PLOTTING my original ABC-TV four-part drama Marion, I was determined to cover my tracks. I set the story amongst the tall timber of East Gippsland, far from my first one-teacher experience in the Mallee.
I made the beginner teacher a woman. I placed it in the time of my own childhood – 1942.
But hidden forces were at work.
As I wandered through the wonderful, accurate and evocative studio sets, prior to the commencement of the first day of studio filming in the ABC studios in Ripponlea, I found one period element that jarred.
In the apparently faultless set representing the interior of the school committee president’s farmhouse there was a telephone. But it didn’t look right; too exotic. It had been hired from a noted collector, an Ericsson model from the 1920s. Then I looked closer at the telephone number. It was Rainbow 192D. The phone number of our first school residence was Rainbow 192U, the other instrument on a two-party line. Inauthentic indeed!
A few of the actors had wandered on set by this time and when I pointed out this remarkable ‘coincidence’ they looked askance: actors are a superstitious lot. But I was assured that the telephone was exactly right.
Some years later, Judy and I spent a few nights as guests of the farming couple who were secretary of the Mothers’ Club and School Committee president during the years when I was their teacher. The school had closed and been demolished by this time.
I told the story of the strange phone. Saying nothing, our host left us for a few minutes, returning with the records of the school committee during 1942 – there was the name of the president – and his telephone number: Rainbow 192U!
Several years later, colleague and good friend Howard Griffiths and I were commissioned by the ABC to adapt the epic novel Power Without Glory. We broke the book into 26 parts, shaped each into a separate episode and wrote the first episode together, then assembled a team of four or five writers to script the series.
The morning after the first episode went to air nationally, two doctors – a pediatrician and a gynaecologist – were opening their joint practice in far-off suburban Perth. They were discussing the previous night’s TV viewing.
“That Power Without Glory” looks like a good show,” one commented. “Yes, my brother-in-law wrote the script,” one of them said proudly. “No, my brother-inlaw wrote the script,” countered the other.
They were both right. The gynaecologist was married to my wife Judy’s sister, the pediatrician was married to Howard’s wife’s sister!
A year or two later again, a niece of mine was working as a nurse at an HIV clinic in Sydney. She and the social worker in the clinic had become close friends. They were discussing Picnic at Hanging Rock, which they had seen separately. “My uncle wrote the screenplay, one of them proclaimed. “No, my uncle wrote it,” the other argued.
They were both right. The nurse was my sister’s daughter, the social worker was my wife’s brother’s daughter! They had become firm friends not knowing they were related by marriage. Forty years later they are still firm friends.
I secured the job on Picnic because of where I live. Author Joan Lindsay had right of approval of producer, director and screenwriter. Pat Lovell and Peter Weir had passed muster, now it was my turn. We met for lunch at the ABC canteen in Ripponlea.
“Where do you live?” was Joan’s first question. “Warrandyte,” I replied. “Then that will be all right,” she said. “Someone from Warrandyte will understand what that book’s all about!”
It turned out that of all plac- es, Warrandyte was special to Joan. She had been especially close to Penleigh Boyd, the renowned Warrandyte artist who was her cousin. She had often visited his family when she was an art student, I even heard that she met her future husband Daryl Lindsay here in Warrandyte.
“How did you get to Warrandyte in those days?” I asked. “Why, by train to Ringwood,” she answered. “Then on to Warrandyte in a horse-drawn drag.”
“That drag was operated by a Mr Bill Hussey?” I said.
“I don’t remember his name,” she answered “Well, he’s in the book, except he’s Ben Hussey.” (Ben drove the girls on their fateful journey to Hanging Rock.) “Bill Hussey was our son-in-law’s grandfather!”
“Well,” Joan countered with a twinkle, “strange things happen, don’t they?”