Oct. 2, 1917 – Dec. 5, 1979
by Brother Gerald del Campo
Born October 2, 1917 to orthodox Protestant parents in Denedin New Zealand, Rosaleen Norton was known as Roie to her family and friend.
She began to have psycho/spiritual experiences at a very young age, and as a result, she innocently considered these to be a normal part of the human experience. She began drawing at the age of 3. The pictures she created had to do with mystical incidents, and her classmates were rather disturbed by the images. She was eventually expelled from the Chatswood Girls Grammar School for her drawings.
Later she studied art at East Sydney Technical College, and this coincided with her exploration of the occult and religious rites. Her inventiveness was encouraged in college, and she became a gifted writer of gothic stories for an Australian newspaper called Smith’s Weekly. She even began to assume the duties of illustrator and reporter in training, but lost her job there after 8 months because her drawings were judged rather unconventional for the majority of the readers.
She left home at 18 and made a modest living posing for artists in Kings Cross, and began to study occult literature. She was then married for a short time, spent some time train hoping and hitchhiking around Australia’s East Coast with her husband, but divorced him when he came back from the war, and began drawing again for a periodical called Pertinent. It was while working for this publication that she began her experimentation with trance, and met her magical and artistic equal: a poet named Gavin.
They relocated to Melbourne in 1949, and she had her first exhibition, which was raided by the police a couple of days after opening. She was charged with obscenity, but all charges were dismissed. Disappointed, she and Gavin relocated back to Kings Cross where Rosaleen became a well-known Bohemian living in poverty. It wasn’t long until she was charged with vagrancy.
In 1952, a publisher named Wally Glover signed both Rosaleen and Gavin and they made a limited numbers if a book called “The Art Of Rosaleen Norton (with poems by Gavin Greenlees),” but the papers called it indecent, and Wally Glover was charged for producing the publication, and he was fined. And perhaps thinking that some advanced minds might understand her work, she sent copies of this book to some prominent figures of her time: Carl Jung, T.S. Elliot, Albert Einstein, C.S. Lewis to name but a few.
Then, there was the robbery where pictures of the pair in ceremonial apparel were taken. Soon, rumors began circulating about supposed satanic rituals, black masses, and the like. She became known as the “Kings Cross Witch.” She was raided again in late 1955, and a man who displayed her artwork in his restaurant was charged for obscenity. Gavin was admitted to a psychiatric ward with schizophrenia after he tried to kill Rosaleen with a kitchen knife.
She didn’t compromise her integrity by turning down offers to sell out, and even though her paintings were in demand at the time, she preferred to live in poverty rather than paint anything other than what she wanted. She was a devotee of Pan, and during her trials she maintained a sincere truth about her lifestyle, art and religion, which she was forced to defend at every trial.
She did support herself by selling painting and making magical trinkets for a select group of friends. She became a celebrity in the 70’s after a fundamentalist report on the occult, but she became a recluse and shut herself in with her cats, music and literature. Rosaleen was a brilliant artist, and was a victim of ignorance and the puritanical prejudices of her times. She died of colon cancer on December 5, 1979. Her talent has recently been rediscovered, and is finding a wide audience.