Remembering Shelton Lea

A Shelton Lea Tribute will be held this Sunday, 17 May, at My Handlebar Restaurant 581 Sydney Road, Brunswick, Victoria at 7pm. Full details

Shelton Lea reading from ‘1988’. Still from a Ken Smeaton video –

It has been ten years since one of the most celebrated Melbourne poets, Shelton Lea died on 13 May 2005.

Shelton Lea was born in 1946 at the Haven, a home for unmarried mothers in North Fitzroy. As an infant he was adopted into the wealthy Lea confectionery family of Toorak. At the age of twelve he ran away and became a street kid, stealing to survive. This lead to various stints in boys’ homes and reform schools, and finally to prison time in Pentridge and other jails. It was in prison that he began to read and write poetry, sometimes penning love poems on behalf of other inmates. Upon his release he lived a vagabond life on the roads of Australia, establishing bonds with Aboriginal people and writing about black/white issues in this country.

After living in Sydney in the 1960s he moved back to Melbourne where he associated with the Heide set, and was mentored by Barrett Reid, the editor of Overland Magazine. Lea’s first self-published chap book was called The Asmodeus Poems and came out in 1962. Shelton Lea also published the work of other poets, founding Eaglemont Press and in later years he ran a bookshop called “DeHavillands”, the possibly fictional name of his father on his birth certificate.

Shelton was a renowned performer of his poetry, reading in a high-flown, declamatory style, down to a whispery growl. His writing was romantic, street-smart and somewhat erratic in quality. In all he published nine collections: the last, Nebuchadnezzar was released by Black Pepper Press in 2005, the year Lea died of lung cancer.

– Biographical details from ABC Poetica (


Hosting The Radical Poets in 1989 Shelton Lea with two of his signature poems. From the wonderful YouTube channel hosted by Ken Smeaton




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