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Collinson, Laurence Henry (Laurie) (1925–1986)

by William Hatherell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Laurence Henry (Laurie) Collinson (1925-1986), poet and playwright, was born on 7 September 1925 at Leeds, Yorkshire, England, only child of David Collinson, speciality salesman, and his wife Sara, née Lewis. The family moved to the antipodes when Laurie was 2, and endured `frequent periods of comparative poverty’ in Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney, before settling in Brisbane about 1937. As a student at Brisbane State High School Laurie helped to found Barjai, which between 1943 and 1947 developed from a crudely produced school magazine into a sophisticated national cultural organ for `youth’. His contributions revealed a combative and melancholy personality. The music critic Charles Osborne, also a Barjai alumnus, remembered the 17-year-old Collinson saying that `those born in a great Depression and growing up into a World War would not ever have much humour’. Such pessimism was exacerbated by Collinson’s feelings as an outsider—Jewish, homosexual and communist—and by what Barbara Blackman later described as an `unprepossessing’ physical appearance.

Collinson and the co-editor, Barrie (Barrett) Reid, organised a `Barjai group’ that met regularly and forged links with both the southern avant-garde and an older group of Brisbane writers surrounding Clem Christesen, the founder of Meanjin. In 1944 Collinson’s poem `Myself and the New Year, 1944’, published in the `Ern Malley’ edition of Angry Penguins, was mentioned in the indictment for indecency launched against the editor Max Harris in Adelaide.

Collinson was also an aspiring painter: in 1944 he studied at the Central Technical College, Brisbane, and next year at the Julian Ashton School, Sydney. In December 1945 he led a group of young artists away from the conservative Royal Queensland Art Society and formed the Miya Studio, which, for a few years, had its own premises and ran exhibitions. The Miya group cultivated a loosely expressionistic style, evident in Collinson’s own canvases, that was remarkably advanced in the Brisbane art scene of the time. The communist-led New Theatre, which had close links with some members of the Miya Studio, performed Collinson’s one-act plays Friday Night at the Schrammers in 1948 and No Sugar for George in 1949. After the theatre merged in 1949 with remnants of Miya, Collinson painted stage sets, wrote and produced plays, and sometimes acted in them. Jewish identity, the psychological outcomes of war, homosexual relationships, social justice issues, the family, and education were recurring concerns in his poems, plays and stories.

Moving to Melbourne in 1950, Collinson wrote while supporting himself in various jobs. On 3 January 1955 at the Temple Beth Israel, St Kilda, he married Ray Green, a stenographer; they later divorced. Also in 1955 he gained a teaching diploma at Mercer House. He worked for the Victorian Education Department, in 1956-61 as a schoolteacher and in 1961-64 in the publications branch. In 1957 his first major book of poems, The Moods of Love, was published by Overland. A member in the 1950s of the Communist Party of Australia and of the Australasian Book Society, he was State president (1960) of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. He won an award in 1961 for a stage play, The Zelda Trio, and contributed to the anthology Eight by Eight (1963), which featured the work of an `unorganised group’ of Melbourne poets, including Vincent Buckley and Chris Wallace-Crabbe. In 1963 the Australian Broadcasting Commission produced his television play Uneasy Paradise.

Inspired by these achievements, Collinson left for London in 1964, hoping to earn his living as a writer. Although he had some success— he published a book of poetry, Who is Wheeling Grandma? (1967), a children’s book, The Lion Who Ran Away (1969), a novel, Cupid’s Crescent (1973), and a stage play, Thinking Straight (1975)—he remained reliant on his work as a sub-editor for a magazine publisher. Portraying himself as an outsider in London’s literary circles, he remained emotionally linked to Australia and contributed regularly to such Australian journals as Overland and Westerly. The Literature Board of the Australia Council awarded him a grant in 1974-75 and he spent six months in France writing most of the poems for a collection entitled Hovering Narcissus (1977).

From the mid-1970s Collinson found job satisfaction and a measure of financial security through his work as a practitioner of `transactional analysis’. While dismissed by some literary friends as a faddish obsession, his fascination with psychotherapy was consistent with his long interest in the psychological economy of the family. Throughout his adult life he campaigned for homosexual law reform. He suffered from hepatitis and died of cirrhosis of the liver on 10 November 1986 in London and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Helmrich, Young Turks and Battle Lines (1988)
  • D. Foster (compiler), Self Portraits (1991)
  • B. Blackman, Glass after Glass (1997)
  • Overland, Mar 1987, p 48
  • M. E. Anderson, Barjai, Miya Studio and Young Brisbane Artists of the 1940s (BA Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1987)
  • Collinson papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Meanjin papers (University of Melbourne Library).

Citation details

William Hatherell, 'Collinson, Laurence Henry (Laurie) (1925–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/collinson-laurence-henry-laurie-12337/text22163, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 11 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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