Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hanna, George Patrick (Pat) (1888–1973)

by Mimi Colligan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

George Patrick (Pat) Hanna (1888-1973), entertainer, was born on 18 March 1888 at Whitianga, New Zealand, son of Patrick Hanna, hotelkeeper, of Downpatrick, Ireland, and his wife Mary Jane, née Carnie, of Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria. He was educated at Wanganui High School. A talent for drawing led to a signwriting apprenticeship, and he worked as a cartoonist in Wellington on the Free Lance while conducting a commercial art and signwriting business. He was also a champion diver.

On 15 August 1914 Hanna enlisted as a private in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, in the Samoan Advance Party which took over the German Territory. In March 1916 he left for Europe in the Otago Regiment. By 1918 he held the rank of lieutenant. At the end of the war Hanna was appointed recreational and entertainment officer for the New Zealand division which was part of the army of occupation. He introduced a new game, 'Batinton', an adaptation of badminton. More importantly he organized the Diggers Concert Party, writing, acting in and producing the shows. Led by Hanna, they performed in France, England and North America. In 1919 they toured New Zealand and in 1920 appeared in the principal Australian cities for J. C. Williamson Ltd. Augmented by Australian soldier talent they called themselves 'The Diggers' or 'Pat Hanna's Famous Diggers', and toured Australasia for the next ten years. The Cremorne Theatre, Brisbane, and Arcadia, an open-air theatre on the Esplanade, St Kilda, in Melbourne were notable venues. Hanna's shows were noted for their topical, witty writing, which was never risqué at a time when 'blue' humour was popular. His versatile characterizations and lightning sketching were among the main attractions.

On 8 April 1922 at St Kilda Hanna married Jessie Meadows who with her sister Hilda formed a musical 'sister act' in the show. By the 1930s the success of the troupe, and in particularly his own comedy sketches, encouraged Hanna to use the Diggers as the basis of a series of films. Diggers (1931) was produced by Efftee Films, directed by Francis Thring and scripted and supervised by Pat Hanna. After quarrelling with Thring, Hanna formed his own production unit and in 1933 he made Diggers in Blighty and Waltzing Matilda. Although popular, the films were not a financial success, largely because of distribution problems. Hanna made gramophone records of his humorous monologues, including 'The Gospel According to Cricket', and 'Mademoiselle from Armentières'. In 1937 he also broadcasted on 3LO.

In 1934 he went overseas promoting the films and discs. In the United States of America he was called the 'Down Under Will Rogers'. During World War II Hanna invented an igniter for petrol grenades, became an honorary bomb instructor, and devised a bomb training manual.

Hanna typified the ideal digger in his stage and screen characterizations. He was a man of boundless energy and enthusiasm but, while his abilities as a graphic artist, actor, film producer, inventor and sports promoter were undoubted, he was not a good businessman and few of his ventures were financially successful.

After the war he resumed his 'Batinton' promotion and in 1961 took it to England, where he and his wife settled. The last twelve years of his life were devoted to his interest in the Scottish Hanna clan and his successful efforts to help to secure its ruined ancestral home, Scorbie Tower, Galloway. He died at Ampthill, Bedfordshire, on 24 October 1973, survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. His portrait by Esther Paterson is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • Theatre Magazine (Sydney, Melbourne), 1 May 1920
  • Footlight Star, June-July, Oct-Nov to Xmas 1920, Jan-Feb to Apr-May 1921
  • Cinema Papers, Apr 1974
  • Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), 31 Jan 1974
  • private information.

Citation details

Mimi Colligan, 'Hanna, George Patrick (Pat) (1888–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hanna-george-patrick-pat-6551/text11259, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 March 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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