Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 24, 2023

Blue Hills (1950), by Gwen Meredith

For those of us whose childhood featured radio rather than TV, nostalgic memories of favourite programs are of children’s programs.  (The family lore is that I was named at my sister’s command after a character from Listen with Mother on the BBC.) But for adults, it was radio dramas.  In England there was The Archers, which is apparently still going, and here in Australia, there was Gwen Meredith’s Blue Hills. Blue Hills was broadcast from 1949 to 1976, but I never heard it. My parents were oblivious to popular culture. By the time I was old enough to choose my radio programs (and have my own ‘wireless’ in my bedroom!) I was listening to The Beatles…

Still, I seem always to have known about Blue Hills.  I can even hum its theme music because the introductory bars and the announcement (archived at the NFSA’s Australian Screen, listen here) comes from a Pastorale (by English conductor and composer Ronald Hanmer) which is featured on an album called ‘Colours of Spring, Classical music to brighten your day’.  It was produced in 2014 (and promoted energetically) by ABC Classic FM. Click here to hear it.

What’s interesting now is that my search at the NFSA for Gwen Meredith’s The Lawsons (1944–1949) — the series that preceded and was replaced by Blue Hills — was fruitless.  This might just be that the NFSA has a woeful search engine, because a site search couldn’t even find Gwen Meredith. Fine if Google has found the audio clip so you know it exists and you search that tab.  I can understand that they may not have an audio clip of The Lawsons from those days.  But one ought to be able to find Gwen Meredith at the NFSA from a site search!

The Lawsons in fact have very little presence on the web. Fortunately, thanks to writer and historian Pauline Connolly, I’ve discovered the story behind the demise of what was a much-loved serial that sustained Australians through the war years without them realising that there was a government-sponsored propaganda element to the importance of planting soya beans. Goodreads and Wikipedia tell us too, that there is a book, a novelisation of the series, published in 1948.  Plus, there is a novelisation of Blue Hills, which hit the shelves in 1950. (My copy doesn’t have the dustjacket with its Chesty Bond Love Interest on the front cover and Trixie on her horse on the spine.)

Playwright and author Gwen Meredith (OBE, MBE, BA, 1907-2006) was a much-loved icon and her contribution to Australian life is recorded at The Australian Women’s Register. The inscription on my copy of Blue Hills ‘To Mum, with lots of love, from Gwen and Marion’ suggests that the novelisation would have been a popular choice for gift-giving for birthdays and Christmas, so you’d think that the novelisation of Blue Hills would have a review at Good Reads, but no.  All I could find was this 2016 obituary at the SMH.

The book reads surprisingly well today.  Yes, it’s resolutely Anglo.  There is no mention of First Nations people, and the only character not born and bred in Oz is an Irishman.  It’s coy about relationships.  It’s a novel of family life: a doctor and his wife, and their four children who are teenagers and young adults finding their own way.  Mum (Lee) is idealised as a housewife and peacemaker; Dad is the hard-working local doctor out all hours of the day and night.  A drama that would have kept listeners tuning in revolves around cases of typhoid in the town and the search for the carrier, interesting today when the chances of being admitted to a local hospital in a small town are negligible.

Another thread to keep listeners on the hook concerns two ‘unsuitable’ love interests who are not of the Gordons’ respectable class, and it’s interesting to see that the snobbery is made so overt.  Meredith was middle-class herself, and her depiction of Bruce’s affection for someone not of his class is ambiguous.  Her listeners crossed all classes so she would not have wanted to alienate any of them.  Bruce’s loyalty to his would-be wife is dismissed as attraction to a pretty face which would wane when he realised that her lack of education would make her a boring companion, but she turns out to have her own agency in the matter and everything is resolved satisfactorily.  Trixie’s love interest is an itinerant Irishman who often expresses poetic Truths about the Meaning of Life in a charming brogue, but again, Meredith is circumspect in her portrayal of anti-Irish sentiment in Protestant families which would have been a familiar trope at that time.

Foreshadowing future episodes of the radio program (at the time of publication still to run for many years) — one of the girls, Mandy, is pining for a war-damaged veteran… who is in turn pining for Trixie who isn’t interested because he isn’t handsome any more.  The other drama, (presumably not resolved for a good number of episodes), involves a murder where the local copper’s prejudice blinds him to the truth.

(The soya beans make an appearance, along with an enthusiasm for adopting modern agricultural methods.  Thanks again to Pauline Connolly’s article  ‘Gwen Meredith —  a subversive?’ or I might not have noticed this.)

And yet…

Blue Hills includes an exemplar of the what we now call coercive control.  Maisie Jenkins (one of the unsuitable love interests) has a brute of a father who has terrorised his wife for all the years of the marriage and weakened her sense of self.  Maisie wants her to leave, and she wants to leave, but she has no money and only rudimentary job skills which limit her chances of getting away.  Not only that, Jenkins has a hold over his wife, a secret that he threatens to reveal.  The Jenkins marriage made to avoid scandal wouldn’t be the only one in rural communities, and Gwen Meredith’s listeners would have known that. This strand in the story is a most interesting one for its era when sunny marriages and happy housewives were the staple fare of the Women’s Weekly et al.

Blue Hills is not great literature but its origins as a radio play aren’t obvious and the writing style is more than just competent.  It’s a straightforward chronological narrative, delivered in omniscient third person, with a love of small rural communities shining through, as you can see in this excerpt about the arrival of Dr Gordon in the town. Old Dr Hunter had planted peppercorn-trees to shield his view of the encroaching town which had obscured the vista of a river and a green swathe and a belt of willow-trees.

But peppercorn-trees cannot form a barrier against the curiosity of a country town.  This had reached the point of interested speculation long before the Gordons were due, and, some months after their arrival, was still being satisfied by a series of “callers”.  It would be unfair to the “callers”, however, to indicate that curiosity was all that sent them.  A spirit of hospitality still lives strongly in the real Australia, the Australia which many maintain now only begins some miles beyond her capital cities.  So there was in the curiosity as much of welcome as of the natural desire of a small community to touch hands and minds with newcomers from outside. (p.2)

I am going to have to source a copy of The Lawsons.  Who is That Redhead spying on those wholesome farmers on the dustjacket, eh?

Author: Gwen Meredith
Title: Blue Hills
Publisher: Angus and Robertson, 1950
ISBN: none.  Hbk., 233 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Diversity Books, $6.00

Dustjacket covers

Blue Hills: by Doug Butler – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The Lawsons:


  1. Wow, this is a whole side of Australian history/culture I know nothing about. Never heard of Blue Hills…


    • I know, it’s a generational thing! Maybe your parents or grandparents listened to it?
      I’d love to hear from someone who listened to The Lawsons. Someone born roundabout the early 1930s, in their nineties now.


      • Yea, my maternal grandmother would be a likely candidate because she was always listening to the ‘wireless’ … she was born in 1922 (I think?) and died about 20 years ago. I doubt if my paternal grandparents would have been interested… they clung onto their Scottish roots and culturally, despite emigrating in their early 40s, they may as well still have been living in Glasgow 😆


        • I shall be a (reluctant) guest at a Probus event next week. I shall interrogate likely looking oldies there…


      • PS TV arrived here in Australia in in time for the 1956 Olympics, but the first time I saw a TV was at a hotel in Preston in 1958. It was a Popeye cartoon. Wikipedia tells me that there were 12 million TVs in Britain by 1951 but we never had one until we came to Australia.


  2. I remember ‘Blue Hills’. My grandparents (born in 1889 and 1893) used to listen to it on ‘the wireless’ in the 1960s. They never owned a television. My parents bought their first television in time for the 1964 Olympic Games. My grandmother died just before the Games; my grandfather lived long enough to see the moon landing in 1969. Memories.


    • So your parents had a childhood without TV?
      I guess generations to come will be wondering about what life was like without the internet…
      That’s lovely about your grandfather.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, television came late to regional Tasmania. Lots of test patterns, and only two stations for quite a while. My other grandparents, who lived on Tasmania’s northwest coast could occasionally pick up Melbourne television stations if the conditions were right. My grandfather (1889-1969) saw a lot of change in his lifetime. He fought in World War I and was then a tram driver for over 34 years. He was the motorman on Launceston’s last tram in December 1952.


        • My piano teacher, born about the same time, was the same. She lived through both world wars, the Depression, and saw the introduction of many things we take for granted today e.g. air travel and motor cars. In the absence of any grandparents, she was the ‘old lady’ in my life.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I grew up listening to “Blue Hills by Gwen Meredith” – it was almost one word – on my grandparents farm every holidays. I imagine it came on after The Country Hour – produce prices around the state – which was and maybe is still 12-1.00 every week day. I would sometimes listen after I began truck driving, and I have the book – unread and not with your cover.

    It was an essential part of country life and I’m not surprised it was designed to present middle class and nationalist propaganda.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah. So it must have gone into another printing. I’m not surprised.


  4. Ah now there’s the trick Lisa. You don’t do a site search at the NFSA for collection materials (just like you don’t do a site search of the NLA for Trove or of the NAA for records. You do a Trove search or a Records search. At the NFSA you do a Collection search. If you do that you will find quite a few Gwen Meredith hits. BUT here’s the thing, as an ABC ie government production, Blue Hills is technically the provenance of the NAA so the NFSA’s collection is serendipitous. There are only a few episodes, probably from collectors, but there are other bits and pieces too.


  5. BTW my Mum listened to Blue Hills and I remember one storyline gave me nightmares. As I grew up of course I didn’t listen to it but I remember listening to the last episode on a car radio in my workplace carpark with a dear colleague who was 20 or so years older than I. I’ve never thought about reading the book. Not sure I even knew it existed.


    • The equivalent is, I guess, the last episode of A Country Practice. I used to watch that when we lived in the bush.


      • Yes I guess or of Neighbours recently … I never watched either of those.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating, Lisa. Good for you for digging into this. My mother loved the Archers btw and I can still remember the theme song.


    • Well, of course I Googled it… and I recognise it! Maybe I heard it in the UK!


  7. Reblogged this on penwithlit.


  8. I listened to Blue Hills as a child as my parents didn’t get a TV until 1974 I think (it was around the time I started school). Then they started watching Certain Women & Bellbird – all three soundtracks are ingrained in my memory!

    Novelisations are making a comeback too – Emily in Paris has just appeared on our reps list at work.


    • I remember Certain Women, that was a great program!


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