Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Venie meeting visitors to the Nandimukh Publishing stand.
Calcutta/Kolkata Book Fair - 2.5 million visitors



Somebody different I thought — a strong performer, a unique voice. Venie Holmgren! Little did I know.

Little did I know when I asked Venie — and Jenni Kemarre Martiniello — to join me for the Poets and Court tour of SE NSW back in 2001, the great friendships and experiences that would come out of it. We were three women with very different backgrounds — Aboriginal, Irish, Jewish — and we all knew how to work it.

Poets in Court: Jenni, Venie, Lizz with Binalong's Maria Kosseris

Through her character and her poetry, Venie had us rocking with laughter, paying due attention to the issues she was passionate about and just as soon moved to tears with works such as Among the Sepias. Due to popular demand we performed as Poets and Court at three regional festivals and revisited that crazy week with its 13 gigs in courthouses, church halls and cafés and even an old people’s home where Venie was afraid she might be kept in! More laughter. We could’ve toured the world with it.

Little did either of us know then, that we would find ourselves on another tour, travelling to India together for a program of activities with Wollongong poet Ron Pretty. We would take part in the amazing Calcutta Book Fair (2.5 million people) and other events in Calcutta arranged by the Nandimukh publishing house — friends we made through the South Coast Writers Centre. Bengali people were incredibly friendly and hospitable but none more so than when in the presence of ‘International Mother.’

I saw a very different city to what I would’ve experienced without Venie — including the inside of a Calcutta police station! Reporting Venie’s camera left behind in one of the city’s 4000 yellow taxiis, we were sent ahead of the queue straight to the Deputy Commissioner. Venie was most amused when she found she had to provide her family history as part of the process, was aghast when asked her age and hooted loudly when asked her father’s age. I think she told me he would’ve been 140 years old if still alive. She appreciated that the Deputy Commissioner enjoyed the sound of her father’s name, rolling ‘Samuel’ around in his mouth several times. Venie was very pleased. So was the Deputy Commissioner — we were brought chai tea and biscuits.

Venie and I lived on opposite ends of the SE Region so it was hard to see each other but I treasure the get togethers we did have. They were mostly at readings and book launches but also on a couple of memorable occasions in her Pambula home, with evenings spent eating meals from her garden and reading poetry around her table. Mother I’m Rooted: An Anthology of Australian Women’s Poetry was a favourite of us both.

After moving to Hepburn Venie told me she didn’t expect to write any more poetry. It made me so sad to think there wouldn’t be any more of those eloquent, moving or gutsy works so I was thrilled when I heard about The Tea House Poems. She described them as modest but of course they are exquisite.

Venie’s exuberance and tenacity and the power of her poetry were and always will be an inspiration. Little did I know how much richer my life would be for knowing her.


Venie Holmgren passed on January 27 at the age of 94. She was writing and publishing to the end. You can learn more about Venie's fascinating life here.

Meeting international guests at World Conference of Poets 2001

At a spontaneous poetry reading at WCP

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