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Farewell to 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' screenwriter Cliff Green

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Australian screenwriter Cliff Green OAM (Image courtesy Bill McAuley)

The Australian film and television industry has lost one of its greatest talents, Picnic at Hanging Rock screenwriter Cliff Green (6 December 1934 — 4 December 2020). Newspaperman and mentor to Independent Australia's Cherie Moselen and Michelle Pini, he will be sadly missed.

It wasn't surprising, that looking for photos of acclaimed screenwriter Cliff Green yielded few results — the modest frontman was happiest behind the scenes.

Green originally trained as a compositor in the printing industry, then worked as a primary teacher before pursuing his love of writing.

In the late 1960s, he was hired as a staff writer at Crawford Productions and began contributing episodes to police dramas Homicide and Matlock Police.

Green described his three years with Hector Crawford as “the best way to learn the trade” and respectfully referred to the influential radio and TV producer as the “father of Australian television drama”.

During this time, he founded award-winning Melbourne community newspaper Warrandyte Diary, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

Politically minded, Green managed the paper alongside his scriptwriting work. After going freelance at the end of 1971, he wrote for such distinguished TV series as Rush, Power Without Glory and I Can Jump Puddles.

In 1975, he agreed to help out overcommitted playwright David Williamson who had been signed to write the screenplay of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Green's haunting adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel went on to make cinematic history, anchoring the drama in the harbour of popularity as one of Australia’s most loved movies of all time.

The landmark Australian film earned Green an Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Screenplay and a Best Writer nomination, U.S. Science Fiction Film Awards, bringing him international recognition.

In the film and television world where only one in ten projects ever get made, Green’s screenwriting star blazed. His credits also include TV drama series Against The Wind, A Country Practice, The Flying Doctors, and Blue Heelers among others.

The prolific writer also created two well-known TV mini-series: Marion and The Petrov Affair. And adapted for television the work of Australian authors such as Henry Lawson, Alan Marshall, Frank Hardy and Norman Lindsay.

Later work included the original screenplay for the prize-winning children’s TV film More Winners: Boy Soldiers and award-winning episodes of the highly successful ABC-TV series Phoenix and Janus. In 1995, Green created the critically acclaimed series Mercury.

Other works include stage play Cop Out!three children’s books in his Riverboat Bill series, a novel Break Of Day and a collection of short stories.

Green saluted others who shared his writer’s journey:

“I left Crawford's after a blue I had with Hector. He wanted me to take up a training role, but I’d left teaching to write, so I said ‘no’ and essentially sacked myself. Still, Hector remained a great supporter over the years. He’d ring me up whenever I had something on the ABC. ‘Good stuff fellow! Keep it up!’”

About a meeting with media personality David Frost (licensee of the English network, London Weekend) to discuss the making of Power Without Glory Green said:

I had suggested the book to the ABC, who started negotiations with Frank Hardy for the rights.

David Frost was coming here to make Frost Over Australia. He didn’t know anything about Australia. So he bought a paperback at the airport because it had a map of Australia on it! That book was Power Without Glory. By the time he’d finished it, he was asking for the rights.

So now two outfits wanted it. But Frank was clever. Rather than creating a conflict, he suggested a co-production.

Green won a total of 17 industry awards including eight Australian Writers Guild AWGIE awards.  

More Winners: Boy Soldiers won the Liv Ullman Peace Prize at the 1990 Chicago International Festival of Children’s Films and was a finalist in the International Emmy Awards in 1991 (the first Australian drama to receive an Emmy nomination). 

Green's Janus episode ‘Fit To Plead’ won a 1995 Australian Human Rights Award. Other credits include a "Best Writer" nomination at the 1978 Hollywood Science Fiction Film Awards and two AFI nominations.

All the while, at Warrandyte Diary, Green nurtured journalists and writers including Clinton GrybasSam Davies, Michelle Pini and this writer, among others.

He also taught screenwriting for the Victorian College of the Arts and RMIT University, was a founding member of the board of Film Victoria and founding vice-president of the Melbourne Writers Theatre.

Green accepted an OAM in 2009 for 'service to the Australian film and television industry as a screenwriter and educator'

A gifted storyteller, Cliff Green taught this writer – and others – the economy of "not using seven words when three will do".

Vale Cliff Green.

A more in-depth version of this tribute was published in Warrandyte Diary. Cherie Moselen is an Independent Australia assistant editor and freelance writer. You can follow Cherie on Twitter @CherieMoselen.

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