Gwen Belson Taylor

Gwen Belson Taylor (1918-2010)

Romany Rose

Remarkable woman: devoted to literature

Gwen Belson Taylor was the last survivor of the pre-war era in Queensland literature.

She grew up in Pickering Street, Enoggera, Brisbane, in the last days of the First World War. Enoggera was then rural area. Her street, now a very busy throughfare, had a sawmill, three houses and a Chinese market garden. She was educated at Enoggera State School, and went on to  All Hallows School, Brisbane.

Like nearly all writers, she began with a basic need to write something. Her letters appeared in the 'Kids Corner' pages of the Brisbane Courier from the late 1920s, and from the age of 13, she published poetry, at first in the 'Catholic Leader', which had an office was next door to All Hallows. Despite her talent, the educational opportunities available to her were limited.  After leaving school at 15, she taught speech and drama, and wrote historical pieces for the 'Telegraph'. She  featured prominently in musical circles, was a prize winner at the Brisbane Eistedfodd and was active in raising money for Brisbane charities. 

In the mid-30s, there was a proposal to bring a film studio called 'Sound City' to Brisbane. Gwen and a lot of other people got 'stars in their eyes'. They went along to participate in the making of the film, but there was no film in the cameras! Despite this, she caught the theatre bug, and  with a friend, Estelle Cormack, Gwen wrote and produced a play called 'An Old World Love Song', in aid of the Holy Name Cathedral fund. The Cathedral was never built, but the play was well received. As a result, at the age of 19, she collaborated with the musician Erich John, on a musical play called 'Romany Rose'.

Gwen Taylor

The musical was staged at the Princess Theatre, Woolloongabba, which was in those days was made available to amateur theatre companies without charge. The local music shops, Grice's and Palings, put photographs in their windows to advertise local theatrical productions, and the 'Telegraph' and the Courier Mail gave the production publicity. The play was a success, except for the leading lady, who, Gwen says, ‘put her faith in make-up’. The huge cast featured repertory players, Alec Dewar, who later became a member of Parliament, and CB Christesen, the founder of Meanjin. People gave their time willingly to the play, and proceeds went to the 'Telegraph' winter appeal fund.

At about this time, she became involved with the Catholic Poetry Society, and two of her poems appeared in its publication The Southwellian. She associated with many literary figures of the 1930s, such as Martin Haley, James Devaney and Paul Grano. She recalls Grano’s poem A New Shirt, why? was inspired by a meeting of the Catholic Poetry society, to which Grano had worn a torn shirt. Brian Vrepont, once told her to try some modern stuff. He wrote two lines of free verse for her and asked her to finish the poem. She finished the poem and sent it to him. He wrote back saying that he didn't like the first two lines but that ‘the rest was pretty good’!

Through Romany Rose, she met Jack Taylor, who played 'a gypsy rogue' and then became her husband. He died young, and Gwen had to fend for herself and her 6 children. So she went back to school and then qualified as a teacher. She remembers learning dates for history by pinning them to her dress while she went out to the clothesline. She taught at Morningside State School, from 1955 to 1980, and raised five grandchildren.

All the while she kept writing poetry. In 1974, she published her first book of poetry Who Loves the Sun, which included a foreword by James Devaney. A second book, The Stars Look Down appeared in the 1980s. They are fine books which feature clear poetry, often with moving sentiments, especially if you know her life story.

In the late 1990s, a poem which she wrote in her 70s about her great grandson, Blessed Are the Pure of Heart appeared in a fifth portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Now there are a number of web sites around the world which feature the poem.

Her most recent book,  Teacher Teacher, reminiscences of her time as a school teacher, was published in 2000. She remained active, and an inspiration to many, until her death in 2010.

Best book to buy: Taylor, G. B. , The Stars Look Down, Brisbane, Watson Ferguson, n.d. (1974).

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