Nance Macmillan

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Nance Macmillan’s Land of Morning Calm was staged by Adelaide NT as part of the Youth Carnival for Peace and Friendship held in Sydney in 1952. Despite pleas not to do it, it was restaged as Christmas Bridge by Sydney NT in 1953 although it had drawn small audiences, with John Bluthal in the lead, at London’s Unity. When produced by Melbourne NT with Bob Herbert directing, the Victorian government tried to stop it being performed, and three plainclothes police were in the Brisbane NT opening night audience.

The plot revolved around Australians blowing up a bridge during the Korean War. There were a number of weaknesses in the script, revealing the author’s unfamiliarity with her subject matter: any such bridge would be heavily guarded; as the river was frozen over blowing up the bridge was unnecessary; four men would not have been capable of carrying enough explosives; Australians in Korea were infantrymen not specialists, and specialists wouldn’t lay wire until the last minute.

Born in Perth on 10 September 1920, Nancy Viola Macmillan grew up in Melbourne during the Depression. As a child she wanted to be an actress, but turned to writing. She met Gregan McMahon, and joined Jubal’s little theatre. A teacher turned draftswoman, she worked in Melbourne’s Australia-Soviet House, joined the CPA in 1944 and the Realist Writers Group. Her mother Lilian Macmillan, her contact Audrey Blake, worked in the CPA office. She was watched by ASIO.

Nance moved to Sydney and got a job with the Seamen’s Union whose Federal Secretary Eliot V Elliott she found unlikable. With her mother she travelled to London and Europe, meeting Paul Robeson in Paris and returning to Australia in 1949. She married seaman/fireman Geoffrey Carmichael Wills and they went to live in Brisbane where she joined the Communist Arts Group. At age 58 she was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer at an anti-uranium mining demonstration. Her children also became activists.

Nance Macmillan's first play was The Laughing Gods a three-act work submitted to the Lux Radio Theatre Competition but rejected. Her second was The Opal Queen in three acts adapted from Banjo Paterson’s novel The Outback Marriage. Jack’s Back re a cholera-infected soldier returning to Australia from Korea was never produced. Brisbane NT produced her last play The Painter (1960) about Albert Namatjira.

Macmillan remained a staunch Communist and, as Nancy Wills, published Shades of Red: personal and political recollections of a communist to mark the occasion of our sixtieth anniversary 1920-1980.