In Memory of Ruth Park
One of New Zealand’s greatest writers has died as Ruth Park passed away in Sydney aged 93. She was as much beloved as a children’s author as an adult novelist for her gritty works including Harp in the South, writes George Dunford.
As the Sydney Morning Herald reports Park’s career began with winning the first SMH literary award in 1946 for Harp in the South. The book was groundbreaking both for its author and its subject matter: “Announced in The Herald under the headline ‘'Woman wins £2000 novel prize’‘, the news caused a scandal among readers shocked by the story of an Irish family set in the slums of Surry Hills amid poverty, adolescent sex, wife-beating and murder.”
Park published 8 more novels, including Poor Man’s Orange, but she became better known for her children’s books. In the 1940s she began writing a radio series called The Wide-Awake Bunyip, which became The Muddle Headed Wombat with Leonard Teale originally playing the title role. This led to a series of books in the 1960s. In 1980 she published Playing Beatie Bow, a story of a girl who travels back to colonial era Sydney.
Park’s work was often based in Sydney from the then-slums of Surry Hills of Harp in the South to the history of Playing Beatie Bow, though she also wrote about her home in New Zealand as Joy Hooton discusses in her essay “Ruth Park: A Celebration”.
Hooton quotes from an autobiography Park wrote in collaboration with her husband D'Arcy Niland, The Drums Go Bang about their determination to make a living from writing alone:
Time and again we despaired sufficiently to decide against continuing writing. But always when morning came, perhaps with a glittering bright blue day ahead of it, we decided to give freelancing just one more week. It was not only obstinacy that drove us on. Basically, it was our great pleasure in writing, the joyful and unappeasable hunger to “put it down”, to create, however imperfectly, some facsimile of life as we saw it.