It is a different experience reading a work of literature or fiction for study, or school and reading it for pleasure or recreation. The impetus of the first is to elicit as much meaning and analysis as possible out of the text, and your copy can become well worn and heavily underlined with notes in the margins. The second can be much more of a luxuriating experience, where words can be savoured, and the important criteria is more subjective- did I like it or not?
I had grown up with Ruth Park, reading The Muddle-headed Wombat, Callie’s Castle and Playing Beattie Bow (which remains my favourite of all her books). I studied The Harp in the South for Year 10 English in 1986 and enjoyed it, gave my copy to my sister, and returned by my other books.
It was only after reading Razor by Larry Writer, that my thoughts returned to 12 1/2 Plymouth Street, Surry Hills , the Darcy family and Delie Stock, the brothel madam and sly grog shop owner, who was based upon Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine.
The Harp in the South has never been out of print- a rare achievement for an Australian (well Kiwi, but she had lived most of her life in Australia) woman writer. The passing of Ruth Park has had me revisiting some of my favourite books of hers.
Reading it again, I was struck by its realism and candour. Its description of the poverty that existed in the slums in inner-city Sydney at the time would have been quite controversial. The story is centred on members of the Darcy family, an Irish-Catholic family living in a terraced house in Surry Hills. Through their eyes, you get to experience the sly grog shops, the backyard abortionists, prostitutes and grime that was the backdrop of everyday life.
Yet it is more than an expose of the squalor that characterised inner-city Sydney. It is also a series of stories about family love, romance and humour that can make you smile- Roie’s first romance, Dolour’s trip to the beach, courtesy of Delie Stock, and Mumma’s search for her boy Thady. It’s a story that has endured because the themes present are familiar to people of today.