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The Mercury, 20 July 1938, p.3
Catherine Shepherd Catherine Shepherd i(A23049 works by)
Born: Established: 28 Oct 1902
Southern Africa, Africa,
; Died: Ceased: 18 Feb 1976 Hobart, Southeast Tasmania, Tasmania,
Gender: Female
Arrived in Australia: 1922-1925
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Catherine Shepherd, playwright, was the only child of Edgar David Shepherd, an Anglican clergyman from England, and his wife Margaret. Her father died when she was an infant, leaving her mother in financial difficulties. They moved back to England and lived with relations in Yorkshire. Shepherd was educated in Yorkshire and in North Wales at Howell's School, Denbigh. She won a scholarship to the University College, London, where she graduated with a B.A.(Honours) in English in 1923 and then a Diploma of Education. Shepherd always wanted to be a writer. One of her close friends at the university, Frances Mary Heaton, was the future wife of Nevil Shute.

After graduation, Shepherd taught in a school for two years and travelled. She and her mother then decided to emigrate to Australia where they had relatives in Sydney. After a short time in Sydney, they settled permanently in Hobart. They were certainly there by 1926 when Shepherd was one of a group of interested people who formed the Hobart Repertory Theatre Society. Giordano and Norman claim her plays were among the first to be performed by the new society (163).

An article in a West Australian newspaper in 1936 (by which time Shepherd was a recognised contributor of short fiction to magazines including The Australian Journal), suggested:

she has contrived not only to get an Honours Degree at London University, but to travel over a great deal of the world and to try her hand at a score of different jobs in order to gain material for the writing she knew she would be doing one day. For a while she was a waitress at a tea-room in France. Later she came to Australia, and sold books in a shop in Adelaide. Tiring of that, she spent a season splitting apricots on the Murray River. When fruit palled, she dug her University degrees out of her cabin trunk, became a teacher in a girl's school in New South Wales, and set herself to saving enough money to go back to Europe, where she travelled extensively and saw nearly all there is to see of France, Germany and Switzerland. ('A Rising Authoress', Northern Times, 2 December 1936)

She certainly set fiction of this period in places such as Heidelberg in Germany.

She was writing scripts for the Australian Broadcasting Commission by 1936 and taught at the Collegiate School for Girls in the late 1930s. Shepherd later joined the Education Department and taught at the Correspondence School.

Olive Wilton of the Hobart Repertory Theatre Society produced Shepherd's three-act play, Daybreak, in 1938 and it won a competition run by the Australian National Theatre Movement. The play was performed on stage around Australia and broadcast on the ABC in 1938 during the first ABC Australian Drama Week. Shepherd was alert to the potential of radio, writing, 'I think that radio drama is a new and vital form of dramatic art which may in the near future develop beyond all present imagining.' (Lane, 113-114). Lane asserts, 'it is probably fair to say that Alexander Turner and Catherine Shepherd were the first two writers to come to prominence as significant radio playwrights after Leslie Rees' appointment as ABC Federal Play Editor.' Both wrote only for the ABC, which paid up to fourteen guineas an hour in 1937 for plays (Inglis, 54). Shepherd remained in Tasmania, where she wrote radio plays and adapted many novels and plays for ABC radio throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

Shepherd wrote several psychological dramas for radio including Lethe Wharf, Sea Piece, and Exit Socrates (1930s). Other radio plays included I Saw the New Moon... (1940), a study of student life; Sabotage (1940), 'a dramatic story of fifth-columnists'; The Heroic Journey (1944), a account of Sturt's journey into the interior, written for the centenary; Arthur of Van Diemen's Land (1940s), whose broadcast details have not been traced; The Hayfield (1949), the reminiscences of an English childhood from a man based in South Africa; and The Judas Sheep (1953), the story of an elderly woman coming to terms with the criminality of her son and brother-in-law.

She also wrote hour-long radio plays based on the literary biography of famous writers including The Flying Swan (Hans Christian Andersen, 1930s), A Citizen of the World (Oliver Goldsmith, 1930s), The Valiant Tinker (John Bunyan, 1930s), Three Mile Cross (Mary Mitford, 1940), and The Golden Cockerel (Alexander Pushkin, 1940s). She also wrote short biographical sketches of famous explorers and the like, aimed at children. Her educational radio work included history lessons on aspects of Australia's colonial history, with titles such as 'Highlights of Australian History' and 'In the Time of Governor Macquarie', and social studies lessons such as 'Australia and Her Nearer Neighbours", including both Hawaii and Timor. Shepherd continued to be active in repertory theatre.

Shepherd's output slowed from the mid-1950s, although she still produced occasional radio plays and short works into the 1960s, and released the historical children's adventure story Tasmanian Adventure.

Leslie Rees argues Shepherd 'made a sustained and important though never spectacular contribution to stage and radio drama' and that she wrote with 'probing thoughtfulness' about the human condition, self-realization and 'the need for freedom in a wide social sense.' Kerry Kilner comments: 'The unifying principle in all of Shepherd's plays is a deep humanitarianism,...The quest for home and security is a recurrent theme and in Delphiniums we have the story of Queenie and Ed Burton, two pensioners slowly ground deeper into poverty and powerlessness by their lack of secure housing.' (xii). Kilner said that Shepherd's work had been undervalued and ignored, leading to much of it being lost (xiii). Her papers - apart from two scrapbooks held in the University of Tasmania archives - and all but nine of her unpublished plays are missing.


'Catherine Shepherd (1902-1976)' in Margaret Giordano and Don Norman, Tasmanian Literary Landmarks (1984): 161-165.

Kilner, Kerry. 'Introduction', Playing the Past: Three Plays by Australian Women (1995): xi-xiii.

Rees, Leslie. 'Catherine Shepherd' in Companion to Theatre in Australia, ed. Philip Parsons (1995): 528.

---. The Making of Australian Drama: a Historical and Critical Survey from the 1830s to the 1970s (1973): 189-191.

'Shepherd, Catherine' in Richard Lane, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama 1923-1960 : A History Through Biography (1994): 113-114.

Winter, Gillian. 'Shepherd, Catherine (1901 - 1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, MUP, (2002): 231.



Most Referenced Works


  • Errors of attribution:

    • At least one radio guide (Daily Mercury, 24 August 1939), mistakenly attributes Walter Brooksbank's That's a Good Little Girl to Catherine Shepherd.

Awards for Works

y separately published work icon Daybreak : A Play in Three Acts 1938 Carlton : Melbourne University Press , 1942 Z32186 1938 single work drama

Set in the home of Simon Martel at Hobart Town in 1830, the action of the play runs from early spring to Christmas eve. There are 18 characters.

Caroline and Jeanne Martel, the daughters of the harsh dictatorial Christian, Simon Martel, have returned to Hobart after six years in England. En route, Jeanne has fallen in love with Francis Gillan—a liberal reformer who is opposed to the convict system. The harsh treatment accorded to two good-type convicts causes Gillan to plan an escape from the island. Jeanne accompanies the party, but it is interrupted in flight and Gillan is shot. Rufus Bellamy the convict kills Mr Martel in revenge, but the passionate intensity of Jeanne's pleading persuades Caroline to agree to conceal the truth—for Francis's sake.

Abstract adapted from The Campbell Howard Annotated Index of Australian Plays 1920-1955.

DAYBREAK was first produced by Olive Wilton for the Hobart Repertory Theatre Society, at the Theatre Royal, on Saturday, 30 July, 1938, with the following cast:

               SIMON  MARTEL: James Pratt

               CAROLINE MARTEL: Peggy Waterworth

               JEANNE MARTEL: Junee Cornell

               FRANCIS GILLAN: Henry Moore

               MRS. CARMICHAEL: Pearl Burbury

               PHOEBE  MOON: Beatrice Jordan

               RUFUS BELLAMY: Mervyn Wiss

               CAPTAIN NORTH: K. W. Nicholson

               CAPTAIN BLAINEY: Jack Mitchell

               LIEUTENANT PRIDEAUX: Noel Richard

               MRS. MOSS: Audrey St. Hill

               LAURA MOSS: Erica Gilbert

               MRS. TURNER: Dulce Haddon-Cave

               SARAH TURNER: Nancy Chapman

               LUCY TURNER: Phyl Bailey

               ELLEN: Mrs. W. F. Hinman

               BEAM: Don Sutherland 

               MRS. BEAM: Mrs. Alan Burn

Decor and costumes by Robert Montgomery

1940 winner National Theatre Movement Three-Act Play Competition
Last amended 13 Feb 2018 15:33:34
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