Ronald Hugh Morrieson
Musician, freezing worker, novelist, music teacher, b.1922 d.1972
James Ronald Hugh Morrieson died at 50, a sad and disappointed man. His remark, ‘I hope I’m not another one of these poor buggers who get discovered when they’re dead’ became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Morrieson was born on 29 January 1922 and lived his entire life in the house built by his grandfather at the corner of Regent Street and South Road, Hawera. He was the only child of Eunice Hyacinth Johnson and her husband, Hugh Francis Morrieson, an English-born musician. Both parents had musical talent: his father and all of his mother’s family were proficient on various instruments and Eunice was a pianist and music teacher.
He undertook seasonal work at the Patea freezing works and in the late 1940s had a part-time job in charge of the delivery of the Hawera Star. In 1951 and 1952 Morrieson enrolled extramurally at Victoria University College: like his first brush with academia, this was a failure. By 1953 he had joined his mother as a music teacher and expressed to friends his desire to write books. In order to write seriously he tried to adopt a more settled lifestyle and by 1959 had given up playing in dance bands.
Morrieson’s first published novel was The scarecrow (1963), although much of the material used in Predicament may also have been written at this time. The scarecrow received good reviews – especially in Australia, where it was published – for its lively, racy narrative style. Morrieson himself said, ‘It’s a kind of thriller I suppose, but I think it’s also a work of art – at least I hope it is’. The portrayal of sordid and even macabre happenings in a small New Zealand town – clearly Hawera – as seen through the eyes of an adolescent boy brought condemnation from many locals. Other critics gave special praise to the colourful and authentic colloquial dialogue.
Ronald Hugh Morrieson holds a unique place in New Zealand literature. No other writer has so vividly depicted New Zealand provincial life or captured its colloquial language. Morrieson’s life – its isolation and oddity and his premature death – has also captured the imagination. The feature films of The scarecrow (1981), Pallet on the floor (1984) and Came a hot Friday (1985) achieved considerable success.
Watch this Ronald Hugh Morrieson adapted trailer for Predicament (2010), a coming of age crime comedy set in 1930’s New Zealand.
Early childhood teacher Katrina Fraser has just completed her post-graduate diploma of education, early years, and focused some of her research on gifted individuals on Ronald Hugh Morrieson. https://slate.adobe.com/a/ADDgd/
Ronald Hugh Morrieson in Hawera, Taranaki, New Zealand (15 April 2013), article written by Dr. Tony Shaw, http://tonyshaw3.blogspot.co.nz/2013/04/ronald-hugh-morrieson-in-hawera.html
Ronald Hugh Morrieson biography, NZONSCREEN, http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/25345/ronald-hugh-morrieson
NZ Listener article The Scarecrow by Ronald Hugh Morrieson, http://www.listener.co.nz/culture/books/the-scarecrow-by-ronald-hugh-morrieson/
An interview with Sam Pillsbury called Kiwi Rural Gothic, http://www.art-newzealand.com/Issues21to30/gothic.htm
Information By Julia Millen courtesy of http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5m57/morrieson-james-ronald-hugh
Image of Ronald Hugh Morrieson courtesy of Ian Richards http://nofrillsnzlit.angelfire.com/Predicament.html