Ruth Park spent her childhood in isolated regions of the North Island of New Zealand. Neither her family nor her school provided much access to books but Park read newspapers and other miscellaneous forms of print. She was exposed to extreme poverty during the Great Depression and to the diverse cultures of the Maori and the European settlers. Her education was provided by St. Joseph's nuns in the convents of Te Kuiti and Auckland. Many were Australians who engendered positive feelings in her towards the country. Her first employment was with the Auckland Star and it was in their offices that she met the Australian writer Eve Langley (q.v.) in 1940. In the late 1930s she was corresponding with the young Australian writer D'Arcy Niland (q.v.) and visited him in Sydney in 1940.
After her plans to move to the United States were thwarted by the outbreak of war with Japan, Park departed for Australia in 1942 and married D'Arcy Niland. Determined to make a living from freelance writing, they wrote in many different forms, including short stories, radio plays, westerns, romances and many more. Despite the prolific output, only a fraction of what they wrote was sold. In her survey of Park's work (Ruth Park: A Celebration), Joy Hooton (q.v.) wrote: 'The vast extent of Park's unpublished work (probably 30 to 40 adult plays and 5000 children's scripts) and the ephemeral nature of some of it, as well as her frequent collaborations with Niland before his death in 1967, means that no bibliography can hope to do justice to her output.'
Park and Niland lived for some time in the slum area of Surry Hills in Sydney, providing Park with first-hand experience of extreme poverty, domestic violence and unhealthy surroundings. While visiting her family in New Zealand, Park drew on this experience to write The Harp in the South, submitting it in the 1946 Sydney Morning Herald competition. After winning the £2000 first prize, Park's writing was in much demand and The Harp in the South became a bestseller in Australia and overseas.
Park is also well-known as a children's writer, most notably with the Muddle-Headed Wombat series, first produced on radio, and published regularly in book form between 1962 and 1981. She wrote many more novels, children's books, histories, guides to Sydney, and a biography of Les Darcy. One of her earliest publications was Der Goldene Bumerang (The Golden Boomerang), a descriptive book about Australia translated and published in Germany in 1955. Park's novels continue to reach a wide audience, especially The Witch's Thorn (1951) and Swords and Crowns and Rings (1977). In the 1990s she also published two volumes of an award-winning autobiography, adding to a large collection of other awards and honours, including a Miles Franklin Award, an AM and an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of New South Wales. After D'Arcy Niland's death in 1967, Park worked for some time in London, then lived on Norfolk Island between 1973 and 1985, after which she returned to Sydney.
(Source: '(Rosina) Ruth (Lucia) Park,' in Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series. ed. Daniel Jane and John D. Jorgenson 65 (1998): 208-212; Paul Genoni, 'Ruth Park,' in Dictionary of Literary Biography, 260: Australian Writers, 1915-1950. Ed. Selina Samuels (2002): 275-285.)
Ruth Park was included in the Bulletin's '100 Most Influential Australians' list in 2006.
Birth dates for Ruth Park vary from 1917 (Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature) to 1922 (Oxford Companion to Australian Literature) to 1924. According to the obituary for Park in the Sydney Morning Herald (17 December 2010), Park's family confirmed 1917 as the correct date.