Barbara Vernon

Barbara Mary Vernon (1916-1978), scriptwriter, was born in Inverell, New South Wales, on 25 July 1916, fourth and last child of Constance Emma (born Barling) and Murray Menzies Vernon, medical practitioner. She was educated at New England Girls' School, Armidale, where social graces were predominant on the curriculum. In 1945-46, following service with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, she read psychology at the University of Queensland under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme.

Her official occupations were successively in the Inverell municipal library, as announcer on 2NZ, Inverell, and with the ABC, first in radio drama and features and then in television. Unofficial occupations were voracious uncritical reading - Rider Haggard, Kipling, the Brontes - and compulsive writing: 'Even when I was small, I had a need to take paper, any paper, and write on it.'

As a doctor's daughter she had top points on the small-town social graph. But her father's depression-time refusal to bill patients whom he judged unable to pay often left his family genteelly hard-up; and her rebel's love of literature and the stage led Barbara to breach any line of the social grid which barred her from a kindred enthusiast.

Bigness was Barbara Vernon's essence. Classically statuesque, she conveyed an inward munificence, an impression almost of harvest- festival. As 2NZ announcer she ran a radio pen club and a children's hour, presiding over a studio full of grubby after-school participants. She inspired a junior dramatic club and enthusiastically wielded a paintbrush on backdrops. In Inverell's cavernous town hall she staged Toad of Toad Hall, Julius Caesar and her own plays, The Passionate Pianist and The Multi-Coloured Umbrella, both subsequently televised. The latter was also performed at the Theatre Royal, Sydney.

She moved with her widowed mother to Cremorne, Sydney, in 1959. The ABC broadcast her radio serial on Georges Sand and the Independent Theatre produced Swords to the Rescue, a children's play on which she collaborated with Bec Robinson. She wrote other plays and in the 1960s, created the long-running television serial, Bellbird, drawing confidently on her country-town background. Two novels followed: Bellbird: The Story of a Country Town (1970) and A Big Day at Bellbird (1972) which was the basis of the film Country Town (1971). She contributed also to Certain Women.

Barbara travelled outside Australia only once, to Malaysia. She never married. After her mother's death and her own retirement she acquired a property near Cassilis known as 'The Old Rectory'. With its spacious grounds and architectural waywardness its appeal perhaps was its phantom overtones of the Bronte sisters. During a visit to Sydney in April 1978 Barbara Vernon died in hospital of a heart attack.

Her work has a compelling vigour, an absence of preciousness and a deeper concern with plot and action than with character-combing and atmosphere. Her choice of protagonists suggests her own repudiation of the social graph. Her play, The Naked Possum, deals with a prostitute; The Multi-Coloured Umbrella with cheery Randwick bookmakers.

Shirley Quirk