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Barbara Berrima Manning Ward (1920–1997)

by Desley Deacon

This article was published online in 2023

Barbara Manning (centre), with members of the Salamanca Theatre Company on the Hobart wharves, c1978

Barbara Manning (centre), with members of the Salamanca Theatre Company on the Hobart wharves, c1978

Salamanca Arts Centre and Brian Haslem

Barbara Berrima Manning Ward (1920—1997), theatre director and arts educator, was born on 2 July 1920 in Hobart, youngest of six children of John Austin Tate, bookbinder, and his wife, Esther, née Champ, both of Tasmanian pioneer families. She attended the local state school until the age of twelve when she won a scholarship to Hobart State High School. From a young age, having been instilled with a love of literature by her mother, Barbara delighted in twice-weekly elocution and drama lessons with the well-known actress and inaugural producer of the Hobart Repertory Theatre Society Olive Wilton. Though a good student who frequently won elocution prizes, she left school at fifteen to work as a filing clerk.

In September 1938 Tate made her theatrical debut in the Repertory’s production of Robert Sherwood’s play The Petrified Forest, where she was ‘thoroughly at home in the sensitive, artistic character’ (‘Themus’ 1938, 5) of the heroine, Gabby Maple. The same year, while working in the office of the commercial radio station 7HT, she compered the program ‘We Women.’ On 17 November 1939 she married Garfield James Manning, an Adelaide-born civil servant, at All Souls Church, Sandringham, Melbourne.

The newlyweds moved to Perth during World War II after Garth was posted to the Royal Australian Navy’s Fremantle office. Preferring ‘dusty furniture’ over ‘a dusty mind’ (Manning 1987), Manning raised their eldest three children while attending adult education classes in Greek and English literature and setting up a pre-school. After the family returned to Hobart in 1946, she presented school broadcasts for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), wrote scripts for its women’s session, and later performed in radio plays. She finally returned to the Repertory in 1949, where she remained a leading actor and producer for twenty years.

When ABC television arrived in Hobart in 1960, Manning became a well-known television personality who could engage easily and intelligently with a broad audience. She hosted Woman’s World and the popular cooking and lifestyle show To Market, To Market, and refined her critique of the national arts scene in her radio program ‘Good, Bad and Indifferent’. During these years she also reported on the Adelaide Arts Festival, wrote for the Bulletin’s arts section, educated a generation of Tasmanians on the difference between pontiac and desiree potatoes, and gained experience as an adult education lecturer and director. Her work as an itinerant drama teacher with Clive Henry Sansom ignited a passion to improve opportunities for young people to access the arts in regional Australia. She began to put her ideas into practice in her support of a feature film for children, They Found a Cave (1962, directed by Andrew Steane), in which she starred.

In the early 1970s, while freelancing for radio and television, Manning joined the committee of the Tasmanian Youth Theatre and Allied Arts Centre and was appointed youth officer (1971—73) at the new Tasmanian Theatre Company (TTC). Intrigued by the Theatre in Education (TIE) movement in Britain, especially its emphasis on ‘issue-based theatre,’ she went abroad in 1972 to study TIE companies and methods. The following year she established the Tasmanian TIE. Initially a subsidiary of the TTC, before becoming independent in 1976 as the Salamanca Theatre Company (STC), it became ‘a catalyst all over the island [in] bringing people together’ (Boddy 1972, 13). Anne Harvey’s I’ll Be In On That (1975) exemplified the work of the company. A play inspired by the history of the Australian trade union movement, its sparse staging, minimal props, simple costumes and music, and small cast were typical of the TIE style. In 1978 the play received international recognition when Manning, having spent nine weeks in the United States of America in 1977, organised for the STC to embark on a three-month US tour. She would later commission many significant TIE productions, including Richard Davey’s celebrated Annie’s Coming Out (1981).

Manning’s husband was supportive of her work, but the two grew apart and divorced in the late 1970s. In 1979 she established the Salamanca Script Resource Centre to collect and distribute plays for TIE, an initiative that later expanded into the Australian Script Centre. She was also involved in the development of the Australia Council as an artist member (1974—76), and later spent several months travelling the country as the national consultant for education and the arts (1980—82). In the 1980s she was awarded the OAM (1981) and served on the Australia Council’s Tasmanian arts advisory board and the community arts board (chairman 1983—86), where she was fondly known as ‘Mother Manning.’

Moving to Melbourne in 1984, Manning taught animateuring—an artistic and pedagogical method of performing arts leadership that encourages new, expressive, democratic, and creative practice—part time at the Victorian College of the Arts’ School of Drama. She married James Ross Ward, a Tasmanian agricultural scientist and friend from her repertory days, on 1 September 1984. They returned to Hobart in 1988, where her health gradually declined; after surviving a stroke in 1995, she died on 26 April 1997 in St Helen’s Hospital. Her ashes were scattered from the tessellated pavement she loved at Eaglehawk Neck on the Tasman Peninsula. She was survived by her husband and five children from her first marriage.

Manning Ward was a striking woman with a dazzling smile, green-blue eyes, and dark hair that she later changed to blond. An excellent cook and enthusiastic host, she was always ready to provide warm and wise advice. Her son Simon remembered her as possessing ‘the whole package, looks, intellect, wisdom, compassion, and a willingness to fight for her cause … People always felt at ease around her and she made everyone feel worthy’ (Manning 2022). She was a pioneer of TIE in Australia and a fierce advocate for cultural democracy, young people, women, and the arts in regional Australia. In 1998 her nephew David Thomas used proceeds from the sale of his company, Cellarmaster Wines, to establish the Barbara Manning Scholarship at the University of Melbourne for postgraduate work in animateuring, directing, or writing.

Research edited by Emily Gallagher

Select Bibliography

  • Boddy, Michael. ‘In the Round. Now It’s Apples, Beer and Culture.’ Bulletin, 19 February 1972, 13
  • Furman, Zoe. ‘Obituary.’ Australian, 15 May 1997, 12
  • Hull, Andrea. ‘Obituary.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May 1997, 38
  • Manning. Barbara. Interview by Barbara Blackman, 19 April 1983. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • Manning, Barbara. ‘Two Boards and a Heart.’ In Community Theatre in Australia, edited by Richard Fotheringham, 40–46. Rev. ed. Sydney: Currency Press, 1992
  • Manning, Barbara. Video interview by James Murdoch, May 1987. National Film and Sound Archive
  • Manning, Simon. Personal correspondence, 2022. Copy held on ADB file
  • ‘Themus’ [pseud.]. ‘Repertory Scores Again.’ Mercury (Hobart), 26 September 1938, 5

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Desley Deacon, 'Manning Ward, Barbara Berrima (1920–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2023, accessed online 17 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Barbara Manning (centre), with members of the Salamanca Theatre Company on the Hobart wharves, c1978

Barbara Manning (centre), with members of the Salamanca Theatre Company on the Hobart wharves, c1978

Salamanca Arts Centre and Brian Haslem

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Manning, Barbara Berrima
  • Tate, Barbara Berrima

2 July, 1920
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


26 April, 1997 (aged 76)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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