Twenty years with ^
Same af the "Blue Hills" people
"BLUE HILLS" VETERANS who have been with the serial longest are Gwen Plumb (Emmy Lawson of the serial) and, at right in picture at left, Nellie Lamport (Hilda Walters), who has been with the cast from the very beginning. Above is Reg Collins (Ned Walters).
ETHEL LANG and TOM FARLEY (above) are Mrs. and Mr. Jim MacArthur in "Blue Hills." At right, a couple providing romance interest, Anne Haddy (Elizabeth Ross-lngham) and Keith Buckley (Nick MacArthur). At far right, Lou Vernon, who plays Colonel Ross-lngham.
AT LEFT: Nancye Stewart (Mabel Ross), John Norman (Jerry Walters), and Winifred Green (Martha Walters) Above: Maiva Drummond, Queenie Ashton (Rose and Granny Bishop), and
Charles McCallum (Ed Bishop).
ihr good folk of "Blue Hills"
By MARY COLES
GWEN MEREDITH, author of "Blue Hills,"
and her husband, Ainsworth Harrison, at their home at Sea-
forth, in Sydney.
"Oh, no! Surely not YOU," said Gwen Meredith's family lawyer in a shocked voice when she called at his office and asked how to go about getting a divorce. "Of course it's not for me," she hastily explained. "I need a divorce for someone in my serial."
THE "someone" was
one of the several hundred characters she has brought to life in her radio epic, "Blue Hills." Always heralded by the same wistful tune which wafts out like a smoke signal spiralling from Kings Cross to the Kimberleys, "Blue Hills" has held the ears and affections of a huge audience of listeners for more than 20
Meal hours have been changed in many a guest- house to avoid clashing with its broadcast times, and drivers of tourist coaches, anticipating requests from passengers, tune-in at the approach of the witching 15 minutes as automatically as changing gears on steep hills.
ian Broadcast- ing Commis- sion's drama de- partment has to deal with a
steady flow of
inquiries such as: I went on holidays a fortnight ago and didn't hear any episodes of
'Blue Hills' during that time. Could you please let me know what happened while I was away?"
Gwen Meredith is always being asked posers like "What has happened to So-and-So? We haven't
heard of her since she got married and went to live in
England ten years ago."
Or, "Doesn't Hilda find Tasmania cold?"
"Blue Hills'" family tree has spread its branches in so many directions over the years, even the author finds it hard to keep track of
"And the characters are nearly all as inter-related as European royalyy!" she says. The serial is the saga of five Australian families-the original Lawsons and their successors, the Gordons, the
Howards, the Roberts, and
They're a cross-section of the kind of people long re- ferred to as "the backbone of the nation."
They live in the country but whatever happens to them is a topical reflection on what is taking place else-
Gwen Meredith-in pri- vate life Mrs. Ainsworth Harrison, wife of a Sydney engineer-makes a point of her serial always having some kind of "message."
When boy-meets-girl in "Blue Hills," their romance is exploited as a stage for airing debate on matters of concern to the community.
"I just couldn't be bothered with purely roman- tic entertainment," she ex- plained.
In "Blue Hills," her characters have spoken up and given a broader view on all kinds of subjects, hotly thrashing the "againsts" as
much as the "fors."
The assimilation of abo- rigines, the work of Alco- holics Anonymous, whether
the nation has a moral re-
They baked the pikelets-oh dear!
sponsibility for the welfare of Australian servicemen's illegitimate children born in Japan, and revealing to para- plegics (and people caring for them at home) that "a very great deal can now be done to help get paralysis patients on the move" are among the themes handled.
Hardly a stone has been left unturned in presenting the many aspects of migra-
Four years ago, at the re- quest of the Immigration Department, Gwen Meredith flew to England to investi- gate the problems of intend- ing migrants and returned to Australia in a migrant ship to get the feeling of being
in newcomers' shoes.
She says that she gets "the facts," then turns them over to the characters she has in- vented to deal with them.
"I never quite know what turns the plot will take, nor do I plan any dialogue in
AT WORK creating "Blue Hills," Gwen Meredith uses a dictat- ing machine instead of
"Knowing all the person- alities so well as 'real'
people, I just allow them to
react to cirmcumstances
according to their lights.
"When I'm ready to begin work, I pick up my tape recorder, find a comfortable chair in a sunny spot at home, gather the threads of where the previous episode finished, and began dicta- ting."
Mrs. Harrison gave up using a typewriter for a dictating machine a long time ago at the suggestion of her husband, who reasoned she was using more "woman power" than was necessary, by adding the physical labor of typing to the mental work of creative thinking.
Tape recordings of the episodes, setting out not only the dialogue but all its
punctuation marks, too, are sent to a professional typist,
and returned to the author
in script form for checking and dispatch to the A.B.C.
Since it first went on the air in February, 1944, more
than ten million words have
been spoken in the serial's 4600-odd episodes.
It was originally commis- sioned by the Rural Depart- ment of the A.B.C. to help co-ordinate the war effort of country people by focusing attention on important pro- jects, as well as providing
Mr. Leslie Rees, Acting Assistant Director nf the
A.B.C.'s Drama and Features Department (who is de- scribed by Gwen Meredith as the serial's "godfather"), says she was singled out for the job because of her ability to create natural everyday people.
"She had already won a number of competitions for radio plays and documen- taries, as well as contributing episodes to the long-run com- mercial radio serial 'Fred and Maggie,' and from what we'd seen Gwen impressed us by her very human approach," he recalled.
Before she began work on the serial, the A.B.C. arranged for Gwen, city born and bred, to learn about life in the country by staying with Mr. and Mrs. John Cavanagh on their property
in the Gunnedah district of New South Wales.
Since then she has explored Australia and abroad for background
She went to the Sydney
law courts and studied court
procedure as a backdrop for
the "divorce" she obtained for one of the young
And she had a seat in
Westminster Abbey to see the Coronation through the eyes of the Roberts family, visiting London from their
station in Central Australia.
In spite of all her inten- sive research. Gwen Mere-
dith admits occasional "blues" have crept in.
"Once I made someone commit the grave error of baking pikelets in the oven!"
"And there have been some near-misses.
"When Judy MacArthur and Scottish migrant Donald Jamieson were being married, I decided to give the wedding ceremony the full treatment, recording every detail of the service.
Never say die
"At the last minute before the episode was recorded, I found out that in the script I had the marriage taking place in a Presby- terian Church according to Anglican rite!"
She avoids bereavement in
Blue Hills ' because the
audience gets so depressed.
Some years ago Sydney actor Reg Collins, who had established himself as a firm favorite as Joe Walters, hus- band of the serial's veteran
star Hilda, played by Nellie Lamport, was "killed."
"O t h e r commitments forced Reg to leave at short notice, so the easiest way of removing Joe from the scene was by killing him off in an accident," Gwen re- called with a wry smile.
"It brought a storm of protest from listeners who didn't like gloom in 'Blue
"Now, when it is neces- sary for someone to disap- pear from the scene, they're
sent off to live in another State or abroad."
Often characters disap- pear for a time because the actors playing the roles want holidays or trips abroad.
Gwen Meredith is always the first to know of any such plans, to give her time to provide good reasons for their absences in the script.
And when they're return- ing again to Sydney they give notice of this well in advance so that they can
be written back in.
When Reg Collins again became available to take part in "Blue Hills" some years
after his death as Joe, he re- entered as Joe's brother Ned.
Everyone's joy was com- plete when he eventually married Joe's widow, Hilda, and took her off to live in Tasmania.
Gwen Meredith emphasises that credit for the "success of the serial belongs to Mr. Eric John, Senior Drama Producer for the A.B.C. in Sydney, who has produced "Blue Hills" for the past 12 years, and the players, as
much as it does to her.
"We work as a team,' she
Eric John admits that the roll-up of "Blue Hills" per- sonalities on Wednesday mornings, when the weekly episodes are taped at the A.B.C. studios, is like a club outing.
As many as 16 characters
have appeared at
a time in one episode!
Besides direct- ing production,
Eric John also steers the tap- ing of episodes to fit in with the domestic affairs of the
In the past six years 15 actresses cast in various epi- sodes have had babies with- out having to give up their
Behind the scenes of "Blue Hills," as well as occasions for rejoicing there have been times of great sadness.
Marshall Crosby died while playing Josh Roberts. Therese Desmond, who was Amelia Roberts, died a little later.
Only 18 months ago a very likeable hospital nurse who had recently moved into the serial went off duty in an episode and never re-
She was Marcia Hatha- way, a popular Sydney actress who was fatally mauled by a shark while wading in shallow water in Middle Harbor during a January heatwave.
The scene of the tragedy was close to "Braybrook," the lovely water-frontage home of Gwen Meredith and her husband at Seaforth.
Gwen looks across Middle Harbor to see blue water and
blue skies merging with smoky-blue bushland and draws inspiration for "Blue