There's Gold In Those .. .
By A Special
AUSTRALIA'S longest-winded, best- paid playwright wrote the equivalent of nearly 25 novels in her 1299-episode radio serial "The Lawsons," which was on the air for five years.
Since then her sequel "Blue Hills" equal in length to another 25 novels, has been broadcast four days a week for five and a half years; it has reached its 1304th episode - and there seems to be not the faintest sign of the flow drying up.
"I DO hope Joe and
Hilda manage to get the shop," my eldest aunt said, laying down her fork. "I was so afraid they might have to go back into service after all the expenses of Joe's illness. It's nice to know that they have some money left. After all, they're getting on in years."
"Yes, I suppose Hilda's about my age," my young- est aunt said thoughtfully "High time she had a life of her own. When people marry late in life . . ."
"One o'clock!" my eldest aunt exclaimed, her eyes glazing slightly. "Quick Mary, quick!"
Mary switched on the radio. A strain of music died away and a voice said.
"The A.B.C. presents 'Blue Hills,' by Gwen Mere- dith. Episode 1,303."
ALL over Australia at 1
p.m., E.S.T., and again at 6, family life pauses while thousands of people follow the fortunes of Joe and Hilda, Anderson Roberts
and Sally, the Howards, Colin and Claire. Few of Gwen Meredith's corres- pondents are deceived into thinking their radio friends are anything but characters in fiction, though in between episodes many people do talk of them as if they lived
"Blue Hills" is the A.B.C.'s most - listened - to programme, sharing the top of the bill with the news. Why? Because it tells about the Australia and the Aus- tralians that most people
know. It is like a good old gossip over the back tence.
Gwen Meredith gets mail from all sections of the com- munity, from teenagers to university professors and clergymen.
One time a grazier in northern Victoria wrote to the cook, Hilda, and offered her a job. He said he thought she'd been far too long with one family.
(photo) Nellie Lamport
Hilda, one can imagine, thought it over, but finally decided that the property was too far from any nice, little store where she could buy bits and pieces to "trim up me 'ats." She does love
Australians have known Hilda since the earlier serial, "The Lawsons," began 10 years ago. A lot of charac- ters have come and gone, but Hilda stays. And so do Joe Walters (her husband) and Emmie and Ted Lawson.
Actress Nellie Lamport says she feels she IS Hilda. Often people, country visi- tors especially, come up to
her in the street and grasp her hand.
There is a family in north- west Queensland who send her a cheque for 10 guineas at Christmas. "The first time I got it, three years ago," Nellie-Hilda said, "I flopped down at the A.B.C and
She often cries over Hilda's troubles. The others are quite used to see her reading her script with the tears streaming down her
One of the happiest days in many Australian lives was the wedding of Ted Lawson and the Cinderella-like Emmie in November, 1951. Probably never before have so many "brides' mothers" shed so many tears. Seldom has the A.B.C. received so much mail relating to one
Emmie has been out of the story for a mere l8 months because actress Gwen Plumb went to Eng- land. She's going to return any day now, in the person of another actress, Peg Christensen. Gwen Meredith thinks the changeover will be a smooth one. But this isn't always the case.
Take Joe. When he got his voice back recently after his operation in Europe, he sounded suspiciously like the reincarnation of a certain Fred who, with his wife, Maggie, entertained listeners with stories of their domestic troubles for some 20 years.
A serious accident which deprived Joe of his power of speech had been contrived to deal with the retirement from radio-acting of Reg Collins, who created the part in the early days. At first Gwen Meredith thought poor old Joe would have to die. But the mention of this murderous intent provoked
The Gingerbread House
When the actor Marshall Crosby died, a character called Jos Roberts had to be sent off to northern Queens- land. Miss Meredith says he isn't likely to come back.
"Blue Hills" differs from its predecessor in that the scene changes frequently and new characters keep appear- ing, living their lives and vanishing.
Gwen Meredith says the
first 100 episodes are the worst. After that, a charac- ter establishes himself and can be trusted to live his own life without any strings being pulled.
She is a quick and skilful writer, plunging fluently into her story, dictating to her secretary or sitting curled up on the couch with her type- writer on her knee. She usu- ally does two "eps." or more
at a stretch.
The Gingerbread House, her Castlecrag home, seems to the visitor designed rather for lazing and harbour gaging and pottering in the garden than for the mara- thon labour of writing radio
Why the Gingerbread House? "Because," she ex- plains*, "before Ains and I found this place we were like Hansel and Gretel: homeless in the Black Forest." In plainer language, the housing blackmarket.
Outback For The Background
"Ains" is her husband, Ainsworth Harrison, large and protective-looking, a personality in his own right and not Mr. Gwen Meredith.
Miss Meredith takes her money-spinning serial seri- ously. She spends a lot of time travelling about Aus- tralia to get authentic back- ground material.
Just recently she has been down to the Snowy Moun-
GWEN MEREDITH-But it's not real cash she is examining: it is a collection of foreign banknotes
tains, and before she took the story to Tirnnaboola, the "other side of the Black Stump," she stayed on a pro- perty outback, beyond
She is a Sydney woman, not, as many listeners ima- gine, country born and bred and horsey. But she is Aus- tralian to the core, a fifth generation Australian.
English migrants found great fault with her episodes which took place in England (whither she want for the Coronation) but no one has ever picked serious holes in her country lore: one reason why stationhands gallop over their paddocks to be in by 1 p.m.
She has frequent consulta- tions with the director of the A.B.C.'s rural broadcasting
department, John Douglass. Indeed, "The Lawsons" was first broadcast to administer the powder of useful rural information in the palatable jam of a family story. These days it is a more sophisti- cated piece of entertainment but the rural information is still brought in.
In Studio 218, 97 Market Street, an episode of "Blue Hills" is being "prerecorded for future replay." The A.B.C. is always ahead of itself, and those on the pro- duction end could assume you, for instance, that you're right in your suspi-
cions about Claire. Sitting behind Eric John, the pro- ducer, in the control room I learn that Colin is re- covering from . . .
But you can, if you tune in to, hear that "ep." on August 12.