Oriel Gray lived in Sydney during the early part of her writing career and later re-located to Melbourne. Gray's major output as a playwright was in the period from the 1940s to the 1960s. Her plays are regarded as being ahead of their time due to the complex manner in which they deal with social issues. Gray inventively addressed issues of Aboriginal rights, life in the bush, migrant experience and women's employment.
Her first full-length play, Lawson, based on some of Henry Lawson's short stories, was produced by Sydney New Theatre, in 1943. Gray's play, The Torrents, was joint winner of the 1955 Playwrights' Advisory Board Competition with Ray Lawler'sSummer of the Seventeenth Doll. However, unlike the Doll, The Torrents did not receive ongoing acclaim. After a production in 1956 by New Theatre, Adelaide, it was not re-staged for 40 years; it was (poorly) revived at the Adelaide Festival in 1996. In her last published work (and her only novel), The Animal Shop, Gray returned to familiar themes—working women and class conflict.
Gray's work received most attention within the New Theatre movement. These left leaning theatre groups were generally founded by then Communist Party members and sympathisers, and women's writing was more freely accepted there than in the mainstream Australian theatre of the time. Gray, a member of the Communist Party of Australia through the 1940s, worked with New Theatre as both a writer and an actor. (This phase of Gray's life is covered extensively in her 1985 autobiography, Exit Left : Memoirs of a Scarlet Woman.) Gray's two marriage partners were both associated with New Theatre in Sydney. She was first married to John Gray and subsequently to ^John Hepworth.
In addition to writing for stage, Gray wrote extensively for radio and television. During the 1950s, Gray worked on the development of children's education programmes for the ABC and later produced scripts for episodes of Rush, Bellbird and The Sullivans.
One of Australia's earliest television dramatisations of its gold-rush era, Rush is, as Don Storey points out in his Classic Australian Television, in many ways two entirely separate programs: between series one and series two, the setting shifts from the Victorian goldfields to a New South Wales mining town, and jumps forward from the 1850s to the early 1860s. However, both series take place in the same universe, use the same chronology, and have a clear internal coherence, centred on the continuing character of Sergeant Robert McKellar. Therefore, they are generally treated as two separate series of a single program.
(The differences in cast, crew, writers, and directors between the two series are given in detail in the film details section below.)
With its enormous, intricate, expensive, and accurate sets, costumes, and props, Rush proved extremely popular with viewers, despite series one airing in an awkward weeknight 8pm slot (which, as Storey notes, put it against the second half of the highly successful Homicide in Melbourne). Series one did, however, attract some criticism for being filmed in black-and-white when colour programming was only a matter of months away in Australia.
Series two (which drew on foreign financing to cover its cost, an extremely high--for a domestically produced program--$24,000 an episode) was made in colour. Following Sergeant McKellar (the only character to carry over from series one), series two pushed the character forward through two disillusioning events (the Eureka Stockade, which prompted McKellar's resignation from the Victoria Police, and the death of his wife Sarah) and dropped him into the conflicts of a small New South Wales mining town.
Series two was also extremely popular but, according to Storey, plans for series three were shelved when the new Fraser government instituted (among other things) a hefty budget cut to the ABC.
Series one gained renewed prominence in the 1990s when, like police procedural Bluey, it was re-dubbed and sent up on The Late Show (as The Olden Days).