Saturday, December 18, 2010

Honoured author leaves huge legacy

Ruth Park, one of the most distinguished, widely read and loved writers on both sides of the Tasman, has died in Sydney aged 93.
By Tim Curnow, New Zealand Herald, Saturday Dec 18, 2010

For almost 70 years she moved, delighted and informed an audience of all ages and over several generations.

From her earliest articles in the New Zealand Herald's children's page, Park embarked on a literary career that produced what are considered classics in Australian literature.
She published 10 award-winning adult novels, 35 books for children, two volumes of autobiography - one covering her life in New Zealand and the other about her life in Australia and works of non-fiction.

Her work has been translated into 37 languages.

Ruth Park was born in Auckland in 1917 and her family moved with her father, a bridge builder and road maker, to Northland and the King Country.
Her career in journalism began on the Auckland Star where, after two years as a copyholder, she was put in charge of the children's pages.
Determined to extend her journalistic career she accepted an offer of a position on The San Francisco Examiner in 1941.

Just before her departure the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in December and her travel plans were cancelled. She then landed a job on Sydney's Mirror.
Ruth had met fellow journalist and writer D'Arcy Niland on an earlier visit to Australia in 1940, and they had corresponded ever since.
They soon married and created a marital and literary partnership along with a brood of five children.
D'Arcy's brother Beres moved to Auckland a few years later and married Ruth's sister Jocelyn.

Together with Niland, Ruth Park strove to survive as a professional freelance writer, widely regarded as an impossible dream at that time, living off her imaginative powers and the writing skills she had developed while knowing that versatility was essential if their growing family were to survive.

Her daughter Deborah recalls family life: Ruth had an incredible amount of energy, always on the move, from quick-fire typing to meet a deadline, shelling peas, hanging out mountains of washing and ironing endless baskets of laundry.

Ruth would walk the children to school when young, about 2 or 3km but, as Deborah recalls "... we never noticed the distance because she was able to keep us entertained with a story which began as soon as we stepped out the door and finished somehow right at the point when we reached school."

In 1948 Park published her first novel, The Harp in the South, judged Best Novel in the inaugural Sydney Morning Herald competition in 1946.
It caused a sensation when it was serialised in the paper because it dealt with the slums of Sydney. Many people felt that living in poverty was not a fit subject for fiction, especially not for a woman in her 20s recently arrived from New Zealand.

The bestselling status of this novel throughout the world and in 37 translations is now part of Australia's literary history.
The Harp in the South trilogy of novels has never been out of print and became a successful TV mini-series in the 1980s.

Ruth wrote scripts for film and television - during the 1950s she wrote over 5000 radio scripts for adults and children - and she continued to be a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers.

Max Suich recalls: "In 1973 when I was newly appointed as editor of the National Times I approached Park who was then writing book reviews for the Sunday Telegraph, and asked her to contribute.
"Her copy was beautifully written, needing neither comma nor correction, she enjoyed grubbing for facts and turning up revealing anecdotes, and her consequent articles were deeply evocative descriptions of people, landscapes - and she always met deadlines.
"The article that most affected readers was an account of the Depression years, and the suffering of ordinary families." The article touched a nerve in Australians apprehensive about the 1974 economic crisis of inflation and recession.

Tim Curnow's full tribute at New Zealand Herald.

And Susan Wyndham in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Private funeral held.

Tim Curnow was Park's literary agent.

1 comment:

Keri Hulme said...

May I say that I found Ruth Park's "One-a-pecker, Two-a-pecker" and "A Fence around the Cuckoo" truly seminal works? That first NZ novel (published after her first (Aus) novel) alerted me to both NZ folksongs ("Wanapeka, Tuapeka, Bright Fine Gold") and to the fact that ANZers wrote fiction-

she lived a good long life,brimming with well-deserved honours, albeit one that contained considerable sorrow.
Haere e ra e kui, haere ki to tini i te raki-