Gwen Harwood (nee Foster) was born into a feminist family tradition in Queensland, Australia. Her education was Christian, musical and political. She was classically-trained in piano and organ but had her career aspirations dashed by what she saw as male-chauvinist attitudes. Having married and moved from Brisbane to Tasmania when her husband was appointed to the University, she began to write poetry while bringing up her four children.
Reverting to male noms de plumes to get published hardened her attitude to male-controlled Australian society of the 1950's. Her growing awareness of the treatment of aboriginal people caused her to feel shame as a white Australian. "White Australia" policy regarding immigration led her to create a character for a set of poems where she explores the plight of a gifted, lonely Austrian musician, Krote (toad, in German). In various poems, she critics Australian society for its prejudiced narrow-mindedness ("Monday"), its pretentious and false artistic appreciation ("At the Arts Club"), its lack of compassion ("Hospital Evening") and the way in which Australian children are carrying the prejudices of their parents into a new generation ("Monday" and "Music lesson"). Krote is not portrayed overly sympathetically. Indeed, he is short-tempered and drunk much of the time.
However, he delights in reversing the power in society by playing his music badly while nobody is cultured enough to notice and by retreating increasingly into a preferable dream existence to escape the stultifying, complacent Aussie "Ocker" world that he encounters. Harwood's sense of mischief is readily apparent in these poems as is her desire to change attitudes to make Australia a more cultured, accommodating place where difference can be celebrated and a genuine polyglot created..