VALE TONY MORPHETT
Screenwriter, novelist, playwright,
dedicated AWG member.
When I first met Tony Morphett he was standing alongside David Williamson, and honestly, I thought I had entered the ‘Land of the Giants’. Standing at a towering 197 centimetres, and David about the same, I wondered if there was a height qualification in order to sit on the AWG’s National Committee.
It was 1981 and fortunately it was not so. In his warm and generous manner, Tony introduced me to everyone and welcomed me onto the committee. I had moved only a few months before from Adelaide to pursue a scriptwriting career in Sydney, and how lucky I was to meet Tony in those early days, in a new city, and in a totally new working environment. He made me feel at home straight away and also well supported by both the people and an organisation that had our best interests at heart.
Within a year or so, I was up in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and moving into a house at Wentworth Falls, not far from Tony’s Leura home that he shared with his beloved wife, Inga, and their daughter. It was the start of a wonderful friendship over 35 years, and a long collaboration as working colleagues on at least half a dozen different television shows.
It was after 1985, while working on A Country Practice as a writer and script editor, that I truly got to see Tony at work and to admire his skill as a high practitioner of the screenwriting arts. He was not only witty, wise and erudite, but often showed flashes of humour that would entertain us around the conference table.
On one occasion, it was a warm afternoon and four of us five writers around the conference table were wearing Lacoste t-shirts (new members – it was the 80’s!), with their distinctive crocodile logos. Though not on Tony’s plainer shirt.
At one point I noticed Tony pick up a sheet of paper, a pair of scissors and some sticky tape from a nearby bureau and quietly resume his seat. While conversation continued, Tony clipped away with the scissors, cut a small shape out of the paper, then used some tape to stick it to the front of his shirt. It was a paper crocodile logo about five centimetres long. He smiled at us and said, ‘I just wanted to be part of the crocodile gang’.
A burst of laughter lightened the mood and a plot point we’d been struggling with for some time was solved within a few minutes!
Such moments of course should not lessen Tony’s immense and sustained grasp of his craft, as many members of the Guild will know from working with him over many decades. They were just part of his makeup, and indicative of his mastery of any dramatic situation.
How do we view his career? With gasps of amazement. He wrote or co-wrote seven produced feature films, ten telemovies, twelve miniseries, and some hundreds of hours of episodes of TV series drama. He also devised and co-devised seven TV series, including Certain Women, Blue Heelers, Water Rats and Rain Shadow. He also wrote novels and stage plays. Tony was the complete writer.
Few may know that he was also a prominent arts reporter and commentator in the 1960’s doing interviews for the ABC on radio and television, and producing many documentary programs, including reports on the Adelaide Festival.
I know I am only one of hundreds of writers, producers, actors and directors who have worked with Tony and enjoyed his wonderful company and his friendship. Always a generous host at his Leura and Katoomba homes, he and Inga kept what they used to call a ‘good table’, and on many occasions I enjoyed their latest forays into cooking Jamaican goat curries, paellas, and other world cuisines.
Tony gave everything to the world around him. To his family, his church, his colleagues and to the film and television industry in which he so totally participated. He gave much and his 14 industry awards over the years are a fine testament to his contribution to the industry.
But what we will most remember is the man himself. He was good man and a great man. I am proud to call him a friend and I shall miss him very much.
The Australian Writers’ Guild will hold a memorial for members in Sydney in the following weeks. More details will be made available soon.