Betty Roland (July 22, 1903 – February 12, 1996) was an Australian writer of plays, screenplays, novels, children's books and comics.

Life & Career Edit

She was born Mary Isobel Maclean at Kaniva, Victoria, the daughter of Roland and Matilda Maclean.[1] She left school at sixteen to work as a journalist for Table Talk and the Sun News-Pictorial, and married Ellis Harvey Davies in 1923.[2] Her best known play, The Touch of Silk, was first performed in 1928, and hailed as "The first Australian play written by a real dramatist"[3] (although it was not performed professionally until 1975, produced by John Tasker and starring Fay Kelton).[4] She also wrote the screenplay for what was claimed as the first Australian "talkie", The Spur of the Moment, in 1932, credited as Betty M. Davies.[1][3][5]

She met wealthy Marxist intellectual Guido Baracchi, one of the founders of the Australian Communist Party, in the late 1920s. Having left her husband, she booked a passage to the UK in 1933 and discovered Baracchi, also recenty separated, was a passenger on the same voyage. They began a relationship, and travelled together to the USSR, where Baracchi was to deliver documents to the Kremlin.[3] While there, Roland worked on the Moscow Daily News, shared a room with Katharine Susannah Prichard, and smuggled literature into Nazi Germany. The first volume of her autobiography, Caviar For Breakfast (1979), was based on her diaries from this period. On their return to Australia, they moved to Sydney, building a house in Castlecrag.[1][6] Their daughter, Gilda, was born in 1937.[3] In the late 1930s she wrote short, left-wing, agitprop plays, which she regarded as akin to political cartoons, for the New Theatre League in Sydney. The scripts were regularly published in Communist Review, a magazine published by the Communist Party of Australia and edited by Baracchi.[7]


"Angela, Air Hostess", from Girl, 1958-61

She separated from Baracchi in 1942, and for the rest of the 1940s supported herself and her daughter by writing radio plays, including The First Gentleman, Daddy Was Asleep, The White Cockade, A Woman Scorned, The Drums of Manalao and In His Steps.[1][6] She also wrote a comic strip, The Conways, for the Sydney Morning Herald.[8] From 1948 to 1950 she lived in the Montsalvat artists' colony at Eltham, Victoria.[3] In 1951 she legally changed her name to Betty Roland, and the following year moved to London with Gilda, where she wrote for television, women's magazines and children's books. She also wrote comics during this period. Her work for Girl includes "Pat of Paradise Isle" (1953-1954), "Laura and the Legend of Hadley House" (1954), "Vicky" (1954-1958) and "Angela Air Hostess" (1958-1961), all drawn by Dudley Pout, and "The Rajah's Secret", drawn by Charles Paine. She also wrote for Swift, and may have written "Sue Carter" in Look and Learn (1954-1957).[1]

She returned to Australia in the early 1960s, continuing to write radio plays and children's books, and was a founding member of the Australian Society of Authors in 1963, serving on its management committee and becoming an honorary life member in 1993.[6] She moved back into Montsalvat from 1973 to 1979, and wrote her second volume of autobiography, The Eye of the Beholder, about her time there.[3] She published two more volumes of autobiography, An Improbable Life (1989) and The Devious Being (1990). She died in Sydney in 1996.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Steve Holland, Betty Roland, Bear Alley, 8 September 2006
  2. Betty Roland at the Australian Literary Resource
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Penelope Hanley, Creative lives: personal papers of Australian writers and artists, National Library of Australia, 2009, pp. 8-87
  4. Richard Lane, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama, Melbourne University Press, 1994
  5. Betty M. Davies on IMDB
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Biographical Register: ROLAND, Betty (1903-1996), Working Lives, University of Sydney
  7. Roland, Betty, War on the Waterfront - a banned play, Illawarra Unity - Journal of the Illawarra Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 7(1), 2007, 49-55
  8. The Conways by Betty Roland and John Santry, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 March 1949
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