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Hanger, Eunice (1911–1972)

by Richard Fotheringham

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Eunice Hanger (1911-1972), playwright and schoolteacher, was born on 8 March 1911 at Mount Chalmers, Queensland, third child of Thomas Hanger, schoolteacher, and his wife Myfanwy, née Granville-Jones. (Sir) Mostyn Hanger was her brother. Eunice was educated at Gympie High School, where her father was headmaster, and at the University of Queensland (B.A., 1932; M.A., 1940). From 1933 she became an outstanding teacher at her father's school. Transferred to Rockhampton High School in 1940, she joined the local little theatre which was to stage her first plays. In 1948 Miss Hanger was appointed to Brisbane High School and joined the Twelfth Night Theatre Company. Next year she dramatized the novel by 'M. Barnard Eldershaw', A House is Built (1929)—the first play on an Australian subject staged by Twelfth Night. By 1963 she had directed works by Shakespeare, Shaw, Tennessee Williams and Pirandello, as well as several of her own and other Australian plays, for the company. A director of the 'walk and talk' school, she concentrated on the 'correct' use of language, although she welcomed new European plays, particularly those of Beckett and Ionesco.

Hanger's own plays had some popularity in the little theatre movement, particularly her one-act comedy, Upstage (London, 1952). Aimed at redressing the gender imbalance in amateur theatre, Upstage had an all-woman cast and brought Shakespeare's heroines together on stage, ostensibly to elect 'Miss Shakespeare'. Her major work—the verse drama, Flood, set in a tropical bungalow during 'the wet'—won an award in the Playwrights' Advisory Board competition in 1955 and was staged by Twelfth Night on 19 October. Hanger adjudicated drama festivals, organized play-reading groups and was secretary of Twelfth Night, with whom she also acted, notably as Emma in Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. She was also active in the English Teachers' Association.

From February 1955 until December 1956 Hanger was seconded to the University of Queensland as a temporary lecturer in English; in June 1958 she was appointed lecturer in drama. She also directed and acted with the University Staff Players. Disturbed by a trend she perceived in Australian playwriting towards the three-act realism popularized by The Doll, and dissatisfied with the results of subsequent competitions run by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, she began to accumulate the scripts of unpublished plays and saw herself as a 'wet nurse to the orphans abandoned by the Trust'. Her interest lay in contemporary writing and she relied solely on her own judgement as to what merited collecting.

In 1962-63 she was embroiled in an argument in the Bulletin with critics, writers and directors of little theatre companies who challenged her claim that good Australian plays were being neglected. Her activities led to further conflict with Campbell Howard, a rival collector of plays written in 1920-55. Howard's accusation that she had occasionally violated authors' copyright was rejected by the National Library of Australia, which monitored and copied from both collections and described her procedures as 'punctilious'. The Hanger Collection in the Fryer Memorial Library at the university contains some 2000 scripts.

Accurately identifying the early efforts of major stage-writers of the 1960s, she drew national and international attention to three playwrights—Ray Mathew, David Ireland and Patrick White—whose work she thought went beyond 'flat-footed realism'. She directed Mathew's A Spring Song in 1958, and it was the first play published (1961) in the University of Queensland Press's drama series, of which Hanger was general editor. She also directed and published (1964) Ireland's Image in the Clay. Despite White's disparaging remark that 'this poring over ephemeral work seems to be a disease to which Australians and Americans are prone', she championed his plays in articles and speeches, including one delivered to an international comparative literature conference in Germany in 1964. She contributed a chapter on drama to Geoffrey Dutton's The Literature of Australia (Melbourne, 1964). In 1965 she was promoted senior lecturer.

Eunice lived with her parents for much of her life and assisted her father in writing his memoirs. Her later years were lonely and of another time, out of step with the prosaic male vulgarism, untrained speech and experimental production methods of the post-1968 dramatic renaissance, which she nevertheless continued to support. Hanger's last enthusiasm was for the Italian language and for the playwright Dario Fo, whose work she translated and arranged to have performed in Brisbane over a decade before Fo was acclaimed in the English-speaking world. She died of cancer on 16 October 1972 at Toowong and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. A commemorative volume of her work, 2D and Other Plays, was published in Brisbane in 1978.

Select Bibliography

  • Southerly, 23, no 2, 1963, p 132
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 17 Oct 1972
  • Courier-Mail, 18 Oct 1972
  • Hanger collection and papers (University of Queensland Library).

Citation details

Richard Fotheringham, 'Hanger, Eunice (1911–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hanger-eunice-10407/text18443, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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