Jessica Anderson was born in Gayndah, Queensland, to an English mother and an Irish father but brought up in Brisbane. She left school at 16 and attended the Brisbane Technical College Art School for a year, but moved to Sydney when she was 18 and was drawn into the bohemian life there. She lived most of her life in Sydney, though she also lived in London for two and a half years. In an interview with Ellison, Anderson said that she always wanted to be a writer or an artist and that as a child she always wrote—poetry and stories. She also said that she thought about being an architect but that this seemed impossible for a woman in the Brisbane of her youth. She came from a politically active family and joined the Australian Labor Party in 1976. Anderson was twice divorced, her first husband being the artist Ross McGrill. She had one daughter, the film and television script-writer, Laura Jones. She died in Sydney aged 93 on 9 July 2010.