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Ruth Park


Australia (1917 - 2010)

Ruth Park was a New Zealand-born author, who spent most of her life in Australia. She was born in Auckland, and her family later moved to Te Kuiti further south in the North Island of New Zealand, where they lived in isolated areas.

During the Great Depression her working class father worked on bush roads, as a driver, on relief work, as a sawmill hand, and finally shifted back to Auckland as council worker living in a state house. After Catholic primary school Ruth won a partial scholarship to secondary school, but this was broken by periods of being unable to afford to attend. For a time she stayed with relatives on a Coromandel farming estate where she was treated like a serf by the wealthy landowner until she told the rich woman what she really thought of her.

Ruth claimed that she was involved in the Queen Street riots with her father. Later she worked at the Auckland Star before shifting to Australia in 1942. There she married the Australian writer D'Arcy Niland.

Her first novel was The Harp in the South (1948) - a story of Irish slum life in Sydney, which was translated into 10 languages. (Some critics called it a cruel fantasy because as far as they were concerned there were no slums in Sydney.) But Ruth and D'Arcy did live in Sydney slums at Surry Hills. She followed that up with Poor Man's Orange (1949). She also wrote Missus (1985) and other novels, as well as a long-running Australian children's radio show and scripts for film and TV. She created The Muddle-Headed Wombat series of children's books. Her autobiographies are A Fence Around the Cuckoo (1992) and Fishing in the Styx (1993). She also wrote a novel based in New Zealand, One-a-pecker, Two-a-pecker (1957), about gold mining in Otago (later renamed The Frost and The Fire).

Park received awards in Australia and internationally.