Ronald Hugh Morrieson

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Ronald Hugh Morrieson (29 January 1922 – 26 December 1972) was a novelist and short story writer in the New Zealand vernacular, who was little known in his home country until after his death. He earned his living as a musician and music teacher, and played in dance bands throughout south Taranaki. Morrieson lived in the Taranaki town of 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.


Morrieson wrote four novels: coming of age tale The Scarecrow (1963), Came A Hot Friday (1964), Predicament (published in 1975) and his only contemporary novel Pallet on the Floor (1976), which may have been unfinished upon his death. All have been adapted for the cinema. Two short stories were published posthumously, in 1974; Cross My Heart And Cut My Throat and The Chimney.

Morrieson's first two novels were published in Australia by Angus & Robertson and got good reviews there, but the company 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]

In early 1972 Morrieson lamented to novelist Maurice Shadbolt, "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.

According to book New Zealand Film 1912–1996, Morrison's novels contain his "trademark preoccupations .... of sex, death, mateship, voyeurism, violence, booze and mayhem in bleak small town New Zealand – along with his irreverent black humour".

Lawrence Jones said of Morrieson that it was "doubtful whether the anti-puritan underside of New Zealand small-town life ... has ever been so successfully caught". He classed Morrieson as one of the novelists of the "Provincial Period, 1935–1964", and one of the saddest, thanks to lack of recognition during his life, despite support from authors Maurice Shadbolt and C. K. Stead.[3]

Screen Adaptations[edit]

Excerpts from Morrieson's writings were dramatised for 1982 television production One of those Blighters.

The first feature film based on a Morrieson novel was The Scarecrow (1982), which was released in some territories as "Klynham Summer".[4] Featuring American horror legend John Carradine as a mysterious stranger who arrives in 50s-era small town New Zealand, it was the first NZ film selected for the Director's Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival.

The most successful film based on Morrieson's work remains ensemble comedy Came a Hot Friday (1984),[5] which became one of the most successful local films released in New Zealand during the 1980s. The tale of two conmen stars Peter Bland, Phillip Gordon and a much praised supporting performance by Māori comedian Billy T James, as a man who thinks he is a Mexican bandito.

Abattoir tale Pallet on the Floor (1986)[6] got limited release in New Zealand, three years after it was filmed.

Predicament (2010),[7] was the last of Morrieson's novels to be adapted for cinema. Starring Hayden Frost, Jemaine Clement, and Australian comedian Heath Franklin, it won six technical awards at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and Television Awards. The movie was partly filmed in the Taranaki towns of Hawera and Eltham.[citation needed]

Post death[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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 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 the bar on Victoria Street.[citation needed]

The annual Ronald Hugh Morrieson Literary Awards take place during the third school term each year. It is in its 29th year and is open to secondary school students whose parents are South Taranaki District Council residents or ratepayers. Since 2009, the short story competition has also included an open section for people over the age of 13 and who are residents or ratepayers in the wider Taranaki region.[8]

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 first staged by the Auckland Theatre Company[9] in May 2010, as part of the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival. It featured John Leigh as Morrieson, and Tim Balme as Baxter.


  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". Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  3. ^ The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English p145 (1991, Oxford University Press, Auckland) ISBN 0-19-558211-X
  4. ^ "Klynham Summer (1982) : "The Scarecrow" (original title)". Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "Came a Hot Friday (1985)". Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "Pallet on the Floor (1984)". Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  7. ^ "Predicament (2010)". Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  8. ^ "South Taranaki – South Taranaki – Alive With Opportunity". 23 January 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  9. ^ [1] Archived 13 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]