On 30 April 1984 the poet, playwright, tutor and historian, Mona Brand, addressed our April branch meeting. Mona dealt mainly with her experiences of the New Theatre from 1948. She began by speaking of the background of the New Theatre before she came into contact with it, and, most interestingly of her initial experiences of progressive literature and ideas through those connected with the Realist Writers’ Group. Mona’s first play, ‘Here under Heaven’, which was concerned with attacking racism in Australia, played at the New Theatre in 1948, receiving favourable reviews. Mona ruefully recalled, however, that J.C. Williamson’s in London later rejected the play on the grounds that ‘there was no colour problem in Australia’.
In a speech that was frequently spiced with humour and interesting anecdotes – Jim Healy, it seems, had certain rather unorthodox ways of ensuring that the capitalist press kept in touch with important moments in progresive theatre Mona went on to speak of her time in London and her associations with the Unity Theatre there and later how the Cold War affected Left writers and intellectuals. Particularly salient were her comments on Dick Diamond’s ‘Reedy River’ which she described as a ‘watershed’ and a ‘starting point for the whole of the Australian folk music movement’ but which met with a stony silence from the Sydney Morning Herald. The various venues of the New Theatre were all discussed, including the Waterside Workers Hall, but Mona recalled the period in St. Peter’s Lane, Darlinghurst as ‘my happiest time in the theatre’. Mona’s speech was particularly thought-provoking for those interested in the radical-nationalist literary tradition and the theme she stressed, the need to give left-wing theatre as wide an airing as possible amongst the working class as a whole rather than merely ‘preaching to the converted’, impressed itself upon the audience as sound assessment.