Vale Ruth Park (1917-2010)

Oh Mudda, Oh Mudda, what’s that, what’s that…is the refrain that has haunted many an Australian child’s education. From the Muddle-headed Wombat to Playing Beatie Bow to Harp in the South Ruth Park’s looms large on the Australian literacy landscape. As the Fairfax obituary notes:

In 2006, author Ruth Park was included in The Bulletin’s list of 100 most influential Australians. Her prolific output was widely enjoyed, especially the Muddle-Headed Wombat books and radio plays for children, and her 1948 debut novel, The Harp in the South.

A staple of Australian school syllabuses, this story changed the lives of Park, who has died in a Sydney nursing home, aged 93, and her author-husband D’Arcy Niland. Inspired by the Surry Hills slums in which they lived soon after their marriage, The Harp in the South provided desperately needed funds, and recognition that led to enduring success for both writers.

It also changed Sydney, shocking the city’s citizens into acknowledging its slums, and influencing the state government’s decision to demolish squalid inner-city Victorian terraces. Impoverished residents were moved to new Housing Commission high-rises – something Park was to question later.

There is little doubt that Park was an extremely gifted writer with her books evocative of a different era.  For the most part, Park’s books have never been out of print (and impossible to find in the local library).  Inevitably, her death will mark the commencement of a retrospective and perhaps (just perhaps) we can hope for a decent adaptation remake of Playing Beatie Bow.


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