Act one, scene one: The seventeenth summer

Page with Act one, scene one from a typescript of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler
Page from an original typewritten script of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler, submitted with his application for copyright, 1956 (NAA: A1336, 56137)

Every summer for sixteen years, Roo, an Australian canecutter, and his mate Barney arrived in Melbourne for months of fun and love during the off-season. Every summer they brought a gift of a kewpie doll for their city girlfriends, Olive and Nancy. The seventeenth summer, everything changes.

This is where the play, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, begins. Written by Australian actor, dramatist and producer Ray Lawler in 1953, it is regarded as significant as one of the first Australian plays to authentically portray distinctly Australian lives and characters. The setting is a Carlton terrace house, and the story unfolds in realistic and colourful Australian vernacular, a revelation to theatre audiences in the 1950s.

Lawler submitted a copyright application for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll to the Commonwealth Patent Office in January 1956, just three months after the first production, directed by John Sumner, opened at the Russell Street Theatre, Melbourne, on 28 November 1955. Lawler enclosed a cardboard-covered, hand-sewn copy of the script with his application.

Colour photograph of Ray Lawler holding a kewpie doll, 1977
Ray Lawler with a kewpie doll, standing in front of the Russell Street Theatre, Melbourne, 1977 (NAA: A6135, K30/5/77/19)
A production of The Doll opened in Sydney in January 1956, followed by a national tour by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. The tour took The Doll to outback and remote communities, where the cast performed in makeshift venues like farm sheds and community halls.

 

Lawler’s copyright application was finalised in June 1956, just before the play was performed by the Australian cast in the West End, London and Broadway, New York. John Sumner directed another production of The Doll in Melbourne in 1977. One of a trilogy, the play continues to be produced and studied, and remains an iconic depiction of life in Australia in the 1950s.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – the song

In the course of researching for this Find of the Month, we discovered in the National Archives collection a song written for the play by William Robert George Mashford in 1959. Archivally Sound, the National Archives choir, was so impressed with the song that they have recorded it for you to enjoy.

SpeakerDurationSizeDownload
The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll 2:28 minutes 1.16MB Download mp3 file

See the music score

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemWilliam Robert George Mashford's copyright application for 'The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll'1959A1336, 59535
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017