Barbara Baynton was born in the Hunter Valley town of Scone, New South Wales, in 1857. After being educated at home Baynton worked briefly as a governess before in 1880 marrying the first of her three husbands, whom she divorced after a decade. In the 1890s, financially secure from her marriage to the retired surgeon Thomas Baynton, she began writing short stories, poetry and articles for the Bulletin. Her first tale, ‘The Tramp’, was published in 1896.
After failing to find an Australian publisher for her collection of six short stories, she visited London and in 1902 Duckworth published Bush Studies. Thomas Hardy was ‘much struck with the strength’ of Baynton’s writing. Two years later Thomas Baynton died, and Baynton spent the next years between Sydney and London. Human Toll, a novel, appeared in 1907; Cobbers, which combined Bush Studies with two new stories, was published in 1917. Baynton married Rowland George Allanson-Winn, fifth baron Headley, in 1921.
A successful businesswoman and a campaigner for women’s rights, a lover of antiques and a renowned socialite, Baynton spent her later years in Toorak, Melbourne. She was renowned for her wit and for her jewellery, particularly her collection of opals. Billy Hughes thought her a ‘remarkable woman’. She died in 1929.
Helen Garner was born in 1942 in Geelong, and was educated there and at Melbourne University. She taught in Victorian secondary schools until 1972, when she was dismissed for answering her students’ questions about sex, and had to start writing journalism for a living.
Her first novel, Monkey Grip, came out in 1977, won the 1978 National Book Council Award, and was adapted for film in 1981. Since then she has published novels, short stories, essays, and feature journalism. Her screenplay The Last Days of Chez Nous was filmed in 1990. Garner has won many prizes, among them a Walkley Award for her 1993 article about the murder of two-year-old Daniel Valerio. In 1995 she published The First Stone, a controversial account of a Melbourne University sexual harassment case. Joe Cinque’s Consolation (2004) was a non-fiction study of two murder trials in Canberra.
In 2006 Helen Garner received the inaugural Melbourne Prize for Literature. Her most recent novel, The Spare Room (2008), has been translated into many languages.