Oriel Gray

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Oriel Gray
Born Oriel Bennett
(1920-03-26)26 March 1920
Sydney, New South Wales
Died 30 June 2003(2003-06-30) (aged 83)
Heidelberg, Victoria
Occupation Playwright, screenwriter
Nationality Australian

Oriel Gray (26 March 1920 – 30 June 2003) was an award-winning Australian dramatist and playwright who wrote from the 1940s to 1960's.[1] The major themes of her work were "social and political issues such as the environment, Aborigines, assimilation and bush life".[2]

Gray was born Oriel Bennett in Sydney, New South Wales. She came from a politically active family and was herself a member of the Communist Party of Australia from 1942 to 1950.[3]

She married John Gray in 1940, an actor whom she met while at the Sydney New Theatre and they had a son, Stephen. By 1947 her marriage had broken down[4] and she moved on to a long term relationship with John Hepworth with whom she had two more sons, Peter and Nicholas.[2] Gray died from a heart attack, aged 83 in Heidelberg, Victoria, on 30 June 2003.[2]


From 1937 to 1949 Gray wrote and acted for the Sydney New Theatre,[citation needed] and it was here that her first play Lawson, a play based on the short stories of Henry Lawson, was performed in 1943.[5] The Sydney New Theatre had the reputation of being left wing and avant garde and was modeled on the new radical and political theatre movement in the United States.

In 1942 Gray was appointed as the first paid Australian playwright-in-residence.[5] She was commissioned to write a weekly radio segment for the New Theatre on 2KY.[4]

In reviewing plays, L. L. Woolacott, critic and editor of the Sydney Triad magazine, described Gray as "one of the most significant and talented Australian playwrights whose work has so far been produced here".[4]

The 1955 award by the Playwrights' Advisory Board for best play was given jointly to Gray's play The Torrents and to Ray Lawler's play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Gray's play, with its themes of "feminism and the saving of the environment",[6] did not have popular appeal in a very conservative era, and there was only one amateur performance recorded. It was not published until 1988[5] and did not have a professional production until 1996 by the State Theatre Company of South Australia at the Adelaide Festival of Arts. In the sixties the play was turned into a light-hearted musical, called A Bit O' Petticoat, with music composed by Peter Pinne.[6]

Gray's play Burst of Summer won the 1959 J. C. Williamson Theatre Guild Competition.[4] The play explores the racial tensions that erupt in a small town when a young Aboriginal girl gains brief notability as a film actress. This story is based on real events when Charles Chauvel's film Jedda made known the Aboriginal actor Ngarla Kunoth, who played the title role.[3]


  • Lawson (1943)
  • Westernlimit (1946)
  • My Life is my Affair (1947)
  • Had We But World Enough — first performed 1950
  • Sky without Birds in Plays of the 50s (2007) — first performed in 1950
  • The Belle And The Bushranger
  • Hewers Of Coal
  • The King Who Wouldn't — first performed 1952
  • Marx Of Time
  • Milestones
  • Royal Tour
  • The Torrents (1996) — first performed in 1954
  • Drive a Hard Bargain (1955) — first performed in Ballarat, October 1957
  • Burst of Summer in Plays of the 60's, Vol. 1 (1997) — first performed in 1960
  • The Man who Wanted to Murder Sherlock Holmes: A Play for Radio (1987)

Television writing[edit]

In 1975 a television series was proposed to be written by Australian woman writers. Grey wrote one episode of this television drama series: Quality of Mercy: We Should Have Had a Uniform (1975)[7]

Gray wrote scripts for children's shows for the ABC. She was also one of the early writers for Bellbird,[8] a long running Australian television soap opera along with Peter Pinne and Don Battye.

Other writing[edit]

Gray published one novel: The Animal Shop (1990)

In 1985 Gray published her memoirs: Exit left: memoirs of a scarlet woman (Penguin, 1985)


  1. ^ "Austlit Agent - Oriel Gray". Austlit. Retrieved 10 March 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c Fiorovanti, David (3 July 2003). "Oriel Gray, 'playwright of ideas', dies aged 83". The Age. 
  3. ^ a b "Burst of Summer by Oriel Grey". Currency Press. Retrieved 10 March 2008. 
  4. ^ a b c d Arrow, Michelle (24 July 2003). "'Scarlet woman' put us centre stage". Sydney Morning Herald. 
  5. ^ a b c Sage, Lorna; Greer, Germaine; Showalter, Elaine (1999). The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English. Cambridge University Press. pp. 288–289. ISBN 0-521-66813-1. 
  6. ^ a b "A Bit O' Petticoat". Australian musical.com. Retrieved 10 March 2008. 
  7. ^ "Filmography of Oriel Gray". ImDb. Retrieved 10 March 2008. 
  8. ^ Mercado, Andrew (2004). Super Aussie Soaps: Behind the Scenes of Australia's Best Loved TV Shows. Pluto Press Australia. p. 24. ISBN 1-86403-191-3.