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Hanrahan, Barbara 1939-1991

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Born: 6 September 1939 [Adelaide, South Australia]

Died: 1 December 1991 [Adelaide, South Australia]

Artist, author

Hanrahan's father died when she was a year old and she was brought up in an all female household consisting of her mother, grandmother and great aunt. The women were to influence her greatly. Hanrahan attended Thebarton Girl's Technical School and trained to be an art teacher at Adelaide Teacher's College. Her course included art classes at the South Australian School of Art. In her third year of university Hanrahan won the Gill Award for art and around this time started exhibiting her work. She taught art at several high schools and attended evening classes at the South Australian School of Art, including print-making, lithography and etching with German teachers Udo Sellbach and Karin Schepers. Hanrahan was influence by the German Expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and began experimenting with producing woodcuts. In 1961 Hanrahan was appointed assistant lecturer in art at Western Teachers' College. The following year she was president of the South Australian Graphic Art Society.

In 1963 Hanrahan departed Adelaide for London where she studied at the Central School of Art and Design and was awarded a diploma in etching with distinction. She returned to Adelaide in 1964 and held her first solo exhibition, at the Contemporary Art Society Gallery, in December. Back in London in 1965, Hanrahan returned to the Central School of Art and Design. Over the next few years she had teaching posts at the Falmouth College of Art, Cornwall, and Portsmouth College of Art. Hanrahan's grandmother died in 1968 and this served as an impetus for her to begin writing about her Adelaide childhood. This writing became the basis for her semi-autobiographical novel, The scent of eucalyptus, published in 1973.

In 1969 and '70 Hanrahan had exhibitions in London and Florence. Throughout the early 1970s she concentrated on her writing, conducting research and taking notes on locations in Adelaide and England. In December 1974 Hanrahan took up a year long teaching position in Adelaide. She then returned to London, but travelled during the early 1980s including to the United States. In the early 1980s she moved back to Adelaide permanently. Hanrahan was diagnosed with cancer in mid-1984, but she continued with both writing and printmaking and travelled to literary conferences and writers' festivals. She died in December 1991, leaving 13 novels, including The peach groves (1979), The frangipani gardens (1980) and Kewpie doll (1984); two collections of short stories and numerous prints and paintings.

The Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship for South Australian writers was established in Hanrahan's memory by her partner Jo Steele and in 1997 a building at the University of South Australia's City West campus was named after her.

Image reproduced courtesy of Jo Steele. It may be printed or saved for personal research or study. Use for any other purpose requires written permission from Jo Steele and the State Library of South Australia. To request approval, complete the Permission to publish form .

Key achievements

1959: Won Gill Medal for art

1961: Participated in an exhibition with three other artists at the Hahndorf Gallery, Adelaide Hills

1961: Awarded Cornell Prize for painting

December 1964: Held first solo exhibition; Contemporary Art Society Gallery

1969: First exhibition in UK held at Compendium 2, London

1970: Exhibition at Galleria Vaccarino, Florence

April 1973: First novel The scent of eucalyptus published; semi-autobiographical memoir of her childhood in Adelaide

1974-1992: 14 books published including several autobiographical novels and two collections of short stories

June 1987: Became writer-in-residence at Adelaide University

1989: Exhibition with others at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Did you know?

Hanrahan's book The albatross muff (1977) was inspired by a bag of letters and photographs which she found discarded in a London street.

Further reading

Stewart, Annette. Barbara Hanrahan : a biography, Kent Town, S. Aust. : Wakefield Press, 2010

Carroll, Alison. Barbara Hanrahan, printmaker, Netley, S. Aust. : Wakefield Press, 1986

Hanrahan, Barbara. The Barbara Hanrahan memorial exhibition : a celebration of the life and work of a writer and artist who loved Adelaide / jointly mounted by the State Library of South Australia and the Friends of the State Library as part of the Women's suffrage in South Australia celebrations ; catalogue compiled by Barbara Holbourn , Adelaide : Libraries Board of South Australia, 1994

Hanrahan, Barbara. The diaries of Barbara Hanrahan / edited by Elaine Lindsay, St. Lucia, Qld. : University of Queensland Press, 1998

Stewart, Annette. Woman and herself : a critical study of the works of Barbara Hanrahan, St. Lucia, Qld. : University of Queensland Press, 1998


Australian Women's Register: Search for Barbara Hanrahan

History Trust of South Australia: See: SA History: South Australian Prominent People

Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery: See : Collection - post 70s

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