RUTH PARK: New stage version of play wins the hearts and minds of the audience!

“WOMAN WINS MAJOR AWARD IN NOVEL PRIZE”, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD SHOUTED.

FRANK MORRIS

THE BACKSTREET: AUTHOR RUTH PARK TOURED THE STREETS OF SURRY HILLS TALKING TO RESIDENTS IN THE 1950s. IMAGE: FAIRFAX. Below: RUTH PARK HAS A LAUGH WITH A RESIDENT. Below: SURRY HILLS WAS A QUEER… LITTLE VILLAGE HALF HIDDEN BY A PROPEROUS CITY.

Controversial Ruth Park did not make public appearance until 1947. That’s when Park won the Herald inaugural annual award for the novel The Harp in the South and received two thousand pounds from newspaper’s editor Hugh McClure Smith.

The paper was soon inundated with angry letters “claiming Sydney has no slums.”

Written in New Zealand, the author airmailed The Harp in the South to reach Sydney just before closing time of the competition.  The newspaper announced the winner in December; and that The Harp in the South would be serialised during January.

In her book, Park describes the backstreets of Surry Hills in the 1950s as “a queer, disreputable little village, half hidden under the hem of a prosperous city … places of scrawny terraces, ruinous cottages far older that the terraces, sagging roofs, snaggletooth fences and warped green shutters that always dangled idly from one rusty bolt.

SUCH NEGLECT

She went on to compare the many houses like the one that the Darcy’s lived in at twelve-and-a-half Plymouth Street.

“There were many houses … smelling of leaking gas, and rats, and mouldering wallpaper which has soaked up the odours of a thousand meals … Such neglect! Such disrepair!

“No one had cared for Surry Hills since Victoria was on the throne.”

Living at twelve-a-half Plymouth St, the Darcy’s had grown up and grown old “amid brothels and sly grog, the pious and the violent, the opportunists and the desperate,” the Sydney Theatre Company said.

DIFFERENT TWIST

The play was adapted from the trilogy -- Missus, The Harp in the South and Poor Man’s Orange – by celebrated playwright Kate Mulvany.

In part one, the Darcy family saga begins with a love story in the 1920s. It’s a rural, dusty NSW town where young Margaret Kilker falls for one called Hugh Darcy. Newly married, and in search of a brighter future, they move to Sydney’s Surry Hills.

The play takes a different twist in part two. Amid the changing world in the 1950s, the shadow of the war lingers. And, suddenly, there is a new threat on the horizon. The homes of Surry Hills’ poor are threatened by government plans for redevelopment.

Playwright Mulvany says: “I hope this play makes you look at the person next to you and smile”.


FLASHBACK: Gwen Plumb setting the pace as Gran

FRANK MORRIS

ACCLAIM: GWEN PLUMB PLAYED THE PART OF GRAN IN THE TOP-RATING SERIES THE HARP IN THE SOUTH. Below: FIRST AUSSIE WOMAN TO TACKLE AN OVERSEAS ASSIGNMENT.

Actress Gwen Plumb had been at the forefront of Australian TV and theatre for over 60 years or more. In the 80s, she won acclaim for her part of Gran in the top-rating mini-series of Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South. Ms Plumb became professional actor in 1948.

After studying drama at Doris Fitton’s Independent Theatre, her first role that year was in the farce See How They Run at the Minerva Theatre, King Cross.

In her radio days, Ms Plumb played Emmie in the Australia’s longest-running serial, Blue Hills.

BITTERSWEET

In 1953, she went to London for 2GB to cover the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2 and stayed there for 5 years for sending back tapes of main celebrity events. She was the first woman in Australian broadcasting to tackle such an assignment. She was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1973.

The Harp in the South was one of the best television programs adapted from a book, ever, in the annals of television. As far as Gwen Plumb’s role was concerned, looking deeply into Grans’ eyes: they express the bittersweet outcome of the Darcys. Gwen Plumb as born in 1912; died in 2002.

<< The Sydney Theatre Company; part of Frank Morris’s article on Gwen Plumb which was done in 1988.


NEXT: A NATION REBORN – The Australian Chronicle (new edition), which begins at 1901, will continue with its news items. Each year will be random … LES MISERABLES will continue the week after.


MAEVE BINCHY: Part one. The Irish Times and long after! She loved being a columnist!

THE COLUMN WAS THE START OF HER BRILLIANT WRITING CAREER.

Adapted by FRANK MORRIS

A GAME: AUTHOR MAEVE BINCHY TAKES TIME OUT TO PLAY A CHESS GAME. Below: GORDON AND MAEVE -- VERY HAPPY.

In October, 1968, the Irish Times got a new Women’s Editor. It was Maeve Binchy.

As a young teacher she had loved both her job and her holiday travels; she had been a favourite contributor ( to the Irish Times) since her first travel letter, sent in by her father, was published a few years earlier.

On her appointment, the then News Editor Donal Foley, declared, “Won’t she be a great crack to work with? And she’s a brilliant writer!”

Both proved true over a career which lasted the best part of fifty years.

Maeve Binchy wrote for and edited the daily Women First page until 1973. She transferred to the London office as a columnist, feature writer and reporter. She balanced the day job with her rapidly growing career as a writer of fiction and drama.

FUTURE GENERATIONS

In the 1980s, when she resigned … from the Irish Times, she retained her close association with the paper as a regular contributor. Maeve and her husband, Gordon Snell, moved back to Ireland.

In  2013, Gordon Snell, wrote the Introduction to the Maeve Binchy book, Maeve’s Times, because he knows the writings of Maeve Binchy are “universally cherished” and “will be for generations to come.”

Gordon Snell said:

From her earliest childhood, Maeve loved stories – and wanted to be part of them. When her father started to read her some tale of two children wandering through a wood, she asked at once, “Where was I?”

SETTING THE SCENE

He would say, patiently, “You were sitting in a tree beside the path.” And with Maeve happily located the story could go on.

When she grew up and became a storyteller herself, she made her readers feel that, like little Maeve in the tree, they were on the scene, among the action and the characters. She did the same in her journalism, writing with on-the-spot directness of the people and events with whom she come into contact.

It was her father’s enthusiasm that led to Maeve becoming a journalist in the first place. As a teacher she used her long holidays to travel all over the world, on cargo ships, cheap flights, trains and hitch-hiking.

She worked in school and holiday camps, on a kibbutz. And as a tourist guide, in North America, the Middle East and Asia. Her father sent some of her long, lively letters … to the newspapers who published them as articles.

HUMAN BEHAVIOUR

That was the start of her career as a columnist. It was a job she kept doing happily even after she had become a celebrated novelist.

Whether she was observing a couple having an angry but icily polite disagreement, or a feeling the panic – including her own -- brought on by the trials of air travel, or watching the outlandish fantasies of the fashion industry; she had a unique ear for the quirks, intensities and absurdities of human behaviour.

No wonder her readers were delighted with her; for she told it all with the eagerness and enthusiasm of someone who says, “Just wait till I tell you what happened …” and goes on to tell and enthralling and often hilarious tale.

NEXT WEEK: Final. “Her capacity for friendship seemed limitless,” wrote Snell.


BRIGHT SPARKS: This is what happened in 2018

FRANK MORRIS

 A LONG WAY: COUNCILS HAVE COVERED SOME DISTANCE SINCE MY COVER STORY ON THEIR PROGRESS IN THE 1960s.

A plan to “replace” high-emitting street lighting in Parramatta is nearly completed. A more effective LED lights program, which is part of the street-light replacement scheme, is one of Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils projects.

“We are currently working with a number western Sydney councils who need further lighting upgrades, solar installations and energy efficiency measures.”

Councils have come a long way in 60 years. In the 1960s, it was “plastics in lighting” test installation that was tried out by the Electricity Authority of NSW. It was a huge success. I recall, in The Plastics Retailer magazine, I published a glowing article by our staff writer on the project.

REWARDING ADDRESS

“It is estimated that over the next few years one hundred and seventy six thousand pounds will be spent yearly on street lighting in Sydney alone, and that a considerable portion of this sum will go on plastic components,” the writer said.

“The same speaker pointed out that the use of acrylics in lighting had doubled since 1958 … Plastic diffusers had increased 60 per cent since 1960. The plastics diffusers can be used up to a number of years.”

The writer said it was “the most rewarding address I had heard for some time.”

LED. Not a bad leap forward. 

<< Sydney Morning Herald. September, 2018; The Plastics Retailer, August, 1961.

Posted in: Grand Years with Frank Morris at 07 September 18

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