Born on 29 June 1896, Paula grew up in the inner-city Brisbane suburb of New Farm in a middle-class, Catholic family. She was educated until age 15 at All Hallows', a Sisters of Mercy-run girls school where her aunt, Mary Fitzgerald, was Mother Assistant. Paula left school at age 15 and from that age onwards she pursued her love of writing poetry. She achieved success early as a 'child poet'; by the age of 16 her poems and short stories appeared regularly in newspapers including The Daily Mail and the Australasian.
Between 1916 and 1920 Paula often collaborated with her sister Agatha, a talented illustrator. They were referred to in the press as the 'Talented Misses Fitzgerald' and their illustrated children's poem, 'The Lady in the Blue Cloak', caught the attention of Sydney Ure Smith, an editor at Art in Australia. Agatha ceased publishing work after her marriage in 1920, but Paula remained a prolific poet for the next four decades.
As well as working as a nurse and a kindergarten teacher Paula was involved in numerous literary groups, including the Catholic Poetry Society, the Meanjin literary circle and the Jindyworobak movement. Her only individual volume of poems, The Singing Tree, was published in 1941. A devotee of the sonnet, Paula largely eschewed modernism. Her poetry is soft and melodic, imbued with allusions to fairytales and Celtic mythology. Individual works hint at personal heartbreak and loss, but while Paula's work has a deeply emotional and spiritual quality, it is never confessional.
One of Paula's most modern and most personal poems is her tribute to her brother, Cyril, who was shot in the head on the battlefield in France, and died of wounds on 17 April 1918. Paula did not publish any poems in the months immediately following Cyril's death. Her work published in early 1919 shows a marked shift in subject matter - from faerie-lore and the natural world to the horrors of war. 'The Fallen Soldier', included in The Singing Tree, makes Paula's grief explicit, and highlights her disillusionment and despair.
Paula remained an active participant in Brisbane's literary world until her death in 1972.
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.