Ruth Park

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Ruth Park
Ruth Park, ca. 1942
Ruth Park, ca. 1942
BornRosina Ruth Lucia Park
(1917-08-24)24 August 1917
Auckland, New Zealand
Died14 December 2010(2010-12-14) (aged 93)
Sydney, Australia
OccupationAuthor, novelist
Notable worksThe Harp in the South
Playing Beatie Bow
The Muddle-Headed Wombat
Notable awardsMiles Franklin Award (1977)
SpouseD'Arcy Niland

Rosina Ruth Lucia Park AM (24 August 1917 – 14 December 2010)[1][2][3][4] was a New Zealand–born Australian author. Her best known works are the novels The Harp in the South (1948) and Playing Beatie Bow (1980), and the children's radio serial The Muddle-Headed Wombat (1951–1970), which also spawned a book series (1962–1982).

Personal history[edit]

Park was born in Auckland to a Scottish father and a Swedish mother. Her family later moved to the town of Te Kūiti further south in the North Island of New Zealand, where they lived in isolated areas.[3]

During the Great Depression her working-class father laboured on bush roads and bridges, worked as a driver, did government relief work and became a sawmill hand. Finally, he shifted back to Auckland, where he joined the workforce of a municipal council. The family occupied public housing, known in New Zealand as a state house, and money remained a scarce commodity. Ruth Park, after attending St Benedict's School, a Catholic primary school, won a partial scholarship to St Benedict's secondary school, but her high-school education was broken by periods of being unable to afford to attend.[2] Nevertheless, she completed her studies at St Benedict's as Head Girl.[5] She completed an external degree course at Auckland University.[6]

Park's first break as a professional writer came when she was hired by the Auckland Star newspaper as a journalist, but she found the assignments she was given unchallenging. Wishing to expand her horizons, she accepted a job offer from the San Francisco Examiner, but the tightening of United States' entry requirements after the bombing of Pearl Harbor forced a change of plan. Instead, she moved to Sydney, Australia, in 1942, where she had lined up a job with another newspaper.

That same year she married the budding Australian author D'Arcy Niland (1917–1967), with whom she had been corresponding as pen pals for some years, and whom she had finally met on a previous visit to Sydney. There she embarked on a career as a freelance writer. Park and Niland had five children, of whom the youngest, twin daughters Kilmeny and Deborah, went on to become book illustrators.[6] (Park was devastated when Niland died in Sydney at the age of 49 from a heart ailment; Kilmeny also predeceased her — see the Herald obituary.) Park had eleven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The writer Rafe Champion is her son-in-law. In addition, D’Arcy Niland's brother Beresford married Ruth Park's sister Jocelyn.

Writing career[edit]

When contracted in 1942 by Ida Elizabeth Osbourne to write a serial for the ABC Children's Session, she wrote the series The Wide-awake Bunyip. When the lead actor Albert Collins died suddenly in 1951, she changed its direction and The Muddle-Headed Wombat was born, with first Leonard Teale then John Ewart in the title role. The series ended when the radio program folded in 1970. Such was its popularity that between 1962 and 1982 she wrote a series of children's books about the character.[7]

Her first novel was The Harp in the South (1948) – a graphic story of Irish slum life in Sydney, which has been translated into 37 languages. Even though it was acclaimed by literary critics, the book proved controversial with sections of the public due to its candour, with some newspaper letter-writers calling it a cruel fantasy because as far as they were concerned, there were no slums in Sydney. However, the newly married Park and Niland did live for a time in a Sydney slum located in the rough inner-city suburb of Surry Hills and vouched for the novel's accuracy. It has never been out of print. Sydney slum life recurs in her novel for children, Playing Beatie Bow (1980).

Park built on her initial success with the 1949 publication of a follow-up novel titled the Poor Man's Orange. During the 1950s, despite the demands of raising a family, she wrote tirelessly. According to a 2010 tribute article printed in the Sydney Morning Herald and written by her literary agent Tim Curnow, she produced more than 5,000 radio scripts alone during this decade, as well as contributing numerous articles to newspapers and magazines and penning weightier works of fiction.[8]

She subsequently wrote Missus (1985), a prequel to The Harp in the South, among other novels, and created scripts for film and television. Her autobiographies, A Fence Around the Cuckoo (1992) and Fishing in the Styx (1993), deal with her life in New Zealand and Australia respectively. She also penned a novel set in New Zealand, One-a-pecker, Two-a-pecker (1957), about gold mining in Otago. (It was later renamed The Frost and The Fire.)

Park never remarried. Between 1946 and 2004, she received numerous awards for her contributions to literature in both Australia and internationally.[9] She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1987. (Her awards and honours are listed below.)

From 1974 to 1981 Park dwelt on Norfolk Island, where she was the co-owner of a shop selling books and gifts. Her later years, however, were spent living in the Sydney harbourside suburb of Mosman. She died in her sleep on 14 December 2010, at the age of 93.




  • The Harp in the South (1948)
  • Poor Man's Orange (1949); also published as 12 1/2 Plymouth Street, (1951)
  • The Witch's Thorn (1951)
  • A Power of Roses (1953)
  • Serpent's Delight (1953); also published as The Good Looking Women, (1961)
  • Pink Flannel (1955); also published as "Dear Hearts and Gentle People", (1981)
  • One-a-Pecker, Two-a-Pecker (1957); also published as The Frost and the Fire, (1958)
  • Swords and Crowns and Rings (1977)
  • Missus (1985)

Children's books

  • The Hole in the Hill (1961); also published as Secret of the Maori Cave, (1961)
  • The Ship's Cat (1961)
  • The Muddle-Headed Wombat series (1962–82)
  • Airlift for Grandee (1962)
  • The Road to Christmas (1962)
  • The Road Under the Sea (1962)
  • The Shaky Island (1962)
  • Uncle Matt's Mountain (1962)
  • The Ring for the Sorcerer (1967)
  • The Sixpenny Island (1968)
  • Nuki and the Sea Serpent: a Maori Legend (1969)
  • The Runaway Bus (1969)
  • Callie's Castle (1974)
  • The Gigantic Balloon (1975)
  • Merchant Campbell (1976)
  • Roger Bandy (1977)
  • Come Danger, Come Darkness (1978)
  • Playing Beatie Bow (1980)
  • When the Wind Changed (1980)
  • The Big Brass Key (1983)
  • My Sister Sif (1986)
  • Callie's Family (1988)
  • Things in Corners (1989) – short stories
  • James (1991)

Radio plays

TV plays


  • Der Goldene Bumerang (1955), or The Golden Boomerang
  • The Drums Go Bang (1956), collaborative autobiography with D'Arcy Niland
  • The Companion Guide to Sydney (1973)
  • Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island (1982)
  • The Sydney We Love (1983)
  • The Tasmania We Love (1987)
  • A Fence Around the Cuckoo (1992), autobiography
  • Fishing in the Styx (1993), autobiography
  • Home Before Dark: The Story of Les Darcy, a Great Australian Hero (1995), with Rafe Champion

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Australian, 18 December 2010
  2. ^ a b Maunder, Patricia (17 December 2010). "Novelist shone a light on slums". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 December 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Ruth Park Biography". Austlit Agent Details. Retrieved 1 August 2007.
  4. ^ She always refused to confirm the actual date, and the published information varies from 1917 to 1924 (Source: Pegasus Book Orphanage)
  5. ^ Tony Eyre, "The Book Collector: Reading and Living with Literature"", Mary Egan, Dunedin, 2023, pp. 183 and 184.
  6. ^ a b Ruth Park: "Becoming a Writer" Retrieved 5 November 2015
  7. ^ The Golden Age of the Argonauts Rob Johnson, Hodder & Stoughton 1997 ISBN 0-7336-0528-1
  8. ^ Curnow, Tim (18 December 2010). "So much more than Wombat's mum". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  9. ^ "Ruth Park: A Celebration". National Library of Australia. Archived from the original on 6 September 2006. Retrieved 1 August 2007.
    Ruth Park: A Celebration (1996), PDF, 41 pages.
  10. ^ "Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, Winners and Honor Books 1967 to present". The Horn Book Inc. Archived from the original on 10 July 2008. Retrieved 1 August 2007.
  11. ^ "It's an Honour". Australian Government. Retrieved 1 August 2007.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Hooton, Joy (1996). "Ruth Park: A Celebration" (PDF). Friends of the National Library of Australia. p. 34. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  13. ^ "The 100 most influential Australians". The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 June 2006. 27 June 2006. Retrieved 1 August 2007.
  14. ^ So much more than Wombat's mum Sydney Morning Herald obituary
  15. ^ "NSWIS alumni celebrated on new River Class ferries". New South Wales Institute of Sport. 6 October 2020. Retrieved 6 October 2023.

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