Person - Joan Clarke

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JOAN LORRAINE CLARKE (1920 - 2004)

Joan Clarke née Willmott was a NT member 1952-8, and on its committee in 1956. In 1954 NT staged her first full-length play Home Brew. The script, which had been circulating for some time, had undergone extensive revision by Eddie Allison and John Armstrong. Its subject a working-class family who had been through the Depression and Second World War and now had trouble finding housing, it was dedicated to poet Bartlett Adamson who wrote about everyday people. Its genesis was Clarke’s own experience when she had to share a house, living in one room with her husband and their son. The play, also staged by Adelaide NT in 1954, did poor business in Sydney.

With John Meredith, Clarke wrote The Wild Colonial Boy about bushranger John Donahoe. Billed as another Reedy River, it was staged by Brisbane NT in 1956 but survived only six performances. Shortage of hospital beds was the subject of her sketch "Is There a Doctor in the House?" performed by the Wharfies’ Actors’ Group.

In December 1958 Joan Clarke resigned from New Theatre, commenting: “When you find a promising writer, get them writing plays and don’t expect them to do too many of the many numerous tasks in theatre organisation”.

Joan Willmott had polio as child and was cared for by the Crippled Children’s Society. At age 16 she was operated on by pioneering orthopaedic surgeon Max Herz, enabling her to walk with only a slim wooden stick. During the Second World War she was a copywriter at 2GB with announcer John Dease and ran “Radio Reporters”, a program similar to “The Argonauts”. Influenced by left-wing Dease who was involved with groups such as the NSW Russia Aid Society, Joan joined the CPA in 1941 in a cell full of theatrical people, became an active member of the Eureka Youth League, a member of Actors Equity when Hal Lashwood was on a recruitment drive, penned short stories, as “JLW” wrote for Progress, and had an ASIO file. She married Raymond George Clarke in 1946. A founding member of the Australian Society of Authors, she was co-secretary of the Writers’ Guidance Centre.

In 1994 Joan Clarke published All on one good dancing leg, a memoir of her early life.


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