Anne Elder had two careers in the arts at a time when it was unusual for women to have any. Her first began during World War II when under her maiden name of Anne Mackintosh she joined Edoard Borovansky and his ground-breaking ballet company in Melbourne.
Twenty years later she had become a well-respected poet, warmly reviewed by her peers (a contemporary called her ‘one of the best poets this country has produced over the last twenty years’) and widely published in newspapers and poetry journals.
Anne was born in Auckland, New Zealand on January 4th, 1918 and moved to Melbourne, aged three, with her parents Norman Mackintosh and Rèna Dillon, née Bell. Inspired by seeing Anna Pavlova dance in Melbourne she took up ballet again at sixteen, managing to combine ballet classes with an impressive record of study at St Catherine’s School in Toorak. In 1940 her desperately hard work bore fruit and she joined the Borovansky Company, where she displayed a coolly elegant style and danced a number of solo roles. For Anne, the excitement of being part of this nascent enterprise, along with others who became life long friends, was something she never forgot.
Anne’s dancing career ended in 1944 after her husband, John Elder, returned from the war and they started a family. Her creative energies were soon redirected to reading and writing poetry but it was only in the mid-sixties, when her children had left home, that she began publishing in earnest. Her first collection of poems, For the Record (Hawthorn Press), appeared in 1972, but her health, always fragile, deteriorated further and in 1976, aged only fifty-eight, she died of a rare autoimmune disease.
Elder’s finely crafted and sensuous poetry, produced within such a short period, is extraordinary in its range and intensity. She was an extremely keen observer and the starting points of her poems were often the people around her, her beloved garden and house, her children, living things, the countryside. As Dorothy Green observed, ‘poems which start from the centre of the observing self have a way of opening out suddenly to light up the world outside’ (1977).
In the same year her second book, Crazy Woman and Other Poems (Angus & Robertson) appeared posthumously to significant acclaim and was shortlisted for the 1977 National Book Council Award. Following her death Anne’s husband John Elder set up an annual poetry award in her name, which continues to this day.
In 2018, Anne Elder’s centenary year, a compelling biography, The Heart’s Ground (Lauranton Books), was published by Julia Hamer along with a generous selection of Elder’s published and unpublished poems, The Bright and the Cold, compiled by her daughter Catherine Elder.