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Diamond, Richard Frank (Dick) (1906–1989)

by Angela O'Brien

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Richard Frank (Dick) Diamond (1906-1989), trade union official, dramatist and journalist, was born on 27 July 1906 at Walthamstow, Essex, England, son of Simeon Barnett Diamond, farrier, and his wife Annie Thirza Caroline, née Smiley. In 1914 the family migrated to Victoria, settling in South Melbourne. After a basic formal education, Dick worked as a journalist on minor magazines, developing interests in film, theatre and left-wing politics. On 14 July 1934 he married Lilian Frances Rembelinker, a clerk, in a civil ceremony in Melbourne. They both joined the Communist Party of Australia and became active in the Youth Theatre of Action, an agitprop group that performed sketches at street meetings and factory gates. In 1936 they graduated to the Workers’ Theatre Group (New Theatre Club after 1937), which staged Diamond’s first satirical play, Soak the Rich (1941). He also wrote for the Communist Review on the role of theatre in 'dramatising the worker’s problems'.

From 1945 to 1955 Diamond was Victorian State secretary of the Actors’ and Announcers’ Equity Association of Australia. John White later remembered his 'casual but aware approach' as an effective union advocate, and his 'roguish' chuckle. In 1948 moderates in the Victorian division challenged the powerful, militant committee, making concerted attempts to exclude communists from office, and in 1949 the royal commission into the Communist Party of Australia investigated claims that Diamond had used his position to stack meetings. These allegations were deemed not proven, although Diamond, who denied current membership of the party, was judged 'very well disposed' towards it.

Diamond’s political pantomime, Jack the Giant Killer, produced by the NTC in 1947, was followed in March 1953 by his most successful play, the folk musical Reedy River. Based on the shearers’ strike of 1891, it incorporated traditional bush ballads. The Sydney version, opening in December and running for eight months, introduced the Bushwhackers’ Band, including lagerphone and bush bass. In the ABC Weekly Geoffrey Thomas praised it for being as 'unmistakably Australian as a bluegum'. A mainstay of New Theatre repertoire across Australia, Reedy River played to an estimated 450,000 people over the next four years and helped to revitalise Australian folk music. It has been frequently revived—an achievement not matched by his second musical, Under the Coolibah Tree, first produced in Brisbane in 1955.

In 1956 Diamond travelled to Vietnam. He lived in Hanoi and edited the English short-wave broadcast service, taught English and wrote the pro-Viet Minh novel The Walls Are Down (1958). Joined by Lilian in 1957, he then moved to China before returning to Australia in 1962, settling in Sydney and taking what work he could find in public relations and editing. He left the Communist Party about 1963. A photograph of Diamond reading the militant play Waiting for Lefty from the back of a truck in 1939 shows him to have been of medium height with short, dark hair, his almost nondescript appearance belying a life lived through drama and politics. Predeceased by his wife (d.1988), and childless, he died on 9 February 1989 at Balgowlah and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Notes on the History of New Theatre Australia (1959)
  • J. White, Alan Marshall and the Victorian Writers’ League (1987)
  • Australian, 25 Oct 1969, p 44
  • G. Lobl, taped interview with R. Diamond (1989, National Library of Australia)
  • A. O’Brien, The Road Not Taken (PhD thesis, Monash University, 1989)
  • New Theatre Melbourne Archives (Performing Arts Museum, Victorian Arts Centre)
  • `Mr Justice Lowe’s Findings on Royal Commission into the Communist Party in Victoria, 1949’, Actors’ Equity of Australia (Victoria), Acc 84/44, box 30, folder 52/2 (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Angela O'Brien, 'Diamond, Richard Frank (Dick) (1906–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/diamond-richard-frank-dick-12417/text22323, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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