David Williamson is embarking on a new life journey.
David Williamson is embarking on a new life journey.

Masterful playwright signing off

FOR 50 years playwright David Williamson (AO) has had his hand on the pulse of Australian society, crafting a plethora of memorable creative memories.

Remember Don's Party? What about The Removalists, The Club, the film Gallipoli or the Phar Lap screenplay?

Even now he has a burst of plays happening, including Family Values, playing in Sydney.

In celebration of Williamson's 50 years in Australian theatre, a revival of the hit 1987 play Emerald City is jointly being produced by the Melbourne Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre.

At another Sydney venue is his latest work, Crunch Time, which is on until early April, when it moves north to its Queensland premiere in Noosa in mid-April.

But now the writing pen lies dormant on his desk. No more plays. No more films. No more television miniseries.


Australian playwright David Williamson and his wife Kristin.
Australian playwright David Williamson and his wife Kristin.


The time has come for Williamson, 78, to pack away his shingle and travel a different journey.

There is still plenty of Australian life that he could showcase, but Williamson is adamant it won't happen through his pen.

Since 1970 Williamson has pursued his dream to introduce to audiences his flawed characters through his stories, which, as former Ensemble Theatre artistic director Sandra Bates writes, can through their actions achieve his dream of " … a desire for a better society, a more tolerant society …"

As one lanky leg crosses over the other, Williamson relaxes in a Sydney coffee shop at the base of the tower that houses his second home, and says: "Thankfully there is a whole generation of new writers who are tackling these issues. They can take it on.

"I care about the future of the world, but I will have to leave it to others.''

His first-performed play was The Coming of Stork in 1970 at La Mama in Melbourne.

The journey to that point was convoluted. In his early teens Williamson's father, who for 47 years worked in a job he hated, told the young fellow he should make sure he worked in something he really wanted to do.

Williamson's mechanical engineering degree at Monash University certainly didn't captivate him. But what did catch his interest was writing the "pretty rough" engineering and university student reviews.


Australian playwright David Williamson.
Australian playwright David Williamson.


He went back to university for another stint, this time doing a psychology degree.

"I could have gone down that career path and quite happily been a social psychology researcher, but at the same time my writing took off," Williamson said.

His final year of studying social psychology prepared him for taking his keen interest in human behaviour and turning it into a valuable tool in his creative future.

"I couldn't have cared less why a car worked; I was much more interested in how a human worked," he said.

Williamson became hooked on theatre. He took himself to see many different plays and found himself completely enfolded in drama.

And as they say, the rest is history.

His last work, the play Crunch Time, has just had its Sydney premiere at the Griffin Theatre, where his first play was performed all those years ago.

Crunch Time is due to have its Queensland premiere in Noosa in mid-April.

In this play Williamson has created Steve, a typical Aussie bloke with a not so unusual dilemma. He's just retired, handing over the reins of his business to one son. Is this a sign of favouritism? Could this action drive deeper the sense of sibling rivalry between his two sons?

His other son hasn't spoken to Steve for almost eight years.

What follows is rivalry, illness, a father's dream, the chance to repair broken relationships, and jealousy.

"These issues do come to mind when you get older," said Williamson, who looked closely at what is happening to the people around him.

"It's about family and a father who is approaching death. This family, driven apart by sibling rivalry, comes from observing friends. Luckily there's been no such thing in our family, at least to date," he adds with something of a smile.

"It's a stressful business but one I have loved being in. Writing, getting the script right, and then right through to opening night. I could do without that.

"It's been thoroughly enjoyable. I have had 50 terrific years in the theatre. All the plays that I wanted to have done have been done and usually done very well so it's been a dream run."

The three plays being performed now are all booking well so "getting out now while people are still coming" seems to be a good idea to Williamson.

That quiet smile returns when he continues: "I don't want to be wandering around at 98 wondering why there is no one in the theatre.''

So, what will he do? Well, he says there are plenty of things to do to fill in his retirement. There are five children and 14 grandchildren to keep him and his wife, Kristin, busy.

Williamson will continue to split his time between the family home at Sunshine Beach on the Sunshine Coast and the apartment in Sydney, which is close to two of his children.

Then there is lots of reading to catch up on and enjoying watching other people's work on the stage and in film. A memoir, perhaps? It's a strong possibility.

On summing up his incredible 50 years in Australian theatre, Williamson casts his mind to Albert Facey's book A Fortunate Life. "I can say I have had a fortunate life."

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