Leslie Haylen

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Leslie Clement Haylen (also known as Sutton Woodfield) was born on 23 September, 1898 in Gundaroo near Canberra, and was the youngest of 12 children. He was a politician, journalist, novelist and playwright. His literary influences included his grandfather William Henry Day, who loved literature, and the writer (Dame) Mary Gilmore, a family friend.[1]

Leslie Haylen was the Federal MP for the electorate of Parkes for twenty years from 1943 to 1963, winning what had been a safe Liberal seat for the ALP. In the 1940s, the Parkes electorate covered the section of Canterbury City north of Cooks River, and from 1954 Parkes included about two thirds of Canterbury City, including [Campsie]] and Earlwood. For two hours every Monday morning Leslie Haylen conducted his electoral office at the Campsie School of Arts (now the Rotary Club's Coolabah Room) in North Parade, and it was here he interviewed members of his electorate who had problems or grievances.

Leslie Haylen was very supportive of local actors and writers. His maiden speech in Parliament was presented on his birthday in 1943. In this speech he proclaimed his interest in cultivating 'the spirit of Australianism' through literature, theatre and art. He called upon Parliament to establish a National Theatre to encourage local actors and authors and provide a vehicle for producing their works. Les Haylen was a pioneer in this area, and it is easy to forget how much our pride in our Australian culture has grown since then.[2]

Leslie Haylen was involved in the founding of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in NSW in 1928. He was president of the Fellowship in 1946 and 1947 and again in 1957 and 1958. He was also a life patron of the Fellowship and member until his death in 1977.

Leslie Haylen's position in Parliament enabled him to raise, either in the House or in private talks with the Ministers responsible, a number of literary matters such as taxation reform for writers, the extension of the Commonwealth Literary Fund, and the commemoration of Henry Lawson and other pioneer writers. He also played a prominent part in the campaign for the Henry Lawson stamp which finally appeared in June 1949.

Lesley Haylen was also supportive of Australian television screening programmes with local content, and featuring local authors and actors. In Parliament in the early 1960s he initiated a campaign to establish a quota system of minimum Australian content on TV.

Leslie Haylen joined the Australian Women's Weekly as news editor in 1933. He wrote the plays Change of Policy (1934); Freedom has a Beard (1937) and Blood on the Wattle (1948). Three of the novels he wrote about early Australian life The Game Darrells (1933), The Brierley Rose (1935) and Brown Boy Singing (1940) were serialised in the Australian Women's Weekly before their publication as books and their subsequent production as radio serials. He also wrote a trilogy Big Red; The Streets of the City; and The Towers of Babylon.

Les Haylen was described as having 'plenty of charm, wit and a sharp tongue' in parliament, and was critical of the way parliament was run. His interests were foreign affairs and economics rather than local parish pump politics, which he described as 'fetes worse than death'. Les Haylen unexpectedly lost his seat in the 1963 election. In 1969 he published a political memoir, 20 years' hard labour, which discusses important political events of the forties, fifties and sixties, and personalities of the period, including Menzies and ALP leaders Chifley, Evatt, and Caldwell.

Leslie Haylen's son Wayne attended Canterbury Boys' High School. Wayne remembers being told by his teacher Bill Collins (the movie critic) that his father wrote the script for one of the earliest Australian talking movies. It was based on his anti-war play of the same title Two minutes silence and was the last film made by the McDonagh sisters. It was staged in Sydney, ran for 26 weeks and was enthusiastically reviewed by Kenneth Slessor.

Leslie Haylen worked for the Telegraph in the days when it was owned by (Sir) Frank Packer Senior. When he gained pre-selection for the Australian Labour Party, Mr Haylen was dismissed by the paper. Ben Chifley stepped in and prevented what would have been the first national journalist strike - Leslie Haylen had been employed under contract by the paper. Under the pseudonym Sutton Woodfield, he wrote A is for Artemis, a satire on politics and the press, where he drew in part on his experience with Packer and his feud with the Sydney cartoonist George Molnar.[3]

Leslie Haylen led the first Parliamentary delegation to China after the Communist Party took over the country. The Menzies' Government refused to visit China so Leslie Haylen led the ALP. After his second visit to China in 1957, at the height of the Cold War, he wrote Chinese Journey: the Republic revisited, a glowing account comparing old China with what he saw after the Communist Party had taken over.

Lesley Haylen died on 12 September 1977 in Lewisham, and his funeral service was conducted at St Stephens Anglican Church (now St Stephanos), Hurlstone Park. In their tributes in the House, Haylen's former colleagues recalled his wit, repartee and irreverence, and Gough Whitlam remarked: "Only Australia could have produced him".[4]



  • Two Minutes' Silence (1930)
  • Change of Policy (1934)
  • Freedom has a Beard (1937)
  • Blood on the Wattle (1948)
  • The Stormy Blast (1966)


  • The Game Darrells (1933)
  • The Brierley Rose (1935)
  • Brown Boy Singing (1940)
  • A for Artemis (1960), as Sutton Woodfield
  • Big Red (1965)

Other works

  • Chinese Journey (1959)
  • The Tracks We Travel (1965, 1976), editor
  • Twenty Years' Hard Labor (1969)