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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dreyer, Marien Oulton (1911–1980)

by Audrey Tate

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Marien Oulton Dreyer (1911-1980), writer and journalist, was born on 24 September 1911 at Mornington, Victoria, daughter of Joseph Dreyer, a journalist from New Zealand, and his second wife Mary Oulton, née Rosson, a fourth-generation Australian. The loss of a leg during childhood turned Marien into 'something of a battler'. She left her convent school in Melbourne at the age of 14 and worked as a stenographer. Bright and smiling, with 'grey-green eyes' and curly black hair, she dreamed of going on the stage and, as 'Gallery Girl', wrote theatre pieces for women's magazines. In Sydney she frequented Pakies Club and had sixteen jobs between 1937 and 1939. Back in Melbourne in 1940, she was a telephonist at 6th Division headquarters, Australian Imperial Force.

In the early 1940s Dreyer settled in Sydney with her husband Rodney Beaumont Lovell Cooper, a journalist; they lived with their young son near Kings Cross. She maintained a prodigious output of stories, serials and plays for magazines and radio: 'The Windows of Heaven' and 'The Big Wind' were included respectively in The Man Gift Book (1946) and Kylie Tennant's Summer's Tales 1 (Melbourne, 1964). Soon after the birth of her second son, Dreyer began writing a popular column for New Idea, 'This Week with Marien Dreyer' (1955-62).

Her scripts for the Australian Broadcasting Commission included 'Story of a Lame Duck' (31 March 1951) which concentrated on the problems of the disabled and was largely autobiographical. In 1953 the Commonwealth Department of Health refused permission for the broadcast of 'The Hard Way Back', Dreyer's factual account of a patient's struggle to rehabilitate himself after suffering from tuberculosis; the department claimed that she had over-emphasized the difficulties. Dreyer regarded the dismissal of her appeal under the Australian Broadcasting Act (1942) as 'a slur on her reputation and contrary to free speech'. In 1959 she shared the Walkley award for a non-fiction magazine article with 'The Day I Wiggled My Big Toe' (New Idea, February 1959). Three of Dreyer's 'charming but slight' one-act plays were produced at the Pocket Playhouse Theatre in November. Her adult fairy tale, 'Wish No More', had a cast of twenty-four—too many for a viable production. Conversely, her satire on city life, Bandicoot on a Burnt Ridge (winner of the Journalists' Club £1000 award for 1962-63), was criticized for having a cast of only two!

Publicity officer for the King's Cross Protection Association, Dreyer bitterly opposed the construction of the tunnel at the top of William Street. The Sydney Morning Herald was flooded with her letters on a miscellany of topics: too much cricket on the wireless, sewing-cotton that snapped, the poor quality of jam, the stench of circus animals, and the noise of flying boats and motor horns. She assisted the stipendiary magistrate Arthur Debenham to write his memoirs, Without Fear or Favour (1966), as well as two books dealing with social problems.

Although she dressed 'carelessly in skirts and sweaters', Dreyer had 'a passion for ornate drop earrings and exotic perfumes'. Humorous and warm hearted, she gave an annual party for 'Annabella', her wooden leg. She was an active member of the Australian Journalists' Association, spoke her mind 'sometimes with devastating frankness' and sympathized with the underprivileged. Survived by her husband and two sons, she died of coronary vascular disease on 16 January 1980 at her Darlinghurst flat and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Women's Weekly, 17 Feb 1940, p 30
  • ABC Weekly, 31 Mar 1951
  • People (Sydney), 26 Sept 1951, p 14
  • Voice, 2, Aug 1953, p 13
  • Australian Magazine (Sydney), 11 Aug 1953, p 26
  • Overland, no 37, Oct 1967
  • New Idea, 13 Jan 1960
  • Australian Quarterly, 32, no 1, Mar 1960, p 123
  • Theatregoer, 2, nos 2-3, Dec-Jan 1961-62, p 40
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Mar, 13 June 1953, 19 Jan 1954, 2 Nov 1955, 5 Mar, 10 May 1956, 8 Nov 1957, 27 May 1958, 30 Nov 1959, 11 Feb 1961, 16 June 1963, 4 May, 6 June 1964, 12 May 1965, 21 Apr, 5 May 1969, 18 Jan 1980
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6, 31 May 1965
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 May 1965
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 22 May 1965.

Citation details

Audrey Tate, 'Dreyer, Marien Oulton (1911–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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