Australian Heritage Drama Series

After a long procrastination, I’m finally completing my PhD through Flinders University (submit late 2022). The subject is the poet, journalist and playwright Louis Esson (1879-1943). While much of the work is a scholarly edition of his 18 plays (with exegesis), the thesis ostensibly seeks to discover if Esson deserves the honorific ‘Father of Australian drama’ (according to Leslie Rees and others) or at the very least ‘pioneer dramatist’ (John McCallum and others). If the patriarchal signifier dissolves (as it should), the honour of leading the National Theatre Movement post Federation belongs more appropriately to a number of female playwrights: Katharine Susannah Prichard, Euphemia Coulson Davidson and, moving into the next generation, Millicent Armstrong. While Prichard and Armstrong were primarily playwrights, Coulson Davidson was also a director and advocate for a national drama, producing Australian plays at her home theatre in Melbourne from 1915 (well before Esson, Vance Palmer and Stuart Macky’s self-aggrandising but ultimately futile Pioneer Players).

Over the course of my doctoral research I’ve become aware of a very large number of play texts languishing in university stacks, inaccessible manuscripts or long out of print. The early modernist writers of Australia need to be re-examined for both their dramaturgical audacity as well as their social and historical relevance.

It is my intention to revived these scripts and make them available as downloadable PDFs through my boutique publishing venture Janus Imprint. My timeframe explores the plays written or produced between 1900-1950 (with an occasional neglected novelty from the 19th century). Each play will be a scholarly edition, with apparatus notes and commentary, along with a biography of the playwright.

The first play, Rebel Smith by Spencer Rodney (aka Leon Brodzky)—written in Brisbane in 1923, published in America in 1925—will be available on Monday 6 June. Subsequent plays will be added each month.

Publication schedule  2022-2023

July: As the Moon Sets—Millicent Armstrong

August: Lachryma Christie—Louis Esson

September: Sorell—Euphemia Coulson Davidson

October: A Happy Family—Vance Palmer

November: The Spirit of Desire—Betty Hiscocks

December: Caroline Chisholm—George Landen Dann

January: The Forerunners—Euphemia Coulson Davidson

February: Shipwreck—Louis Esson

March: Fire—Millicent Armstrong

April: The Burglar, Pioneers, The Great Man—Katharine Susannah Prichard

May: The Bushrangers—David Burn

June: The Quest—Louis Esson