Eleanor Witcombe i(32 works by)
Born: Established: 1923 Yorketown, Southern Yorke Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, ;
Gender: Female
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BiographyHistory

Eleanor Witcombe's mother Bertha ('Sissy') Erichsen, was the daughter of Danish and Prussian immigrants, and her father, Noel Witcombe, was the eldest son of the Reverend William Witcombe of Sydney. She was educated at the Yorketown Higher Primary School and, after her family moved to Brisbane in 1939, at Brisbane Girls' Grammar School.

The first play she wrote down was 'Omlet', a skit on Hamlet, for a school concert in 1940. In 1941, the family moved to Sydney. Witcombe has been a chronic asthmatic nearly all her life, and persistent ill-health forced her to give up studying for matriculation and later, the National Art School. With a growing interest in writing and theatre, she enrolled in 1947 in Peter Finch's Mercury Theatre School, and between 1948 to 1950 was commissioned by the Mosman Children's Theatre Club to write three plays for children: Pirates at the Barn, The Bushranger, and Smugglers Beware. These were widely produced both nationally and overseas. At the same time, she wrote many scripts for ABC School Broadcasts and Drama. She also wrote short stories and, as a finalist in a competition, won £6.

In 1952, she left for five years' work and study in London. Smugglers Beware became the first Australian children's play professionally produced there. On her return to Sydney in 1957, she continued writing for the ABC and now for commercial radio. She wrote one-hour drama adaptations of plays, books, and stories for ABC radio, the Lux Radio Theatre, and the Macquarie Radio Theatre: Sunday night specials, competing with each other. She also wrote the books for stage musicals A Ride on a Broomstick (for children) and Mistress Money (for adults) for the Philllip Street Theatre. During the 1959 Christmas period, three of her plays for children were playing simultaneously in Sydney. In 1963, she initiated the Australian Theatre for Young People and contributed to The Mavis Bramson Show and its sequels on television. In 1968, the Theatre for Young People commissioned the play The Runaway Steamboat for the Adelaide Festival, and she adapted the first of a series of book serialisations for ABC-TV while contributing for over three years as an original writer for the marathon television series No 96.

She wrote the screenplay for The Getting of Wisdom in 1976 and for My Brilliant Career in 1878, which resulted in developing several projects in the USA. A long interest in social history has led to her researching the lives of Daisy Bates and Breaker Morant for a double biography to be published by Pan-Macmillan.

Although she now lives in Sydney, Eleanor's ties with South Australia have remained strong. In 1988, she instigated the Erichsen Heritage Award for Southern Yorke Peninsula in honour of the pioneers, and to promote interest in the local history and environment. As a republican, she sees Australian drama as important to our self-realisation.

Apart from her writing, she says she 'enjoys AFL footy and going for long fast drives all over the landscape'. In 1999, she was the recipient of an Emeritus Award by the Australia Council, 'For a distinguished life-long contribution to Australian Literature'.

Notes

  • The National Library holds her papers (MS7739; restricted access) and typescripts of plays (MS 8418).

  • Witcombe's name is often mis-spelt as Whitcombe.

Affiliation Notes

  • Born in SA but moved elsewhere

On the Web

  • MS 8418 Records of Children's National Theatre

Personal Awards

2014 Order of Australia Member of the Order of Australia (AM) For significant service to the arts as a writer for radio, film, television and theatre.

Awards for Works

Jonah 1982 series - publisher film/TV

A young boy living on the streets at the turn of the twentieth century decides to make something of his life. The Australian Women's Weekly describes the program as 'detailing the rise of a hunchbacked 1900s larrikin gang leader from the gutter to the respectability of owning a shoe emporium' (Wed. 24 June 1981, p.118S).

1982 winner AWGIE Awards Television Award Best Television Adaptation
Water Under the Bridge 1980 series - publisher film/TV

The story of a group of people whose lives are entwined through time and circumstances in several ways, from love to murder.

1981 winner Penguin Award
My Brilliant Career 1979 single work film/TV

Based on the book by Miles Franklin, this feature film tells the story of an Australian country girl who, at the end of the nineteenth century, wants to make her own way in the outside world.

Rejecting an offer of marriage from a wealthy suitor (who is also her childhood friend), she instead finds herself obligated to work off her father's debt to a neighbouring family, for whom she works as governess and housekeeper. Returning home, she again rejects her suitor's proposal, this time in favour of writing a novel based on her experiences.

1980 Sammy Award Best Writer Feature Film
1979 winner Australian Film Institute Awards Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Source
1979 nominated Festival de Cannes Palme d'Or
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