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Dann, George Landen (1904–1977)

by Richard Fotheringham

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

George Landen Dann (1904-1977), playwright and draughtsman, was born on New Year's Day 1904 at Sandgate, Brisbane, second child of English-born parents George William Dann, gardener, and his wife Mildred Challis, née Pearman. Young George was educated at Brisbane Grammar School. He entered the survey office of the Queensland Lands Department in 1920, trained as a draughtsman and in 1924 joined the Brisbane City Council.

Having written plays for the amateur dramatic society at Sandgate, in 1931 he won the Brisbane Repertory Theatre's competition with In Beauty It Is Finished. Set at a remote, island lighthouse, it explored the lightkeeper's indifference to the effects of isolation on his long-suffering family. Burdened himself with caring for a widowed mother and an invalid sister, Dann wrote bitterly against duty and self-sacrifice, and feelingly about the yearning for escape. His representation of the liaison between a White prostitute and a part-Aborigine led Smith's Weekly to denounce the play as a 'Sordid Drama of Miscegenation'. Minor deletions and the support of such leading citizens as Gerald Sharp, the Anglican archbishop of Brisbane, allowed production to proceed: despite continuing public controversy, the play opened on 16 July.

In his best-known and most acclaimed play, Fountains Beyond, Dann returned to the issue of race relations. First staged and broadcast in 1942, and published two years later, it told the story of an Aboriginal community leader Vic Filmer, a character based on the athlete and Fraser Island identity Freddy Ross. In the play Vic refuses the demeaning request of the local shire chairman to stage a sacred corroboree for a visitor, and also leads opposition to a proposal to close the Aboriginal settlement because it can be seen from newly built beach houses; another Aborigine stages the ceremonial dance which becomes a drunken disaster; the play ends in tragedy when Vic accidentally shoots his wife. Fountains Beyond was placed second to Douglas Stewart's Ned Kelly in the Australian Broadcasting Commission's radio-drama competition in 1942. It was staged throughout Australia, and in London and Wales in 1950.

Keen-eyed, shy and somewhat reclusive, Dann was a prolific playwright, even though he only wrote part time. His works won prizes, were widely performed by amateur companies and were presented regularly by the A.B.C. The One Clear Harp and The Young Disciple had biblical subjects. Australian history contributed to Monday Morning (about a bushranger condemned on false evidence) and to one of Dann's most popular works, Caroline Chisholm, produced in 1939 and published in 1943. Dann portrayed women either as saintly, or as weak and corruptible. His most successful female character is old Carrie, the arthritic recluse of The Orange Grove, a radio play produced in 1958.

Dann's writing was appreciated for its social realism. His early ambition to become a pastor is reflected in the high moral seriousness of his plays and in their central characters who are mostly drawn from the fringes of White society—several of them were based on acquaintances he met during his trips to the outback. In December 1954 Dann retired from the city council and moved to the relatively isolated Maroochydore-Noosa region of the Sunshine Coast. He never married. His last work, Rainbows Die at Sunset, drew on a riot at Nambucca Heads in 1958 when White residents prevented the sale of a house to Aborigines. Although somewhat dated in its style and language, it was highly commended in a competition in 1975 at Newcastle, New South Wales. Dann died on 6 June 1977 at Eumundi, Queensland, and was cremated with Anglican rites. In 1992 the Courier-Mail and the Royal Queensland Theatre Company inaugurated an award in his honour that is presented to young playwrights.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Rees, Towards an Australian Drama (Syd, 1953)
  • D. Carroll, Australian Contemporary Drama 1909-1982 (NY, 1985)
  • Meanjin Papers, 4, no 1, 1945, p 65
  • Smith's Weekly, 4 July 1931
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 19, 26 Mar, 7 June 1977
  • National Times, 21-26 Mar 1977
  • Bulletin, 30 Apr 1977
  • D. Rasmussen, The Plays of George Landen Dann (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1976)
  • Dann papers (University of Queensland Library).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Richard Fotheringham, 'Dann, George Landen (1904–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dann-george-landen-9900/text17527, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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