Currency Press

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Currency Press Pty Ltd
Currency Press logo.jpg
The Performing Arts Publisher
Sharing Australian stories since 1971
Currency Press is Australia's oldest, independently owned performing arts publisher.

Currency Press is Australia's only specialist performing arts publisher and its oldest independent publisher still active. Their list includes plays and screenplays, professional handbooks, biographies, cultural histories, critical studies and reference works.

Currency Press was founded by Katharine Brisbane, then national theatre critic for The Australian newspaper, and her husband Philip Parsons, a lecturer in Drama at the University of New South Wales.[1] After Philip’s death in 1993, Katharine remained at the helm of the company until she retired as Publisher in December 2001 in order to devote her energies to Currency House, a non-profit association dedicated to the Australian performing arts.[2]

In 2011, Currency Press received the Dorothy Crawford Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Profession at the AWGIE Awards.[3]


Socio-political context[edit]

Currency Press was incorporated in 1971 at a time of high nationalistic fervour. Just as the student revolution of the 1960s led to major social changes in Europe and North America, so it was in Australia. Here the conflict centred first on the Vietnam War, in which Australia participated as an ally of the United States. Until this time Australia had been used to thinking of herself as a junior partner, first of Britain who had colonised her, and later of the USA. In the 1950s the Suez crisis and its economic aftermath had broken the bonds of dependence on Britain. In the 1960s it was opposition to the war in Vietnam that led young white Australians to discard American imperialism and young black Australians to launch a civil rights movement.

In that new spirit Australia began to examine afresh its origins, its character, its language and accent and way of life. And from this derived an appetite for all things Australian—especially books which reinterpreted the past with a local perspective and gave voice to the rapidly-changing present. The young playwrights then emerging became leaders in this movement. Their work, like the student revolution itself, was iconoclastic, bombastic and attention-seeking.

Along with the Vietnam moratorium marches in the late 1960s came radical changes of another kind, with young artists at the fore. These included a freeing-up of outdated censorship laws; the establishment of the Federal funding body, the Australian (now Australia) Council for the Arts; the rebirth of the film industry; anti-uranium mining, land rights for Aboriginal people and environmental movements; and the setting up of major regionally funded theatre companies. By 1971, the Australian playwright had a voice, a stage and a public for the first time since the days of the old purveyors of melodrama at the turn of the twentieth century.

Becoming an established publisher[edit]

The first play Currency Press published in 1971 was Macquarie by Alex Buzo.[4] One of the first writers to call on them was David Williamson with three manuscripts: The Coming of Stork, The Removalists and Don’s Party. The Removalists, after opening at La Mama, was taken up in Sydney by the Nimrod Street Theatre - a theatre for new writers - and then transferred to a commercial house. This was the first play by the new generation to be bought by a commercial producer. In 1973 it went on to the Royal Court Theatre, in London, where it won for Williamson the Evening Standard Award for the most promising playwright of the year.

Currency Press published The Removalists in 1972.[5] It was an immediate success, and for many years its best seller. Over 40 years later it still sells consistently well. It is a work which balances horror and humour, and is full of sharp observations about authority, domestic confrontations and the somewhat ox-headed reputation of the Australian police. A timely play which shocked audiences into recognising—even celebrating—some of the uglier aspects of urban Australia, until then unfamiliar to the stage.

Don’s Party, which captured Australia’s changing politics, followed The Removalists into the commercial theatre in 1973. Since then Williamson has had a long-standing record of popularity on stage and on film. His other plays include The Club,[6] Travelling North,[7] Emerald City,[8] Money and Friends,[9] Brilliant Lies,[10] Dead White Males[11] and Face to Face[12] to name a handful.

This background is important to the understanding of why Currency Press, a company begun with little capital and no publishing experience in the back room of a Sydney terrace, has become a major force in the performing arts in Australia. The task was not easy. For its first seven years the company was subsidised by the founders with salaries from other sources.

Early assistance came from Associated Book Publishers (then owners of the Methuen imprint) with whom Currency had a three-year partnership, spent creating a list of Australian titles which could be the basis of a study of Australian drama. Gradually, the plays began to creep into literature and other courses. By 1978 a market survey revealed that there was no tertiary institution in Australia which did not have one of Currency’s books on a course somewhere.

Currency and Methuen parted in 1976 after a restructuring of the larger firm, and the Parsons, together with their long-standing associate Jean Cooney, began again to build the company. Cambridge University Press in Australia became Currency’s distributor in 1977 and remained so until 2001, when a transfer was made to NewSouth Books (formerly UNIREPS) an arm of UNSW Press. Today there are over 400 plays in print together with reference texts, cultural histories, biographies, audition manuals, film scripts and sheet music. Currency exports books abroad for courses in the USA, the UK and Europe. The sale of publishing and translation rights are increasing. There is particular interest abroad in the work of Aboriginal authors like Jack Davis (1917–2000) whose work has gained a high profile, aided by the rise of a generation of fine indigenous actors. Currency has also taken on the distribution of two like-minded UK publishers, Nick Hern Books and Oberon Books.

The pace at which this has happened is probably what distinguishes Currency from drama publishers in other countries whose basic income is derived from a much longer history of world drama. Currency Press, in contrast, relies heavily on a rapidly expanding list of contemporary Australian writers, although it does publish some genre plays of the colonial period and a handful of works from the first half of the twentieth century written for amateur performance in a theatrical climate overwhelmingly dominated by the American and British commercial theatre. The contemporary playwright is seen as worthy of study, not because of the weight of received opinion but because the author has something to say, to this generation at least, about what it means to be Australian.

The continuing focus on Australian drama[edit]

In the theatre since the 1960s there has been a phase of aggressive works full of colourful vernacular by writers like Jack Hibberd, Alex Buzo and John Romeril; then a period of domestic examination which saw the rise of Williamson and more mature works like Peter Kenna’s A Hard God;[13] then a freer, more poetic look at the roots of our psyche, including the works of Dorothy Hewett, Louis Nowra and Stephen Sewell, and the return to the stage of Patrick White. Most recently has been a strengthening of the place of women writers with the work of Joanna Murray-Smith, Hannie Rayson, Jill Shearer and Katherine Thomson, and a strong resurgence of non Anglo-Celtic authors: the children of eastern European, Jewish and southern European immigrants, reinterpreting Australia as a multicultural society. A new generation of writers such as Angela Betzien, Brendan Cowell, Ben Ellis, Tom Holloway, Lally Katz, Kate Mulvany and Tommy Murphy have also made their mark. In music and dance today the strongest new influences are Aboriginal and Asian.

In 1998 Currency began to assemble key plays of the past into its Modern Drama series of anthologies. Eight volumes of plays from the 1950s to the 1970s have so far been published and they record the steady development of a vibrant national theatre. Other thematic anthologies include Aboriginal, feminist and gay and lesbian plays.

Currency publishes books in fields other than drama. Screenplays like Strictly Ballroom,[14] Muriel’s Wedding,[15] Looking for Alibrandi,[16] Chopper[17] and Rabbit Proof Fence[18] have made a sound contribution to Currency’s list.

Currency also has a large list of critical studies and manuals, from resource booklets to historical studies of popular music and opera. They have published feminist analyses of popular culture, critical studies of Australian film; and practical guides on acting, learning dialects, creating drama with young people, and preparing for auditions in theatre, film and television. But drama remains the backbone of the list.

Notable Titles[edit]


Away by Michael Gow (1986) - winner of the 1986 New South Wales Premier's Literary Award - Play Award [19]

Blackrock by Nick Enright - It’s Toby Ackland’s birthday party down near the surf club — and that means grog, drugs and fun; by the morning a young girl is dead — raped and bashed with a rock [20]

The Chapel Perilous by Dorothy Hewett - depicts the painful and sometimes farcical life of a defiant young poet, Sally Banner [21]

Cloudstreet by Nick Enright & Justin Monjo (1999) - an adaptation of Tim Winton's classic novel, and winner of the 1999 Gold AWGIE Award [22]

The Club by David Williamson - a play set behind the scenes of a football club; a head-on tackle of brawn versus bureaucracy [23]

Cosi by Louis Nowra - winner of the 1992 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award - Play Award [24]

Dead Heart by Nick Parsons - winner of the 1994 Australian Human Rights Award, the 1993 NSW State Premier's Literary Award - Play Award and the 1993 AWGIE Award for Drama [25]

Diving for Pearls by Katherine Thomson - winner of the 1991 Victorian Premier's Award - Louis Esson Prize for Drama [26]

Don's Party by David Williamson - Williamson's brilliant satire examines a society on the threshold of emerging from a generation of comfortable, conservative political and social values [27]

Ham Funeral, The by Patrick White - an early expressionist drama which explores the spiritual forces that propel us forward [28]

Holding the Man by Tommy Murphy (2007) - an adaptation of Timothy Conigrave's bestselling memoir [29]

Hotel Sorrento by Hannie Rayson (1990) - winner of the 1990 AWGIE Award - Stage Award, 1990 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Drama and the 1990 Green Room Award for Best Play [30]

Macquarie by Alex Buzo - traces the decline of Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s authority in the infant colony of New South Wales; it was the first play published by Currency Press [31]

No Sugar by Jack Davis - winner of the 1992 Kate Challis RAKA Award for Drama and the 1987 WA Premier's Book Awards - Special Award [32]

Norm and Ahmed by Alex Buzo creates an image of race prejudice as a profoundly irrational force in the behaviour of ordinary Australians [33]

The Removalists by David Williamson - winner of the 1972 AWGIE Award - Best Stage Play and Best Script, as well as the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright [34]

Season at Sarsaparilla, The by Patrick White - neighbours are held by their environment, waiting with determination, but little expectation, for the inevitable cycle of birth, copulation and death [35]

Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell (1996) - winner of the 1997 AWGIE Award - Stage Award; this is the play upon which Lantana was based [36]

Stolen by Jane Harrison - this tender and moving story brought the tragic history of the Stolen Generations to the Australian stage; winner of the 2002 Kate Challis RAKA Award [37]

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler (1955) - a defining moment in Australian theatre history, and a beacon in the Australian dramatic canon [38]

The Time is Not Yet Ripe by Louis Esson - a political comedy from 1912 in which the forces of socialism, feminism and conservatism fight out an election and an engagement to marry [39]


Blue Murder by Ian David - a powerful and frightening story about police corruption and Sydney’s underworld [40]

Chopper by Andrew Dominik - goes inside the mind of Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read, one of Australia’s most notorious criminals [41]

Muriel's Wedding by P.J. Hogan - Muriel, an unhappy young woman in dismal surroundings, sets out to overcome obstacles such as her family, her joblessness, and her obsession with 70s glam rockers ABBA [42]

Rabbit Proof Fence by Christine Olsen - three Aboriginal girls are forcibly removed from their outback families in 1931 to be trained as domestic servants as part of official government policy [43]

Strictly Ballroom by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce - an exuberant story about the struggle for love and creativity in a world limited by greed and regulation [44]


  1. ^ "Katharine Brisbane". AustLit. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  2. ^ Sharon, Verghis. "Katharine Brisbane retains her great currency in theatre". The Australian. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  3. ^ "44th Annual AWGIE Awards - Winners List". AWG website. The Australian Writers Guild. Retrieved 2013-06-13. 
  4. ^ Buzo, Alex (1971). Macquarie. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-356-4. 
  5. ^ Williamson, David (1972). The Removalists. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-038-9. 
  6. ^ Williamson, David (1978). The Club. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-013-6. 
  7. ^ Williamson, David (1993). Collected Plays: Vol. 2. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-287-1. 
  8. ^ Williamson, David (1987). Emerald City. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-287-1. 
  9. ^ Williamson, David (1992). Money and Friends. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-314-4. 
  10. ^ Williamson, David (1993). Brilliant Lies. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-371-7. 
  11. ^ Williamson, David (1995). Dead White Males. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-443-1. 
  12. ^ Williamson, David (2002). Face to Face. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-657-2. 
  13. ^ Brisbane, Katharine (1999). Plays of the 70s: Vol. 2. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-552-0. 
  14. ^ Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce (1992). Strictly Ballroom. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-359-5. 
  15. ^ Hogan, P.J. (1995). Muriel's Wedding. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-429-5. 
  16. ^ Marchetta, Melina (2000). Looking for Alibrandi. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-623-7. 
  17. ^ Dominik, Andrew (2001). Chopper. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-642-8. 
  18. ^ Olsen, Christine (2002). Rabbit-Proof Fence. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-655-8. 
  19. ^ Gow, Michael (1986). Away. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-211-6. 
  20. ^ Enright, Nick (1996). Blackrock. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-477-6. 
  21. ^ Hewett, Dorothy (1972). The Chapel Perilous. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-814-9. 
  22. ^ Nick Enright & Justin Monjo (1999). Cloudstreet. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-589-6. 
  23. ^ Williamson, David (1978). The Club. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-013-6. 
  24. ^ Nowra, Louis (1993). Cosi. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-403-5. 
  25. ^ Parsons, Nick. Dead Heart. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-377-9. 
  26. ^ Thomson, Katherine (1992). Diving for Pearls. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-323-6. 
  27. ^ Williamson, David (1973). Don's Party. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-530-8. 
  28. ^ White, Patrick (1985). Patrick White: Collected Plays Volume 1. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-124-9. 
  29. ^ Murphy, Tommy (2006). Holding the Man / Strangers in Between. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-796-8. 
  30. ^ Rayson, Hannie (1990). Hotel Sorrento. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-681-7. 
  31. ^ Buzo, Alex (1971). Macquarie. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-356-4. 
  32. ^ Davis, Jack (1986). No Sugar. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-146-1. 
  33. ^ Brisbane, Katharine. Plays of the 60s: Vol. 2. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-550-6. 
  34. ^ Williamson, David (1972). The Removalists. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-038-9. 
  35. ^ White, Patrick (1985). Patrick White: Collected Plays Volume 1. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-124-9. 
  36. ^ Bovell, Andrew (1996). Speaking in Tongues. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-903-0. 
  37. ^ Harrison, Jane (1998). Stolen. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-797-5. 
  38. ^ Lawler, Ray (1978). Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-967-2. 
  39. ^ Esson, Louis. The Time is Not Yet Ripe. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-845-3. 
  40. ^ David, Ian (2002). Blue Murder. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-630-5. 
  41. ^ Domink, Andrew (2001). Chopper. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-642-8. 
  42. ^ Hogan, P.J. (1995). Muriel's Wedding. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-429-5. 
  43. ^ Olsen, Christine (2002). Rabbit-Proof Fence. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-655-8. 
  44. ^ Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce (1992). Strictly Ballroom. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-359-5.