Cross, Zora (1890–1964)

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Cross, Zora (1890–1964)

Australian poet and journalist. Born Zora Bernice May Cross on May 18, 1890, at Eagle Farm, Brisbane, Australia; died on January 22, 1964, at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains; daughter of Mary Louisa Eliza Ann (Skyring) Cross and Ernest William Cross (an accountant); married Stuart Smith (an actor), on March 11, 1911 (marriage dissolved, 1922); lover of David McKee Wright (an author and journalist); children: (with Wright) two daughters; (with another) one son who was adopted by Wright.

Selected works:

A Song of Mother Love (1916); Songs of Love and Life (1917); The Lilt of Life (1918); (children's verse) The City of Riddle-me-ree (1918); Elegy on an Australian Schoolboy (1921); (pamphlet) An Introduction to the Study of Australian Literature (1922); Daughters of the Seven Mile: The Love Story of an Australian Woman (1924); The Lute Girl of Rainy-vale: A Story of Love, Mystery and Adventure in North Queensland (1925); The Victor (serialized in the Sydney Morning Herald, 1933); This Hectic Age (1944).

Known as a woman much in advance of her time, Zora Cross was responsible for what biographer Dorothy Green has called the "first sustained expression in Australian poetry of erotic experience from a woman's point of view." Cross was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1890. Her parents influenced her literary ambitions; she is said to have inherited a sense of poetic mission from her mother and threads of Celtic fantasy from her father. Cross received her early education at Gympie and Ipswich Girls' Grammar School, followed by high school in Sidney where she went on to attend the Teachers' College. After starting to teach primary school, she left her position to give birth to a daughter who did not survive. Cross married an actor by the name of Stuart Smith in 1911; she refused to live with him, however, and the marriage would be dissolved in 1922, eight years after the birth of her son who was the result of a love affair.

To earn a living, Cross taught elocution and acted in one of Philip Lytton's companies before turning to freelance journalism. She submitted her poetry to literary magazines, and, in addition to writing as a drama critic for Green Room and Lone Hand, she worked as a columnist for the Brisbane Daily Mail. Following the outbreak of war, Cross traveled through north Queens-land, touring with a concert party to help raise war funds. Although her first novel was refused by T.C. Lothian in 1916, her first book of poems, A Song of Mother Love, was published in the same year in Brisbane.

In 1917, Cross returned to Sydney. That year, she published Songs of Love and Life which comprised 60 love sonnets. In expressing the erotic experience of a woman, Cross is said to have fused sensuousness and religiosity. Songs received what Green has described as "favourable if somewhat startled reviews." The sonnets in this work, and other poems in the 1918 work The Lilt of Life, were inspired by her love affair with David McKee Wright, a wellknown author and journalist, who fathered two daughters by Cross and adopted her son. The affair scandalized the Sydney literary establishment, as the inspiration of her poems became evident. Contributing to the scandal was the mistaken belief that Wright had neglected previous paternal obligations, which in fact Cross helped him to honor. Nonetheless, Wright was shut out of his editorship of the Bulletin's Red Page, placing a strain on their finances.

In 1918, Cross published The City of Riddle-me-ree, a work of children's verse said to perhaps best exemplify her lyric gift. This work was followed in 1921 by the more somber Elegy on an Australian Schoolboy, in which the poet mourns the World War I death of her young brother John Skyring Cross. In addition to poetry, she published several works of fiction including Daughters of the Seven Mile: The Love Story of an Australian Woman (1924); The Lute Girl of Rainyvale: A Story of Love, Mystery and Adventure in North Queensland (1925); and This Hectic Age (1944). She also authored a pamphlet entitled "An Introduction to the Study of Australian Literature" (1922), which is now considered outdated but was a useful resource in her day. In 1933, Cross' novel The Victor was serialized in the Sydney Morning Herald.

When Wright died suddenly in 1928, Cross was left in financial peril as she worked to provide for her children with freelance writing. Despite her struggles to support her family, she is said to have remained cheerful and diligent. Cross' younger daughter would later describe her mother as "a delightful and amusing parent, who never for one moment lost sight of her priority as a writer and a poetess." From 1930, Cross received a Commonwealth Literary Fund pension of £2 a fortnight, but the family still often went without bare necessities. An intended trilogy of Roman novels was never completed, and Cross died on January 22, 1964, at Glen-brook in the Blue Mountains.


Radi, Heather, ed. 200 Australian Women. NSW, Australia: Women's Redress Press, 1988.

Wilde, William H., Joy Hooton, Barry Andrews. Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford, 1985.