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Dale Sara Dowse Biography

Nationality: Australian. Born: Sara Fitch in Chicago, Illinois (immigrated to Australia in 1958, became naturalized citizen in 1972), 1938. Education: Attended University of California, Los Angeles, 1956-58; University of Sidney, B.A. 1968; attended Australian National University, 1968. Career: Field editor, Thomas Nelson, Canberra, Australia, 1970-72; tutor in professional writing, Canberra College of Advanced Education; journalist, Australian Information Service, Canberra; press secretary, Federal Minister for Labor, Canberra, 1973; journalist, Australian Information Service, 1974; head of Office of Women's Affairs, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, 1974-78; tutor in women's studies, Australian National University, Canberra, 1978-80; freelance writer, 1980—. Awards: Women and Politics Prize (Australian Institute of Political Science), 1982. Agent: Rosemary Creswell, P.O. Box 161, Glebe, New South Wales 2037, Australia.



West Block. Ringwood, Australia, Penguin, 1983.

Silver City. Ringwood, Australia, Penguin, 1984.

Schemetime. Melbourne, Australia, Penguin, 1990.

Amnesty. Port Melbourne, Australia, Minerva, 1993.

Sapphires. Ringwood, Australia, Penguin, 1994.

Digging. New York, Penguin, 1996.


Contributor, Decisions: Case Studies in Australian Public Policy, edited by Sol Encel, Peter Wilenski, and Bernard Schaffer. Longman Cheshire, 1981.

Contributor, Worth Her Salt: Women at Work in Australia, edited byMargaret Bevege, Margaret James, and Carmel Shute. Hale & Iremonger, 1982.

Contributor, Leaving School: It's Harder for Girls, edited by SueDyson and Tricia Szirom. Young Women's Christian Association of Australia, 1983.

Contributor, Women, Social Welfare, and the State, edited by CoraBaldock and Bettina Cass. Allen & Unwin, 1983.

Contributor, Unfinished Business: Social Justice for Women in Australia, edited by Dorothy Broom. Allen & Unwin, 1984.

Contributor, Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology, edited by Robin Morgan. Anchor Press, 1984.

Contributor, Canberra Tales (anthology). Ringwood, Australia, Penguin, 1988; reprinted as The Division of Love, 1995


Critical Studies:

Rooms of Their Own by Jennifer Ellison. Ringwood, Australia, Penguin, 1986.

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Dale Sara Dowse was born in Chicago in 1938, lived as a child in New York and then Los Angeles, and came to Australia in 1956. She settled first in Sydney but ten years later moved to the Australian capital of Canberra, where she remained for a long time. Not surprisingly, her fiction reflects her diverse background. Her first book, West Block, is less a novel than five largely self-contained stories, each devoted to one character, though with others recurring in minor roles, and a brief introductory section that links up with the ending. Thematically, what they have in common is the presentation of power at work—or in some cases not at work. Part of what the book shows—very convincingly and no doubt intentionally—is the sheer tedium that is involved in much of the exercise of bureaucratic power. The compromises, the destruction of idealism, the constant jockeying for position, the formal thrusting and parrying, take up a good deal of the book. Although it does not come to the forefront until the last section, "Cassie Down and Under," the continuing link among the stories is the concern with women's issues, with the relative helplessness of the women in a male-entrenched bureaucracy and specifically the cynical destruction of the Women's Equality Branch by a tough public servant appointed by the conservatives: Dowse was head of the Office of Women's Affairs during the early years of the conservative Fraser government in the late 1970s.

Dowse followed her first book with Silver City, a serious and ambitiously marketed attempt to translate Sophia Turkiewicz's film of that name into fiction. The title refers to a transit camp in which refugee Poles arrived to spend some time after the war. Though the story is fleshed out with a number of well-drawn characters, the protagonists are Nina Majowska, Julian Marcezewski, the man she falls in love with, and Julian's wife Anna. Although the writing is competent and holds the attention, there are some narrational problems arising from the attempt to translate film into literature. There is no central point of view, so that we are shifted quickly from the perspective of one character to another with no clear sense of a sustained and coherent position from which to view the action. This is accentuated by the rapid cutting; the cinematic cuts and ellipses work less successfully on paper than they do on screen. Apart from the personal relationships, the novel's interest lies mainly in its portrait of the reaction of "reffos" to their traumatic uprooting and relocation at the bottom of the world, and their unsympathetic treatment by Australians.

Schemetime is set in 1968 and continues to display Dowse's intense interest in political radicalism. The novel employs some of the same techniques as West Block, in particular moving from one to another of a set of characters without focusing on any one story, shifting constantly in time, and moving between first and third person. The part-time narrator, Frank Banner, is an Australian director who goes to Hollywood to try and make a film. His story is interwoven with a number of others: the Austrian director Mannheim Zuchter whom Frank tries to interest in his film; a lawyer and actor's agent Nathan Leventhal; a black singer named Paula Jackson; Nathan's wife Susan, who leaves him and who finally becomes the most important and interesting character. There are some fine scenes in Schemetime but the array of techniques that Dowse borrows from the cinema she writes about tends to be distracting and finally bewildering more than anything else.

Sapphires is one of Dowse's most interesting and attractive works. Again a loosely related collection of stories, it tells the story—or stories—of the Kozminsky family over four generations. Dowse has gone back deeply into her Jewish origins: "Safar, to count, related to our word sapphire and the Kabalah's sephiroth, also derived from the Hebrew 'sappur,' said to be the substance of God's throne." The opening chapter offers a moral about the art of telling stories: "'A story is not only a story,' my grandmother said. 'A story that is only a story is, at best, a parable, with a moral that is easy to grasp. Everyone feels happy with a parable. But a story that is more than a story, my child, is a text."' What follows is a number of "texts," dealing with the successive generations of the family but especially the women. They range in place from Omaha, where Lev Kozminsky is finally joined by his reluctant wife Ruchel in 1898 as refugees from the Russian pogroms, to Chicago, where their granddaughter Bernice moves to work as an actress, to New York and finally to Sydney where Bernice's daughter Evelyn emigrates and marries a Rugby player named Paul Hazelwood. The women of the family are both its strength and length of continuity, symbolized in the Fibonacci sequence the novel refers to several times, which suggests the women are the sum of both themselves and the mothers who had preceded them. The loose structure allows Dowse to range widely in time and place to offer finally a kind of coherent and inclusive account of many kinds of Jewishry over the last one hundred years. It is a tender but unsentimental book, filled with unexpected insights and charity.

Digging begins with the appearance of the ghost of a dog named Carly, who had died twelve years ago. The first three chapters go back into the history of the dog, how she came to be with her owner and how she lost her. Carly gets lost and is eventually found again and then at the beginning of chapter 4 the author/narrator says, "I suppose the time has come to tell you how the baby got sick and what may be of even greater interest, how the baby came to be." What follows is a fairly conventional account of a failed relationship with an academic archaeologist—another kind of "digging," which is the central motif of the book. The novel deals with events that occurred twelve years before but is set even further back in the early 1970s. There are carefully unspecific but nevertheless unmistakable references to Canberra and to the decline of the Whitlam Labor government, which remains a crucial period in Dowse's life. There is a slowly growing sense of the narrator as embryonic writer; her notebooks become increasingly more important to her. The third part of the novel returns us to Carly and her eventual death, extremely painful to her, but the narrative of the dog is never quite integrated into those of the woman's relations with the child and with the child's coldly distant father. There is also a curious reticence about many things. The man is identified only as X, just as a female friend is L and a male friend from the narrator's workplace is H, perhaps a spurious attempt to convey some kind of universality.

Dowse, who now lives in Canada, also has one of seven stories in a collection originally titled Canberra Tales, reprinted in 1995 as The Division of Love. She has mastered a form which lies somewhere between the short story and the novel, what the Australian writer Frank Moorhouse calls "discontinuous narratives."

—Laurie Clancy

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