Home > Poets > Cato, Nancy

Nancy Cato (1917 – 2000)

Nancy Fotheringham Cato was born in Glen Osmond, in the Adelaide Hills, on 11 March 1917. She was educated at Presbyterian Girls’ College (now Seymour College) in Adelaide, and matriculated to the University of Adelaide, where she studied English Literature and Italian, graduating in 1939. From 1935 to 1941, she worked as a cadet journalist for the Adelaide News, before marrying Eldred Norman, a racing car driver and inventor, in 1941. The couple had three children in three years, but Cato found time to work on her writing, publishing poems and stories from the early 1940s—much of her early work appearing in the Bulletin and in various anthologies. Associated with the Jindyworobak movement, Cato edited the 1950 Jindyworobak Anthology; she was also a founding member of the Lyre Bird Writers, a group dedicated to publishing Australian poetry. Her first collection of poems, The Darkened Window, was published by the Lyre Bird group in 1950. After travelling widely, Cato moved to Noosa, Queensland, where she became prominent as a conservationist and Aboriginal Rights activist. She died at Noosa on 3 July 2000.

Cato published one other collection of verse, The Dancing Bough (1957). She continued to write poetry, however, publishing in literary journals and magazines until the late 1990s. In 1958, she published the first volume of a trilogy of historical novels set on the Murray River, All the Rivers Run; a revised version of the series under this title appeared in 1978. She published a number of other novels, generally in the historical fiction genre, including Green Grows the Vine (1960), North West by South (1965), Brown Sugar (1974), Queen Trucanini (1976), Forefathers (1982), The Lady Lost in Time (1986), A Distant Island (1988), The Heart of the Continent (1989), and Marigold (1992). She also published non-fiction works, including Mr Malonga: Daniel Matthews and his River Murray Mission to the Aborigines (1976) and The Noosa Story (1979), and a popular children’s book, Nin and the Scribblies (1976). Cato was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1984, for services to literature and the environment, and awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Queensland in 1991.

Poetry Collections
  • The Darkened Window: poems (Sydney: Lyre Bird Writers, 1950).
  • The Dancing Bough (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1957).
Suggested Further Reading
  • Vincent Buckley, ‘A New Bulletin School?’ Essays in Poetry, Mainly Australian (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1957), pp.70–78.
  • Giulia Giuffre, ‘Nancy Cato,’ A Writing Life: Interviews with Australian Women Writers (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1990), pp. 150–67.
  • Robin Hughes, ‘Nancy Cato,’ Australian Biography, Dir. Frank Heimans (Lindfield, NSW: Film Australia), videocassette (VHS).
  • Ravi Nandan Sinha, ‘Charting Pain’s Equivocal Ocean: A Note on Contemporary Australian Poetry,’ Journal of Australian Literature 1.1 (1990), pp. 15–19.
  • Marjorie Wilkie, ‘Nancy Cato…Author-Historian-Conservationist,’ Imago 2.1 (1990), pp. 62–67.