One of Australia’s most distinguished screenwriters, Cliff Green (Picnic At Hanging Rock) died on Friday following a long illness. He was 85. Here, Mac Gudgeon and Roger Simpson pay tribute to his life and career.
Cliff Green was a pioneer in Australian screenwriting and a central figure in the Australian Writers’ Guild’s (AWG) early development. His television credits include his celebrated quartet, Marion, inspired by his time as a school teacher in the Mallee, and the sprawling adaptations, Power Without Glory and I Can Jump Puddles. His screenplay for Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock remains a landmark in Australia’s film renaissance of the 1970s.
Though one of Australia’s most sought-after writers, Cliff never hesitated to give his time to the guild in an era when the organisation, with only two full-time employees, depended entirely on the efforts of its members and the leadership of its most prominent practitioners. As the force behind the guild’s first national conference, Cliff’s reforms led to state representation, encouraging the spread of membership beyond Sydney and Melbourne. As a delegate to the Affiliation Of English Speaking Writers Guilds, Cliff applied lessons learned in the UK and America to how the AWG operated here.
Former AWG president and vice president Mac Gudgeon recalls: “I first sighted Cliff at a particularly rambunctious guild meeting in the 1980s. Of course I knew of him, how could I not? His writing had entertained and moved my family and I through the adolescent years of Australian television drama. Marion, Matlock, Homicide, Power Without Glory, I Can Jump Puddles, Boy Soldiers were just the start. He seemed to be able to write any genre and his early working years as a country school teacher and his love for Australian writers, especially Henry Lawson, and our vernacular, gave the myriad of characters he created over decades of writing an authenticity, be they male, female, bushie or city-slicker. But his humanitarian heart was always with the downtrodden and powerless, be they poor Irish Catholics in the slums of Collingwood in Power Without Glory or the Boy Soldiers of the First World War. Cliff was a strong believer in strength in unity.”
Strength in unity! It’s what made Cliff such a great stalwart and believer in the guild and all it stands for. The fight for writers’ rights and the right of all Australians to hear their voices on our stages and screens. Though small in stature with a boyish face, those who knew him remember what a warrior he was when it came to advocating for writers and the Australian voice. It’s a voice that shone through in his writing. And it’s what made him such a brilliant writer.
Cliff had always wanted to be a writer. As a young boy he had pieces published in The Junior Age (a special section of the daily publication). At the time he boasted he got more for writing for the paper than his mates did for delivering it.
Throughout his illustrious career, Cliff won or was nominated for dozens of industry awards, including eight AWGIES, as well as receiving an International Emmy Nomination, an Australian first, for Boy Soldiers. In 1990 he was awarded the Richard Lane Award, the guild’s highest honour for Outstanding Services and Dedication to the AWG. In 2009 he received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for ‘Service to the Australian Film and Television Industry as a Screenwriter and Educator’.
Cliff died on Friday December 4, 2020 after a long illness. He leaves an impressive body of work and a strong Guild he helped guide and develop through its early years. The AWG extends its condolences to his wife Judy, their children and extended families. Cliff Green was 85.
The Australian Writers’ Guild invites all members to take a moment to remember Cliff Green during the In Memoriam at tonight’s presentation of the 53rd Annual AWGIE Awards. Cliff’s life, career and service to the Guild will be officially commemorated and celebrated at the next AWGIE Awards.
This tribute has been republished with the permission of the Australian Writers’ Guild.