Vernon, Barbara (1916–1978)

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Vernon, Barbara (1916–1978)

Australian writer and broadcaster. Born Barbara Mary Vernon on July 25, 1916, in Invernell, New South Wales, Australia; died of a heart attack in April 1978 in Sydney, Australia; daughter of Murray Menzies Vernon (a doctor) and Constance Emma (Barling) Vernon; attended the University of Queensland; never married; no children.

Australian screenwriter, dramatist, broadcaster, and novelist Barbara Vernon was born in Invernell, New South Wales, Australia, on July 25, 1916. The last of four children of a doctor, she received a fine official education at a girls' school. She served in the Australian Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II, and afterwards attended the University of Queensland, where she studied psychology. Her unofficial education consisted of reading and writing every time she got the chance, with particular emphasis on the Brontë sisters , H. Rider Haggard, and Rudyard Kipling.

For much of her life Vernon worked in radio and television, both as a scriptwriter and as an on-air personality. She began her broadcast career at the radio station 2NZ in her hometown, where she organized a children's hour and helped its participants stage several plays. Two of these, The Multi-Coloured Umbrella and The Passionate Pianist, were her own works, and both would later be performed on television. She moved with her mother to Sydney in 1959, finding success when the national Australian Broadcasting Corporation produced a serial radio play she had written about the life of writer George Sand . Several of her stage plays also found producers. Many of her stage dramas were published or anthologized, and The Multi-Coloured Umbrella earned second prize in a drama competition sponsored by the Sydney Journalists' Club, and thereafter was given a number of stage productions. Vernon was best known for creating a long-running television series of the 1960s and 1970s, "Bellbird," the inspiration for which came from her own small-town background. She later wrote two novels, Bellbird: The Story of a Country Town (1970) and A Big Day at Bellbird (1972), the latter of which was made into the film Country Town. She wrote many other stage plays, some of them for children. Vernon retired to a spacious property near Cassilis and died of a heart attack in April 1978, during a visit to Sydney.


Radi, Heather, ed. 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology. NSW, Australia: Women's Redress Press, 1988.

Wilde, William H., Joy Hooten, and Barry Andrews. The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1985.

James M. Manheim , freelance writer, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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