The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Honour for local literary giant


Kate Llewellyn began writing poems at one of the darkest times in her life. Poetry helped her get through and it’s still bringing her much joy and fulfillment in her twilight years.

Print article

Recently commissioned to write a poem that could be put to choral music for the 18th Biennial of Australian Art, Kate has also been in the limelight after being named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in this year’s Australia Day honours.

She was recognised for ‘significant service to literature as an author and poet’.

Kate says it’s difficult to avoid cliches such as “delighted” and “over-joyed” when speaking about the prestigious award but she’s clearly chuffed to have such unexpected good news at this stage of her life.

Not that the 88 year old is showing any signs of slowing down as she continues to write poetry, support the arts and pursue her passion for gardening and cooking.

It was only recently that Kate stopped riding her bicycle around the beachside suburbs. She has begun a book club which meets at her home monthly for discussion and a lavish home-made afternoon tea.

The daughter of a stock agent, Kate was born at Tumby Bay with her three brothers, Tom (deceased), Bill and Peter Brinkworth. The latter is the inventor of chicken salt. Kate trained as a nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where she met her future husband Richard Llewellyn who was paralysed by polio.

Her writing career began in her early forties as a mature age student and mother of two after she started secretively scribbling poems on the corners of foolscap paper.

“It was the last days of my marriage and I was very, very unhappy,” she recalls. “It was as if a kettle had been put on to boil and the poems just poured out like steam.”

Taking the brave decision to enrol at the University of Adelaide, her confidence grew after she won the Bundey Prize, a competition judged by academics for the best poem or group of poems at the university.

Moving to Leura in the Blue Mountains, she wrote the best-seller The Waterlily: A Blue Mountain Journal (1987) and went on to pen 22 other books comprising poetry, travel, essays and memoir. She is the co-editor of The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets and the author of Dressmaker’s Daughter (2008).

Since returning to Adelaide in 2007, she has devoted much of her time to her garden, which inspired her 2014 book A Fig at the Gate, subtitled The joys of friendship, gardening and the gaining of wisdom. Her latest work is Harbour, a book of poems written over the past two decades and published in 2020 by Wakefield Press.

A mentor to emerging poets and writers, Kate writes a poem every Christmas which she posts with her Christmas cards to friends and family.

Raised an Anglican, Kate became a Catholic about 22 years ago after attending a local Catholic service in Bulli, near Wollongong. She completed instruction classes with Father Stephen Sinn SJ at St Canice’s parish in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney.

The poem she wrote for the Biennial is called Faith. It was commissioned by the curator Jose Da Silva, set to music by the composer Anne Cawrse and sung by the Adelaide Chamber Choir which gave it the name All Flesh is Fire Held in Time. Launched at the opening of the 18th Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Inner Sanctum on February 29, Faith was performed several times during the festival.

After first hearing the poem sung by the Adelaide Chamber Choir at rehearsal, Kate was asked by Jose what she thought.

“I could not answer,” Kate said.

“It was beyond anything I had imagined. Anne Cawrse has composed a work of art. It was as if Kings College Cambridge choir had sung their Christmas carol. So beautiful. How come I did not know that music can make simple words sublime?”

More News stories

Loading next article