Helen Garner was born in Geelong, Victoria in 1942, and grew up there with five younger siblings. She studied Arts at the University of Melbourne, graduating with Honours in English and French in 1965. She worked as a secondary school teacher until 1972, when she was dismissed, amid controversy, by the Victorian Education Department for answering her students' questions about sex. Obliged by this sudden reversal to write for a living, she has continued ever since to work as a freelance feature writer (and occasional reviewer of film and theatre) for various major Australian newspapers and magazines.
Garner's first novel, Monkey Grip (1977), won the National Book Council Award - the first of several awards for her work - and was later adapted for cinema (1982). Her subsequent books include novels (The Children's Bach, 1980; Cosmo Cosmolino,1992), novellas (Honour & Other people's Children, 1980), short stories (Postcards from Surfers, 1985; My Hard Heart: Selected Short Fiction, 1998) and screenplays (The Last Days of Chez Nous and Two Friends 1992). All her fiction is contemporary in setting and in its accounts of the struggle to find decency, love and spiritual meaning in modern urban existence.
In the 1990s Garner investigated a sexual harassment case at Ormond College at Melbourne University. Her book about the case, The First Stone (1995), was a highly controversial and much-discussed best-seller, provoking a spate of conflicting public responses. Her subsequent publication, True Stories (1996), collects her essays and journalism written over 25 years, including the Walkley Award-winning piece Killing Daniel.
In 2001 she published a second non-fiction collection, The Feel of Steel, in which journalistic essays are arranged to constitute personal memoir. For more information and criticism see particularly Kerryn Goldsworthy's book Helen Garner (OUP 1996).
(Biography reviewed and amended slightly by the Author (08/10/2001)).
'Anyone can see the place where the children died. You take the Princes Highway past Geelong, and keep going west in the direction of Colac. Late in August 2006, soon after I had watched a magistrate commit Robert Farquharson to stand trial before a jury on three charges of murder, I headed out that way on a Sunday morning, across the great volcanic plain.
'On the evening of 4 September 2005, Father’s Day, Robert Farquharson, a separated husband, was driving his three sons home to their mother, Cindy, when his car left the road and plunged into a dam. The boys, aged ten, seven and two, drowned. Was this an act of revenge or a tragic accident? The court case became Helen Garner’s obsession. She followed it on its protracted course until the final verdict.
'In this utterly compelling book, Helen Garner tells the story of a man and his broken life. She presents the theatre of the courtroom with its actors and audience, all gathered for the purpose of bearing witness to the truth, players in the extraordinary and unpredictable drama of the quest for justice.
T'his House of Grief is a heartbreaking and unputdownable book by one of Australia’s most admired writers.' (Publication summary)
The Spare Room2008single work novel 'Helen lives in Melbourne, and her friend Nicola flies down from Sydney for a three-week visit. She will sleep in Helen's house, in her lovingly prepared spare room. This is no ordinary visit. Nicola has advanced cancer and is seeking alternative treatment from a clinic in Helen's city. From the moment Nicola steps off the plane, gaunt, staggering like a crone, her voice hoarse but still with something grand about her, Helen becomes her nurse, her protector, her guardian angel and her stony judge.' (Publisher's blurb)
'In October 1997 a clever young law student at ANU made a bizarre plan to murder her devoted boyfriend after a dinner party at their house. Some of the dinner guests - most of them university students - had heard rumours of the plan. Nobody warned Joe Cinque. He died one Sunday, in his own bed, of a massive dose of rohypnol and heroin. His girlfriend and her best friend were charged with murder. Helen Garner followed the trials in the ACT Supreme Court. Compassionate but unflinching, this is a book about how and why Joe Cinque died. It probes the gap between ethics and the law; examines the helplessness of the courts in the face of what we think of as 'evil'; and explores conscience, culpability, and the battered ideal of duty of care.' (Source: Pan Macmillan website)
Garner takes 'a deliberately subjective and "literary" approach' to her material with an 'emphasis on a sympatheitic authorial persona as the source of the reader's perspective' (Susan Lever 'The Crimes of the Past: Anna Funder's Stasiland and Helen Garner's Joe Cinque's Consolation'. Paper delivered at the Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) conference 2006).