Person - Dick Diamond

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RICHARD FRANK DIAMOND (1906 - 1989)

Dick Diamond wrote the script of Reedy River, NT's successful and often revived bush musical.

Dick Diamond was born in England, his family migrating in 1914 to Australia where Dick became a jackaroo, wrote short stories during the Depression and worked with C J Dennis when the latter was scenario editor for an early film company. Encouraged by Dennis, who wrote the screenplay for F W Thring’s The Sentimental Bloke, Diamond wrote plays and items for variety theatre and radio and worked as a journalist in Asia. He joined the CPA and Melbourne New Theatre (MNT) where his satirical play Soak the Rich was staged in 1941.

Reedy River originated at MNT. John Gray had a collection of Australian ballads and choruses and asked Diamond if he could write a musical around them to replace the theatre's annual revue. To avoid a tale of woe Diamond set it in the aftermath of the 1891 defeat of the shearers' strike. With a week's deadline, rehearsals began before the script was finished. After its third performance Reedy River played to full houses six nights a week, to the astonishment of MNT’s administration.

Reedy River opened at Sydney NT in December 1953, a month after an emergency meeting had been held to discuss the theatre's deepening financial crisis. It was an instant smash hit, praised by one critic who’d reviewed revivals of Rio Rita and Rose Marie ad nauseam but hadn’t seen an Australian play for two years. After nine months Reedy River with changing casts was still attracting audiences but was finally pulled because new talent was not being developed and it was felt undemocratic to have only one piece in the NT repertoire.

By April 1954 the musical had been seen by 15 000 people, including Miles Franklin who found it unoriginal although moved by the "rousing old choruses of my infancy – I’d forgotten how good those old tunes were.” One woman attended eleven performances, taking her dog to ten of them. Another objected to the lagerphone as a parody of the Cross and its sound as a parody of church bells. Some complained about the number of “bloodys”.

In 1955 NT raised money to send Diamond to the World Youth Festival in Warsaw, and farewelled him on the wharf with international food and Reedy River songs. Aboard the Neptunia Diamond penned a new version of Reedy River which was broadcast on Warsaw radio. He and fellow delegate Val Hunter visited Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria and played the lagerphone to some intrigued Poles.

In 1956 NT staged Diamond's Under the Coolibah Tree in which a Murray River paddle steamer is stranded, providing its crew and showgirl passengers the opportunity to meet a squatter, a free selector and shearers and to sing bush ballads, dance the can-can and watch an Aboriginal ballet. Although it had outdoor performances at Katoomba and Sutherland, it failed to capitalise on the success of the earlier work.

In 1964 Dick Diamond was approached by the ABC to adapt Reedy River for television. The project was all ready to go with locations worked out but after Madame Butterfly proved a disaster the ABC ruled not to finance any more musical productions. In 1969 Diamond said the only local song Australians knew was “Waltzing Matilda” and then they fizzled out in the second verse.

Richard Frank Diamond, who died on 11 February 1989 at Balgowlah, has an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


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