Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dolia Ribush (1896–1947)

by A. A. Phillips

This article was published:

Dolia Ribush (1896-1947), theatrical producer, was born on 13 June 1896 at Libau, Russia (Latvia), son of Jewish parents Zemach Ribush, businessman, and his wife Dusha, née Barcahn. He was educated at a grammar school at Wilnius, matriculating in 1914. He enrolled in medicine at the University of St Petersburg before serving in the Russian army. In 1918 he studied medicine again at the University of Dorpat and later enrolled at the University of Breslau (Wroclaw), Germany, without completing any course. In the early 1920s he had theatrical training and acted in Petrograd and Riga, and had experience in the confectionery industry in Germany, Latvia and Lithuania. In 1927 he married a language-teacher, Rosa Revid (1899-1987) of Latvia; they had no children.

Migrating to Australia, they landed at Port Melbourne on Cup Day 1928 and, seeking accommodation, were disconcerted to find estate agents closed. Rosa spoke good English, Dolia none—and he was never to acquire more than a haphazard grasp of the language. However, he founded Bush's Confectionery Pty Ltd, specializing in chocolates, which eventually prospered moderately.

After producing some sketches at the Melbourne Russian Club in 1931-32 and later Chekhov's The Jubilee, he formed the amateur Dolia Ribush Players and produced Gorky's Lower Depths (1936), The Cherry Orchard (1938) and Afinegenov's Distant Point (1942). He rehearsed his spare-time actors for six or eight months and more, pursuing perfection, delaying public performance until sure of his players. Ribush derived his principles from Stanislavsky, but built on his own experience. He studied the text intensively; infected the cast with his enthusiasm; instructed them that they must become, not imitate, the character; would not prescribe the appropriate accent or gesture but demanded that the actor evolved it; required unremitting work. 'We will get it'. Always rehearsal came back to that refrain. He extracted remarkable performances from ungifted actors. 'Have I ever met anyone to whom Art means so much?', Nettie Palmer exclaimed.

Ribush's most remarkable achievement was the first production of Douglas Stewart's Ned Kelly in 1944. After reading the script, which abounded in technical deficiencies, he spent a week in Sydney with Stewart revising it. The performance at the Melbourne University Union Theatre was a landmark in Australian theatre. In 1947 he had Vance Palmer's Hail Tomorrow in production.

Dolia Ribush was a bubbling person who savoured Australian life, appreciated its casualness, and was at his best yarning in a country pub and as a party-host. In 1942-43 he served in the Volunteer Defence Corps. He supported the Australia-Soviet Friendship League and the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts. Edouard Borovansky of the ballet was a close friend. Ribush died suddenly of atherosclerotic heart disease on 5 October 1947 at Healesville while on a fishing trip, and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery with Jewish rites. His wife later established the Dolia Ribush awards for the best producer of a play in Melbourne and for the best supporting actor.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Palmer, Fourteen Years (Melb, 1948)
  • A. A. Phillips, The Australian Tradition (Melb, 1966)
  • Meanjin Quarterly, 1947, no 4
  • Ribush papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

A. A. Phillips, 'Ribush, Dolia (1896–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 June, 1896
Libau, Latvia


5 October, 1947 (aged 51)
Healesville, Victoria, Australia

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