Ronald Hugh Morrieson

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Ronald Hugh Morrieson (29 January 1922 – 26 December 1972) of Hawera, Taranaki was a novelist and short story writer in the New Zealand vernacular. He earned his living as a musician and music teacher and played in dance bands throughout south Taranaki. He lived in Hawera all his life and this town appears (under other names) in his novels. He was a heavy drinker throughout his life and this contributed to his early death.

He wrote four novels: The Scarecrow 1963, Came A Hot Friday 1964, Predicament 1975 and Pallet on the Floor 1976, all of which have been adapted for the cinema. Two short stories were published posthumously; Cross My Heart And Cut My Throat and The Chimney, both in 1974.

But while Morrieson's first two novels were published in Australia by Angus & Robertson and got good reviews there, they declined to publish his third novel, Predicament. Like his last novel, Pallet on the Floor it was only published posthumously, by Dunmore Press in Palmerston North. They have all been republished by Penguin.[1] He lamented to Maurice Shadbolt in early 1972, "I hope I'm not another one of these poor buggers who get discovered when they're dead",[2] only to die in obscurity in his small home town of Hawera, several years before The Scarecrow (1982),[3] Came a Hot Friday (1984)[4] and Pallet on the Floor (1986)[5] became successful movies in the 1980s. Predicament (2010),[6] filmed in Hawera and Eltham and starring Jemaine Clement was the last of Morrieson's novels to be adapted for cinema.

His novels contain his trademark preoccupations .... of sex, death, mateship, voyeurism, violence, booze and mayhem in bleak small town New Zealand. These aspects are carried over into the films; except for Came a Hot Friday which excluded these aspects of the source novel and is a comedy rather than a horror film, in the spirit of the Ealing Comedies.[7]

Lawrence Jones said of Morrieson that it is doubtful whether the anti-puritan underside of New Zealand small-town life ... has ever been so successfully caught. He classes Morrieson as one of the novelists of the "Provincial Period, 1935–1964", and for non-recognition during his life one of the saddest, despite support from Maurice Shadbolt and C. K. Stead.[8]

During the early 1990s, Morrieson's house on the corner of Regent St and South Road, Hawera was pulled down to make way for a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. A protest group from within Hawera who called themselves 'The Scarecrow Committee' after the name of one of Morrieson's novels, tried in vain to prevent the author's house being pulled down. However there was little support from townsfolk, local identities or the town council to have Morrieson's historic house stand in the way of KFC.

Following the unsuccessful campaign to save Morrieson's house, one of the 'Scarecrow committee's supporters, Mark Burt, created a café/bar in Hawera in honour of Morrieson and fittingly named it 'Morriesons' The instigator of the 'Scarecrow Committee', Hawera artist and writer Tim Chadwick along with author and friend of Morrieson, Maurice Shadbolt officially cut the ribbon at the official opening of Morrieson's bar on Victoria Street, Hawera.

The annual Ronald Hugh Morrieson Literary Awards take place during the third school term each year. This is open to secondary school students whose parents are South Taranaki District Council ratepayers. Since 2009, the short story competition also included an open section for persons over the age of 15 and living in Taranaki.[9]

A fictional meeting between Morrieson and poet James K. Baxter is detailed in Horseplay, a play by award winning playwright Ken Duncum. The play was staged by the Auckland Theatre Company[10] in May 2010 as part of the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival. It featured John Leigh as Morrieson and Tim Balme as Baxter. The play was sponsored by New Zealand Post. Duncum was the 2010 winner of the New Zealand Post Katherine Mansfield Prize

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ronald Hugh Morrieson" in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature p380 (1998, Oxford University Press, Auckland) ISBN 0 19 5583485
  2. ^ "Story: Morrieson, James Ronald Hugh : Page 1 – Biography". Dnzb.govt.nz. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "Klynham Summer (1982) : "The Scarecrow" (original title)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Came a Hot Friday (1985)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "Pallet on the Floor (1984)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "Predicament (2010)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  7. ^ New Zealand Film 1912–1996 by Helen Martin & Sam Edwards pp 81,103,121 (1997, Oxford University Press, Auckland) ISBN 019 558336 1
  8. ^ The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English p145 (1991, Oxford University Press, Auckland) ISBN 0-19-558211-X
  9. ^ "South Taranaki – South Taranaki – Alive With Opportunity". Stdc.co.nz. 23 January 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  10. ^ [1][dead link]

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