Clifford Green OAM: December 6, 1934 – December 4, 2020
by CHERIE MOSELEN
7th December 2020
IT IS WITH sadness that Warrandyte Diary marks the passing of our Founding Editor, Cliff Green.
Cliff established Warrandyte Diary in 1970 and guided the paper until his retirement in 2014.
There was much more to Cliff than his role at the Diary.
Cliff’s talent as a writer has blessed children with plays and books, television watchers with top rating shows and film audiences with classic screenplay, Picnic at Hanging Rock.
He wrote stories — not just of local, but of national importance.
Through them, one gets a sense of Cliff’s commitment to truth and fairness, his love of history and his determination to give Warrandyte its own unique voice.
The following will tell you a lot about Cliff Green’s earlier life as a writer.
What it will not tell you is how, as a newspaper man, he fought to stave off the bulldozers of over-zealous developers.
How he said “NO” again and again to those who would so easily erode Melbourne’s Green Wedge.
And how he let council officials know when their town plans — which might sit well in Doncaster — definitely did not suit Warrandyte.
Warrandyte is, as Cliff called it, “a special little place”.
Because he helped make it that way.
CHERIE MOSELEN has compiled this recollection of Cliff Green’s time at the Diary.
To accompany this story, I went looking for photos of Warrandyte Diary’s founder — hoping to find pictures from the “back when the Diary first started” days of the ‘70s.
I tried the obvious places: the office, historical society, Diary photographer Stephen Reynolds.
The lack of results should not have surprised me.
As I have come to learn, the Diary’s modest front man is happier behind the scenes.
One photo turned up, which I shared with a family member who posed this curious question: Cliff Green or 1930s bank robber Baby Face Nelson?
I jumped on the internet and sure enough… the same good crop of hair, the youthful, boyish face.
I could have used a photo of the notorious gangster and most would not be the wiser!
Both men “made headlines” too — although only one inspired a series of wanted posters.
Thankfully, the other started a newspaper.
He started small.
His contribution to the local community as an editor, and to the wider community as an Australian screenwriter, has been anything but.
Already creating little sketches from the age of 10, Cliff Green knew he wanted to be a writer.
However, he originally trained as a compositor, earning a Diploma of Printing at RMIT.
He did not enter the publishing trade after all — “too many highly qualified graphic designers about” — but went instead into primary teaching.
A bush romantic, Cliff longed for a rural posting and he soon got one, moving to a small town in the Mallee with wife Judy.
He recalls those 10 years in the country as some of the happiest of their lives.
The change also set the stage for his headway into writing.
“It was the ‘50s and I was teaching at a tiny school in Rainbow — less than 10 kids.
“I wrote an end of year play, Christmas at Boggy Creek,” Cliff said, “and showed it to a writer friend, David Martin, who suggested it was good enough for the ABC.
“I thought he meant radio as we did not have TV out there, so I adapted it and sent it off.”
A letter came back that it was unsuitable for radio, too visual, and would he like to adapt it for television instead.
With the help of the BBC’s How to Write for Television — or how NOT to write for TV, as Cliff fondly remembers it — he adapted his script and the ABC produced it as a secular Christmas story.
The fact that it was at least 40 minutes long also qualified him to join the newly minted (six-month old) Australian Writers’ Guild.
Many years later, the soon to be “ex” primary school teacher would become a vice- president and life member of the organisation, receiving the Richard Lane Award for service and dedication to the guild, in 1990.
In 1969, the Greens (now a young family) transferred to Warrandyte, ostensibly for Cliff to take up a teaching position.
However, he had been pinpointed earlier by the Education Department and ABC collaboration “Schools Broadcasting,” as a teacher with writing experience.
Cliff created 13, 20-minute dramas and social studies documentaries for their production team.
It would bring him a step closer to becoming a full-time writer.
“One of the producers, Jonathon Dawson, had gone across to Crawford Productions in Melbourne.
“He called me one day and said they were looking for writers.
“He wanted to send me out an audition kit,” Cliff said.
“I had to write a few scenes and an episode of Homicide.
“It must have gone alright because soon after Hector Crawford hired me as a staff writer.”
Cliff began contributing episodes to police dramas Homicide and Matlock.
He describes his three years with Crawford as “the best way to learn the trade” and respectfully refers to the influential radio and TV producer as the “father of Australian television drama”.
“You worked with everyone there, the camera crew and the production team — if needed, you rewrote on the spot.
“We were doing three cop shows a week, 48 weeks of the year, and every six weeks one of your episodes went to air,” he said.
Given the six-week turnaround, Cliff began working a lot from home.
It gave him the flexibility to respond to an appeal by the Warrandyte Community Youth Club for a newsletter.
He decided to expand the format, and in 1970 Warrandyte Diary was born.
“I do not know how I managed both jobs, but teaching helped provide me with the necessary discipline.
“I edited the first four Diary issues on my own and then experienced journalist Peter Lovett helped out,” he said.
Age columnist Bob Millington would also step in to help, managing the paper for seven years.
However, in 1974 when Cliff and Herald journalist Lee Tindale joined forces, the little paper struck gold.
“We were great colleagues.
“Lee was managing editor and co-editor at times, and sports editor right up until 2006 when he sadly passed away,” Cliff said.
“He was our page-two columnist and a marvellous sports writer.
“He would work and re-work each story until it shone like a polished gem.”
The Diary is financed solely through advertising.
Paid only as recently as the last few years, Cliff managed the paper alongside his scriptwriting work.
Some might be surprised to learn the extent of his reputation within the Australian film and television industry.
After going freelance at the end of 1971, Cliff wrote for such distinguished TV series as Rush, Power Without Glory and I Can Jump Puddles.
In 1975, he agreed to help out overcommitted playwright David Williamson, who had been signed to write the screenplay of Picnic at Hanging Rock but could not do it.
His haunting adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel went on to make cinematic history, anchoring the drama in the harbour of popularity as one of Australia’s top 10 movies of all time.
The landmark Australian film earned Cliff Green an Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Screenplay and a Best Writer nomination, U.S. Science Fiction Film Awards, bringing him international recognition.
In the film and television world, where only one in 10 projects ever get made, Cliff’s screenwriting star blazed like a supernova.
His credits include TV drama series such as Homicide, Matlock, Rush, Against The Wind, A Country Practice, The Flying Doctors, Mission: Impossible, Embassy, Stingers, Something In The Air, Blue Heelers and Marshall Law, among others.
He created two well-known TV mini-series: Marion and The Petrov Affair.
And adapted for television the work of Australian authors such as Henry Lawson, Alan Marshall, Frank Hardy and Norman Lindsay.
Later work includes the original screenplay for the prize-winning children’s TV film Boy Soldiers, and award-winning episodes of the highly successful ABC-TV series Phoenix and Janus.
In 1995, he created the critically acclaimed ABC-TV series Mercury.
A literary all rounder, his stage play Cop Out! was first presented by the Melbourne Theatre Company and was the Western Australian Theatre Company’s contribution to the Festival of Perth.
He also published three children’s books in his Riverboat Bill series, a novel Break Of Day, and a collection of short stories.
During his recollections, Cliff salutes others who shared his writer’s journey.
“I left Crawfords after a blue I had with Hector.
“He wanted me to take up a training role, but I had left teaching to write, so I said ‘no’ and essentially sacked myself.
“Still, Hector remained a great supporter over the years.
“He would ring me up whenever I had something on the ABC: ‘Good stuff fellow! Keep it up!’”
He warmly recalls a meeting with media personality David Frost (licensee of the English network, London Weekend) to discuss the making of Power Without Glory.
“I had suggested the book to the ABC, who started negotiations with Frank Hardy for the rights.
“David Frost was coming here to make Frost Over Australia.
“He did not know anything about Australia.
“So he bought a paperback at the airport because it had a map of Australia on it!
“That book was Power Without Glory.
“By the time he had finished it, he was asking for the rights,” Cliff said.
“So now two outfits wanted it.
“But Frank was clever, rather than creating a conflict he suggested a co-production.
“ABC writer Howard Griffiths and I met David Frost at a pub somewhere in Melbourne.
“He was terrific — ‘Just send me the drafts, otherwise it is your project.’
“Howard and I brought on more writers and it ended up with the best rating the ABC had ever had for drama, possibly for anything up to that point.”
Not once in our three-hour interview does Cliff mention the awards he has received.
I cite some of them here, not least because they reflect the tremendous variety within his work.
His TV quartet Marion and the plays End of Summer and Burn the Butterflies won a total of 17 industry awards.
He received the Australian Writers Guild major AWGIE for Marion in 1974 (eight AWGIE’s throughout his career).
A Best Writer nomination followed at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards in Hollywood, and AFI nominations in 1992 and 1995.
Boy Soldiers won the Liv Ullman Peace Prize at the 1990 Chicago International Festival of Children’s Films and was a finalist in the International Emmy Awards in 1991 (the first Australian drama to receive an Emmy nomination).
And his Janus episode Fit To Plead won a 1995 Australian Human Rights Award.
Clearly, Cliff Green is a successful writer.
However, donning the cap of a newspaper editor requires something more.
Meeting his editorial responsibilities sincerely — but not always submissively — Cliff mapped the Diary into a landscape that reflects Warrandyte’s strong community character.
Of course, he did not do it alone.
Numerous volunteer editors, writers, photographers, artists and advertising managers helped him.
He also had a North Star — Cliff credits wife Judy as being the Diary’s moral compass.
“Judy does more than manage ‘out of the inbox’; sometimes I would get a bit excited about a story and she would caution me against publishing it,” he said.
Consequently, Diary readers have witnessed the celebration of their town through an editorship underpinned by solid community principles.
Protector of Warrandyte’s Village Identity?
Cliff is far too modest to assume this tag on the paper’s behalf.
But as someone who appreciates Warrandyte’s unique flavour and local efforts in trying to preserve it, I believe the Diary wears it well.
He does acknowledge the paper is “a part of Warrandyte”.
The attachment is stronger than that.
In fact, many locals think of the Diary a bit like the next-door neighbour who you can invite over for a cuppa.
One of Cliff’s subtle strengths as managing editor has been to foster this sense of accessibility, binding the paper to the community.
For a small-town, largely voluntary effort, the Diary is peerless in its sophistication.
Typically, Cliff plays down its many accolades, but says he is particularly proud of a Fire Awareness Award bestowed by Radio ABC Gippsland during a bad bushfire year.
He is also proud of the Diary’s role in nurturing journalist cadets: Clinton Grybas, Georgi Stickels and Sam Davies, among others.
In 2001, shortly before retiring from screenwriting, Cliff Green received a Centenary Medal “for service to the community”.
He accepted an OAM in 2009 for “service to the Australian film and television industry as a screenwriter and educator”. (The ‘educator’ component refers to teaching screenwriting for institutions like Victorian College of the Arts and RMIT University.)
And did I mention he was a founding member of the board of Film Victoria and founding vice-president of the Melbourne Writers Theatre?
He must have drunk a lot of coffee over those 50 years!
As a Diary contributor, I am most grateful Cliff decided to give local writers a voice in their community — not to mention the opportunity to practice their craft in a newspaper of the highest standard.
On a personal note, I am grateful he taught me the economy of “not using seven words when three will do”.
We miss you.
The Editors, staff and contributors of the Diary send our condolences to Judy, their children, and the extended Green family.
Personal recollections of the extraordinary life of Cliff Green will be published in the February 2021 edition of the Dairy.