Thursday, August 24, 2006

New England, Australia - still more writers

Listening to ABC 702 in Sydney I discovered that Bob Herbert's play No Names ... No Pack Drill was being produced again. I was also fascinated to discover that Richard Glover had had a small cameo part in what I think was the first production of the play in Armidale in 1979.

John McCallum's review of the play in The Australian notes that this was already a nostalgic play when first produced. Set in 1942 when Sydney was awash with sailors, it tells the story of a young Australian war widow, Kathy, who harbours an American marine deserter, Rebel, and falls in love with him. The play is being produced by the NIDA Company, Parade Theatre, Sydney and is on until September 3.

I was in Canberra when the play was first produced, but remember reading about it in the Armidale Express. I was surprised at the time because I did not know that Bob was a writer. When my interest was triggered by the ABC story and I did some research on his life, I was surprised again simply because it showed me how little I knew.

Bob was born at Yea in Victoria on 6 April 1923. During the Second World War he served in the RAAF and the Second AIF. After the war he became a radio officer at sea where he began writing plays. Keen to pursue his interest in theatre, Bob moved to Queensland as an actor and radio station manager.

Bob came to Armidale as Theatres Manager at the University of New England. Here he played a key role in the development of theatre facilities and the provision of technical support for the University's Theatre Studies Department. Bob died in 1999.

Bob's story reminds me that there is still no history, or at least one that I am aware of, of theatre in New England. This is another significant gap in New England historiography, one that I will write about in another post to try to explain why I think it is important.

Returning to New England writers, in my post on the death of David Wright, I mentioned in passing the link between P A Wright and Earle Page. Page (and also here) was one of the pivotal figures in the history of New England in his own right and through his links with others.

Mentioning Page reminded me of another New England writer, Geoff Page, Earle Page's grandson, a writer also linked to a number of my recent stories.

Geoff was born in Grafton on 7 July 1940. Like Alex Buzo, he went to The Armidale School (TAS), in Geoff's case as a boarder. I have never discussed with Geoff where he got his love of English, so I am left wondering whether like Alex he acquired it at school or later while studying at the University of New England.

I first remember meeting Geoff while he was at University because he was courting the daughter of Professor Sommerville. Like my own father, Prof Sommerville had been one of the five original staff members appointed to the newly established New England University College in 1938. Malcolm and Paul, the Sommerville twins, were the same age as me and we were good friends.

In 1964, Geoff moved to Canberra where he taught in Canberra schools and was writer-in-residence at a number of academic institutions. At the end of 2001 he retired from being head of English at Narrabundah College, a position held since 1974.

Geoff has built up a considerable body of work over the years, publishing sixteen collections of poetry, two novels, three verse novels, anthologies, translations and a biography of the jazz musician Bernie McGann published in 1997 by Kardoorair Press, the Armidale publishing house I mentioned in my first post on New England writers. His works have been translated into a number of languages.

Geoff has won several awards, including the ACT Poetry Award, the Grace Leven Prize, the Queensland Premier’s Prize for Poetry and the 2001 Patrick White Literary Award.

Geoff also been active in the literary community, participating in poetry readings, seminars and conferences both in Australia and overseas. The last time I saw Geoff in fact was at a poetry reading in Canberra while I working there.

For those interested in more information, Geoff has his own web site.

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