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Prize winning playwright link to Noosa comes to life

THE story of an unconventional award-winning playwright from the 1950s has ignited the curiosity of CQU academic Sue Davis, who has used her research skills to bring his work out of shadowy archives into a contemporary light.

Her exploration has led her on a journey starting with George Landen Dann's birth on January 1, 1904, to his childhood home in Sandgate, Brisbane, and his involvement in theatre, both writing for and performing on the stage.

Dr Davis said it was Dann's focus on the Aboriginal experience, and how it was represented in a time when most stage fare was imported from Europe, that initially grabbed her interest.

However, it was learning that

he had spent his final two decades at Coolum and then on to living in an old cottage on Lake Weyba Drive, Noosaville,

that truly piqued her interest.

"When I found out he had died in Eumundi, the place where I now live, I wanted to discover the local history," Dr Davis said.

"As I began to find out more about him, I think my interest has become more focused on the question of his partially realised potential - the talented Queenslander who achieved so much, but probably could have achieved more."

Dr Davis said Mr Dann was a published playwright who won numerous competitions in Australia and internationally.

His work was performed on national radio and even TV.

Several of his plays broke new ground by attempting to examine the plight of Aboriginal Australians (the first in 1931), drawing focus on

the social mores and restrictions that held sway at the time.

He longed to break free from social conventions and everyday life, but worked within the established systems until his last two decades when he chose to retreat to an isolated but peaceful life.

Dr Davis said she wondered if he could have become someone different if only he had left these shores.

"But now I find myself with a growing sense of commitment to him and his work and a hope that I might be able to help realise what I believe he truly hoped and desired," Dr Davis said.

"A year before he died, an honours student, Deborah Rasmussen, shared visits and letters with George and wrote her honours dissertation on his work.

"When she sent a copy to him, he read it immediately and in a letter to her records how terribly moved he was after the reading.''

His true feelings were revealed in a return letter.

"I must confess to you an ambition I've never told anyone before.

"And it is this … I always humbly hoped my name would live after I died and not die while I lived," he wrote.

Research reveals:

George never married.

He travelled extensively within Australia, but not overseas.

George Landen Dann came to prominence when he won the Brisbane Repertory Theatre writing competition in 1931 with the play, In Beauty it is Finished. The scandal that followed the announcement was extremely confronting for this shy young man.

A year after the events of that time, he left Brisbane and travelled to Hamilton Island.

Here he seemed to think he might discover some alternative way of living.

However, after an apparent dark night of the soul, he came to terms with living an ordinary and returned to Brisbane and worked as a draftsman.

He remained in this job for the next 25 years or so.

He was constantly "scribbling" away, writing stage plays, radio plays, TV drama and more.

 

Some of his best-known plays include Fountains Beyond, Caroline Chisholm and the radio play, The Orange Grove.

Note: Much of this research is based on documents that can be found at the Fryer Library, University of Queensland.

Topics:  theatre


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