‘The dogs were racing at Harold Park when they told us the gladiator was dead. He had had a bet on Sweet and Lovely, which came home at ten to one. He didn’t.’
Thelma Forshaw’s fiction drew on her personal memories, including the death of her father a week after her eleventh birthday when the family was living at 215 Johnston Street, Annandale, ‘within cooee of Harold Park’. She remembered ‘the open-neck sport-shirts; the breath relaxingly beery; the entrance-fee sweaty within the fist’ and the roar of the crowd. ‘Like the surf it thundered, with aspirates huffing and sibilants hissing through it. The vast sigh of collective ecstasy. Or the giant groan of collective dismay. And triumph roaring upward through the funnels of a thousand throats. Our people at play.’ *
‘Thelly’ Forshaw (her birthplace was said to be Glebe Point) was born on 1 August 1923 to Leslie Alfred Forshaw (1901-35) and Mary Winifred Burke (1889–1949) who married at Annandale that year. Leslie was Baptist, a labourer who boxed; Mary was Catholic and 12 years his senior. In her stories Thelma depicted the marriage, which produced two other children Walter and Leslie, as unhappy. ‘Now my mother was safe’ she noted after her father’s death. The family then went to live with relatives at 115 Albion Street, Annandale.
Forshaw was educated at State and Catholic schools including St Michael’s Stanmore and St Fiacre’s Leichhardt, and at Sydney Teachers’ College. After serving in the WAAF she had a variety of postwar jobs: secretary, waitress, button-carder, guesthouse hostess and publicity officer for the Far West Children’s Health Project. She began writing short stories. The first of these were published in the Australia Week-end Book in 1944 and 1945. In 1948 she married Viennese-born George Korting.
Under the guidance of literary editor H G Kippax (whose ‘Olympian benevolence’ she couldn’t emulate, being a ‘bit of a nark’) Forshaw reviewed books for the Sydney Morning Herald. She wrote also for The Bulletin, Nation, Meanjin, Southerly and the Age and the Australian. During the 1970s her stories appeared regularly in Quadrant. The largely autobiographical An Affair of Clowns was a publishing success but lost her the affection and trust of her mother’s family. By the 1980s, labelled a ‘slanderer’, unhappy in her marriage and short of money, Forshaw tried, without success, to write for the Mills and Boon market and to revive her career as a book reviewer. Love Life of a Boozer, a reworking of her Clowns collection, was not published. She died on 8 October 1995.
Thelma’s mother Mary Forshaw died at home 99 Hereford Street Forest Lodge on 20 May 1949 and was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood Cemetery alongside her parents Honora (ca 1861-1931) and Patrick (ca 1854-1931) Burke.
* Extracts from ‘The Widow’ in An Affair of Clowns. Other quotes are from her correspondence with H G Kippax and book editor Beatrice Davis.
Davis, Beatrice: correspondence files Mitchell Library ML MSS 7638/3
Forshaw, Thelma An Affair of Clowns: Short Stories and Sketches 1967
Kippax, H G: correspondence files Mitchell Library ML MSS 7987
Literary Review Winter 1963-4
Lofthouse, Andrea Who’s Who of Australian Women 1982
Who’s Who of Australian Writers 1995