Haunting

In 1957, I wrote a half-hour radio play on the Australian adventures of a convict girl who changed Australian history.

I had been sitting most afternoons and all weekends in Sydney’s Mitchell Library, researching the life of another woman named Louisa Lawson. Louisa, the mother of Henry Lawson, laid bare for me the vicious inequality of gender in Australia.

One Sunday afternoon, I read a rave review of Henry’s poetry by Louisa. I wasn’t all that surprised by her support. I had always known that a mother could be extremely defensive of a son’s writing. So I turned the page and I saw a small boxed article about an unnamed girl. Apparently the girl was feisty and attractive and in 1822 she arrived in Botany Bay. Within a matter of months she brought down the colonial government.

The little play on Louisa was soon finished and I spent the next month tracking down this convict girl. Her name was Ann Rumsby. She was 17 years of age and a proven virgin. Her story took me into the pages of the NSW Gazette and I found enough information to write another radio play.

The play received a mixed reception. Feminists loved it. Several men groaned over what they called “Oh God not another fem-fatale.” My trouble was that I had fallen in love with Ann Rumsby. She began to invade my dreams and in the mornings I tried to write down her reaction. Apparently she didn’t really like what I had written. But gradually I realised it was not her who didn’t like my words, it was me. I was just unsatisfied with the play. So, I re wrote the play, turned it into a three-act stage play. Over a matter of many years in both Australia and London, where I practically lived in the British Museum, the play had several public readings. Each was better than the previous version, but still left me unsatisfied. Eventually, I re planned and re wrote every line of dialogue and character traits – including those of the infamous Rev. Samuel Marsden.

The Parnassus Theatre in Sydney organised a series of rehearsed readings with professional actors and directed by the brilliant dave letch. The story engrossed everyone who saw the play. But some core drama was missing. I just wasn’t satisfied.

The New Theatre in Sydney ran the play as a week-long workshop and a production on the Saturday night. The small theatre was full and the audience responded very well to the play. Several descendants of Ann Rumsby attended and they were more than happy.

By this time however, the play had a big cast, several scenes and all characters in expensive costumes. It would be a very brave theatre to invest in such a play. I decided to try and forget Ann Rumsby. But I couldn’t.

At the moment, I am well into chapter six of a novel based on her life, starting from her day in a Norfolk court to her day of Freedom and victory in Parramatta, NSW. From chapter seven on, her story will parallel (with many additions) the line of the play in Australia and I hope, make for a great read.

So, I am still in love with Ann Rumsby, probably the same as Tolstoy was in love with Anna Karenna. My relief is that my dreams are haunted by a girl who’s life ended well. It would be a mental torture to be haunted by a wonderful girl who ended her life is misery.

I expect that when the novel is finished, Ann Rumsby will retire from my thinking. After all, the girl has dominated my life for, just on, 60 years.

Parallel with Ann Rumsby, I have written dozens of stories, some 40 radio plays, many documentary films and a few books. After each story and book was published I anxiously returned to my little convict spitfire. The novel will bring about the end of it all and I will settle down to reconsidering all those men and women I have known in real life. I will have a new patience and understanding. Let’s hope so anyway.

Coming to Terms with…

In 1957, I wrote a half-hour radio play on the Australian adventures of a convict girl who changed Australian history.

I had been sitting most afternoons and all weekends in Sydney’s Mitchell Library, researching the life of another woman named Louisa Lawson. Louisa, the mother of Henry Lawson, laid bare for me the vicious inequality of gender in Australia.

One Sunday afternoon, I read a rave review of Henry’s poetry by Louisa. I wasn’t all that surprised by her support. I had always known that a mother could be extremely defensive of a son’s writing. So I turned the page and I saw a small boxed article about an unnamed girl. Apparently the girl was feisty and attractive and in 1822 she arrived in Botany Bay. Within a matter of months she brought down the colonial government.

The little play on Louisa was soon finished and I spent the next month tracking down this convict girl. Her name was Ann Rumsby. She was 17 years of age and a proven virgin. Her story took me into the pages of the NSW Gazette and I found enough information to write another radio play.

The play received a mixed reception. Feminists loved it. Several men groaned over what they called “Oh God not another fem-fatale.” My trouble was that I had fallen in love with Ann Rumsby. She began to invade my dreams and in the mornings I tried to write down her reaction. Apparently she didn’t really like what I had written. But gradually I realised it was not her who didn’t like my words, it was me. I was just unsatisfied with the play. So, I re wrote the play, turned it into a three-act stage play. Over a matter of many years in both Australia and London, where I practically lived in the British Museum, the play had several public readings. Each was better than the previous version, but still left me unsatisfied. Eventually, I re planned and re wrote every line of dialogue and character traits – including those of the infamous Rev. Samuel Marsden.

The Parnassus Theatre in Sydney organised a series of rehearsed readings with professional actors and directed by the brilliant dave letch. The story engrossed everyone who saw the play. But some core drama was missing. I just wasn’t satisfied.

The New Theatre in Sydney ran the play as a week-long workshop and a production on the Saturday night. The small theatre was full and the audience responded very well to the play. Several descendants of Ann Rumsby attended and they were more than happy.

By this time however, the play had a big cast, several scenes and all characters in expensive costumes. It would be a very brave theatre to invest in such a play. I decided to try and forget Ann Rumsby. But I couldn’t.

At the moment, I am well into chapter six of a novel based on her life, starting from her day in a Norfolk court to her day of Freedom and victory in Parramatta, NSW. From chapter seven on, her story will parallel (with many additions) the line of the play in Australia and I hope, make for a great read.

So, I am still in love with Ann Rumsby, probably the same as Tolstoy was in love with Anna Karenna. My relief is that my dreams are haunted by a girl who’s life ended well. It would be a mental torture to be haunted by a wonderful girl who ended her life is misery.

I expect that when the novel is finished, Ann Rumsby will retire from my thinking. After all, the girl has dominated my life for, just on, 60 years.

Parallel with Ann Rumsby, I have written dozens of stories, some 40 radio plays, many documentary films and a few books. After each story and book was published I anxiously returned to my little convict spitfire. The novel will bring about the end of it all and I will settle down to reconsidering all those men and women I have known in real life. I will have a new patience and understanding. Let’s hope so anyway.