Vale Loretta Hemensley

Rochford Street Review was saddened to learn of the recent death of Loretta Hemensley. Loretta along with husband Kris were central to the literary scene in Melbourne, and indeed around Australia and beyond, for many decades through their involvement in Collected Works Bookshop. She and Kris were involved in the collective that ran the bookshop from the early days and, when the collective eventually dissolved, they continued to run the bookshop as a partnership for many more years. Rochford Street Review expresses its condolences to Kris and to Loretta’s many friends and family.

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Loretta Hemensly with Kris Hemensley (centre) and Pete Spence (left) at Collected Works Bookshop. Photo Denis Smith.

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Long time friend and colleague of both Loretta and Kris, Robert Kenny, gave the following eulogy for Loretta. It is published here with  his permission:

Retta, Kris, Tim and myself lived together through the seventies and into the eighties, sharing much more than buildings. These were years of discovery, years of exploration, years of growing, first at Rushall Crescent, North Fitzroy and then pretty much around the corner in Urquhart St, Westgarth. And after I moved from those buildings, that bond continued, through further explorations, changes and of course great sadness, sadness we revisit today. My relationship was a group relationship and a complex of individual relationships, with Retta, with Kris, with Tim, all in themselves complex. All of them products of love, and the times. In all that, Retta was the pivot. She was the enthusiast, the negotiator, the optimist.

I first met Retta and Kris when they returned from England with baby Tim in late 1972 or early 73, through our mutual friend the poet Michael Dugan. The first meetings were through writing and reading. I got to know Retta individually on trips to the Film Society’s screenings of Italian, French and German films at the Dental Hospital theatrette in Grattan Street, now the site of another hospital that just recently saved my life. How these things turn.

Retta’s wry humour, cheeky and irreverent as it was, could hide a huge determination. She wanted things to happen, and was ready to do what she could to make those things happen. From street protests to running the gestetner for Kris’ publications to becoming involved in Collected Works Bookshop when the Small Publishers Collective folded and a group of us —including Jurate Sasnaitis, Des Cowley, Pete Spence, Nan McNab, Rob Finlayson— continued the shop in Smith Street, Collingwood. Of Course, Retta put her hand up. If my memory serves me well, and it doesn’t always, it was through Retta that we found Collected Works’ first home in the city, in Flinders Lane. And through her, as I for various reasons had to step away, Kris became centrally involved, until the lose co-operative gave way to a partnership of Kris and Retta.

Retta loved the shop and her days there. I was moved by the post by Stu Hatton on Kris’ Face Book Page remembering Retta giving him the Walter Billeter card with 21st birthday wishes. This was typical of Retta, generous and passionate. She was a reader, engaged with writing as such. She wanted people to write, but most of all she wanted people to read.

But she was also a listener. Music was fundamental to her, which was where Tim got it from I always thought. She and I would frequent Melbourne dance joints in the seventies and eighties with bands like The Sports, Stiletto, High Rise Bombers, and many others. Then in the nineties at her prompting we would tram down to a near deserted Limerick Arms in South Melbourne to listen to Paul Grabowsky, Allen Brown, Gary Costello, Ian Chaplin with Shelley Scown on vocals. Some of the most exquisite jazz from anywhere for us privileged few. At the same time, she explored contrasting sounds through Tim. Later still it was more transcendental music.

She was a one for life, courageous, and loving. And I, like all here, cannot yet believe she has gone.

 – Robert Kenny

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Loretta Hemensley with John Harley, Spanish Festival, Johnston Street Fitzroy circa 2005. Photograph Heather McDonald.

Note:Featured image of Loretta Hemensley in red shirt at the top of the page is by Heather McDonald.

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