Person - George Farwell

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GEORGE MICHELL FARWELL (1911- 1976)

An interest in drama took George Farwell to the New Theatre League (NTL) where he wrote verse sketches and performed Street Theatre on the back of a truck, one of his characters Neville Chamberlain with a tailcoat, rabbit’s teeth and umbrella. After Malcolm Ellis (as "Ek Dum") wrote that the Red Army couldn’t fight its way out of a paper bag, Farwell and another actor got a swastika flag from the Till The Day I Die production and flew it from a flagpole on the Bulletin roof.

Farwell wrote Progress of a Nation in living newspaper style in 25 scenes where 100 Australian historical characters fight for an organised labour movement. It was to have commenced a season at Sydney NTL on 14 January 1942 but, because the theatre now supported the Allies after Germany attacked Russia, lost the male cast to mobilisation. His play Sons of the South 1947 was reviewed as a dry historic narrative. Reedy River was partially inspired by Farwell's outback stories. NT came to have an uneasy relationship with him, cranky that he submitted his works to commercial managements first.

Farwell was a tall, good-looking, cosmopolitan pipe smoker, with a nonchalant air. Len Fox found him cheerful, likeable, a top writer; to Norma Andresen he was "a nice English chap".

Born on 3 October 1911 in Bath, England, Farwell arrived in Sydney in 1935 on the Makura after spending two years in Tahiti (leading to an interest in French Polynesia, he spoke French). In Australia he found men still on “susso” and jumping trains, and noted that the Arbitration Court had published a pamphlet on how to cook and recook a leg of mutton, but prawns were so cheap that even drunks ate them on the tram. The liveliest end of town was Circular Quay where workday life revolved around the wool trade and the pubs. As a casual wharfie, he noted the Hungry Mile picking order: bulls, "toadies" the bosses’ men, followed by the older (a lot ex soldiers), weaker, lame, ones who’d had accidents, militants, and lastly "snipers" the non unionists (if there were any vacancies).

Farwell frequented haunts favoured by bohemians: Madame Fiaschi’s wine bar in Bond Street, the Latin café in the Royal Arcade run by Soho-born Madame de Pura, Mischa Burlakov’s Saturday night dances. He dined with East Sydney Tech’s Rayner Hoff. He got some radio work at the ABC drama studios in Market Street where the actors had to wear evening dress (if not the commissionaire wouldn’t let you in). He also landed bit film parts with Ken G Hall on Rangle River and Lovers and Luggers. (After one meeting with Hall at Bellevue Hill he walked to William Street where he had a 9d three-course lunch with Ron Randall and Peter Finch .)

Farwell started writing for radio, newspapers and magazines including the State Labor Party’s Progress but was driven from the Left after he discussed Freudian symbolism in a review of Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra. Told the CPA Party line was that Freud was a crypto-fascist, Farwell quit the Tribune. In 1940 he won first prize for his radio play Portrait of a Gentleman starring Peter Finch and later adapted for the stage. During the Second World War he gave up his job with the ABC to be an ironworker. In 1943 he contributed a short story to the first issue of Australian New Writing. He also wrote for Salt the journal of the Army Education Service and in 1948 published the first of his 22 books. He worked as a drover, rode a camel with blacktrackers on the Birdsville Track and travelled widely. He was Public Relations Officer for the Adelaide Festival of Arts 1959-64, and the Australian pavilion at Montreal Expo 67. In the 1960s he was editor of the Adelaide News. His Mask of Asia won the 1966 Moomba Prize for best book.

In 1938 Farwell married secretary Grace Patricia Minty; they had a son and daughter and divorced in 1958. He then married ABC journalist Noni Grace Irene Baker née Rowland whom he’d met at an Artists Ball. Noni lived in a flat in Kings Cross Road above the one used by Vladimir Petrov; when she was assigned to look for Petrov she had no idea he lived below her.

George Farwell, who died in Adelaide on 6 August 1976, has Wikipedia and Australian Dictionary of Biography entries. A collection of his photographs is held by Mitchell Library.



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