15. “I had a terrible crush on him,” she recalls, but he didn’t reciprocate her feelings. Decades later, he phoned her to apologise. “You are the only one who has ever said sorry,” she writes in ­Mickey Mouse romance, a poem about her ­underage encounter with the painter, who was 20 years her senior.

When she was “14 or 15”, she went to a ­Sydney hotel to meet visiting photographer Hamilton. Rather than taking anticipated ­modelling shots, Hamilton “photographed me topless and then he took photographs of my ­vagina. Close-ups.” She submitted to this after the internationally famous photographer showed her his child porn collection, “so that I would see other girls agreed to do this”.

She adds, as an afterthought: “Honestly, I was not paid a cent, just to add insult to injury.” Hamilton, known for his images of naked ­pubescent girls, committed suicide in 2016 ­following child rape allegations.

Kate claims she had sex with Ellis four times when she was 15 and 16 and still living at home. There was no coercion, “just an understanding that he wanted to have sex with me and I just did … whenever he turned up, he’d have sex with me. I didn’t at the time think that was some big, terrible thing … I was reasonably neutral about it. I didn’t hate him.”

She recalls one of those encounters in a new poem, Chattel, while in her book Rozanna writes of how Ellis allegedly forced her “reluctant ­fingers” inside his “verbose Y-fronts”. That poem is called Come Here, Child.

Rozanna says Ellis was simultaneously a friend and supporter: he tried to secure her film work and hired her as a school holiday nanny, thus adding to her confusion about the art scene’s sexual ethics.

Kate reveals she has been through 20 years of therapy, partly because of the depression and anxiety that runs in her family, and partly ­because of her teenage experiences. She has written about the latter obliquely in earlier ­poetry collections, but the revelations of the #MeToo movement convinced her “this is a moment to risk something more explicit”.

She says the past sexual violations she was subjected to form “a strong presence in the book, not sexual abuse only but a culture of ­sexual predation and objectification”. One poem, Party Favour, ends with the devastating memory of telling her mother about the rape she allegedly endured at 15, and realising “she’s not on my side”.

In her essays, Rozanna writes of her adol­escence with more of a sense of regret than anger; her poems reveal more of her “hurt self”. She also told her story to the royal commission into child abuse, in a closed session that focused on the entertainment industry.

She was just 13 when she was cast in a ­colonial-era film, Journey Among Women, about convict women who escape from their abusive guards and attempt to create a feral, women-only bush colony, complete with gratuitous nudity­ and lesbian romance.

Rozanna had her first period while on the set, yet she appears topless and naked in this “schlock” film and has “a lesbian affair with a judge’s daughter, which is ridiculous … My first experience of faux intercourse was having an actor on top of me, pretending to rape me in that film. I looked back on that and I thought: ‘How extraordinary to put a young girl through that.’ ”

The schoolgirl’s on-screen nudity attracted media attention and she ended up on the front page of a tabloid when Journey Among Women was released in 1977. Her father once rescued her from the set when she became nauseous and drunk from consuming alcohol used in one scene.

She notes that “perhaps the really disturbing part is that my mother wrote the script, or ­sections of the script. She had a lot of fantasies about herself that she enacted through her daughters — and that would be a prime ­example.” The film is still being sold on DVD.

Before they left school, both girls were cast in small roles in the classic film The Chant of ­Jimmie Blacksmith. Aged 15 and 17, and ­unbeknown to each other, they both slept with the same senior crew member.

This is a complex and painful story, in which the women’s evident love for their parents ­collides with their ambivalence about how they failed to protect them from predators. Kate says that for all her mother’s flaws, “we loved each other hugely”. She edited the book Selected Poems of Dorothy Hewett, in 2010.

Though her father was “a very difficult man”, Rozanna maintained a “huge well of affection” for Merv Lilley and helped look after him ­before he died in 2016. “They were both very ­damaged,” says Kate. “Dad made efforts to try to protect us but he was very mad … I assume he was bipolar; he was also violent.”

Rozanna says her father “was busily running around chasing women and generally carrying on, often in a rather more aggressive way than my mother was”. Yet one of her poems, Soap Opera, tells how she once found her mother at home in bed with a strange man. Later that night, she saw her father washing the dishes and weeping.

Both Lilley daughters attempted to escape the tumult and chaos of their parents’ home by moving in with older men. Kate says she started living with a now eminent artist when she was 16. He was in his 30s and had a serious drinking problem. (The artist claims she was 17 at the time.) He adds that Hewett, with whom he later formed “a really intense, creative relationship of the mind”, paid the bond on his and Kate’s ­rented apartment. Soon after this, Kate started a relationship with a female teacher known for sleeping with her students.

The girls eventually found stability by turning away from the aggressively alternative arts world for which they had been so assiduously groomed, and embracing academe.

Kate pursued postgraduate studies at ­London and Oxford universities before joining the University of Sydney, while Rozanna has two PhDs and is an autism researcher attached to Macquarie University. Both are in long-term relationships and Rozanna says, touchingly, that she is “terribly proud” of this, as “it was ­difficult for us to figure out how to do that given the kind of household we grew up in”.

Novelist Tom Flood, Kate’s and Rozanna’s half-brother, says his mother “believed in children’s rights’’ and that “covered a wide range’’. While Flood, a Miles Franklin literary award winner, mostly lived in Western Australia in the 70s, “I knew there’d been quite a bit of underage (sexual) stuff involving quite a few people, some of whom are quite respected around town’’. While his mother “put them (his sisters) into that milieu … I would sheet home any blame to the men involved. They were the times, and men were taking advantage of it.’’

Photographer Juno Gemes was a friend of Hewett’s and says the playwright was “a ­glorious feminist’’. She “wanted her daughters to have access to the highest echelons of the ­literary world. I am really shocked that they’re casting their mother like this … I think she would be devastated by these allegations.’’

Energised by a cultural renaissance in local film, theatre and literature, the 70s is perhaps the most romanticised decade in Australian ­cultural history. Yet the sisters say few people are prepared to acknowledge the sexual exploit­ation that was part of this world.

Kate is not pressing for legal action to be taken against those men who are still alive and who assaulted or had underage sex with her. “I’m very scared of it all,” she says. “I’ve been on antidepressants for 20 years. I’ve been in ­therapy for 20 years. I’m in a good place. This has all been a source of tremendous distress and pain. In one sense I feel clear-cut outrage about it and in another sense I feel it was all just a huge mess and very complicated.”

Rozanna fears a “backlash” to her book. She has already found that telling her stories to ­people who knew her parents “will be greeted with silence and people will turn away. ­Obviously things are changing with the #MeToo movement. But I think people don’t want to know, in the main.”

And then, of course, there is the most ­disorienting factor of all — their mother’s ­role in the mistreatment of her daughters.

“Mum certainly thought she was doing something for us,” says Kate. “She had this ­fantasy of what a free life was, but she had no thought about us being kids.”

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