The Harp in the South is the debut novel by New Zealand-born Australian author Ruth Park. Published in 1948, it portrays the life of a Catholic Irish Australian family living in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, which was at that time an inner city slum.

The Harp in the South
First UK edition (publ. Michael Joseph)
AuthorRuth Park
PublisherAngus & Robertson, Australia
Publication date
Publication placeAustralia
Media typePrint
Pages229 pp
Preceded by– 
Followed byPoor Man's Orange 

Publication History


The Harp in the South was published, initially, in the Sydney Morning Herald in twelve daily instalments, beginning on 4 January 1947, after winning a competition run by that newspaper.[1] The prize was £2,000, and there were 175 entries.[1]

It was controversial, with readers writing to the newspaper, on the basis of the synopsis, even before the serialisation started. Delia Falconer writes that The Herald published "forty-three responses, a symposium, and a daily tally of pro and con letters (sixty-eight for; fifty-four against)".[1] It was published in book form in 1948 by Angus & Robertson, who baulked at the novel but "had to honour a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to publish the winner".[1]

Nonetheless, it has become a classic and has never been out of print.[1]



Hughie Darcy:
Married to Margaret Darcy. Hughie often becomes drunk after work and his best friend is Patrick Diamond, even though Patrick is Protestant and he is Catholic. He is the father of Rowena and Dolour. Hughie wants to get out of Surry Hills and back to the bush but he has a family to support so is trapped.
Margaret “Mumma” Darcy:
Mother of Rowena and Dolour, mother-in-law of Charlie Rothe. She is a devout Catholic and although generally accepting, sometimes fights with Patrick Diamond (their lodger) over his religious beliefs.
Rowena "Roie" Darcy:
Married to Charlie Rothe, they have one child, Moira, known as “Motty”. In her youth, she was courted by Tommy Mendel, but after sleeping with her, he disappeared. Roie secretly works at two jobs to save enough for an abortion when she discovers she is expecting Tommy's baby, but at the last minute cannot go through with it. On her way home, she is attacked and savagely beaten by a group of sailors and loses the baby.
Charlie Rothe:
Charlie is assumed to be part Aboriginal although he does not know his parents as he was taken away as a baby and put in a home. He is married to Rowena Darcy whom he met when her younger sister, Dolour took part in a radio quiz show, "Junior Information Please". Roie was feeling sick and he helped her outside for air. Charlie knows there is no racial prejudice with Roie but Margaret does not accept him at first and Dolour is angry with him for stealing Roie from her.
Dolour Darcy:
Dolour is the youngest in her family. A very bright girl, she aspires to get a good education and escape from Surry Hills. She is aunty to "Motty" Roie's child and good friends with elderly Chinese greengrocer, Lick Jimmy.
Patrick Diamond:
The Darcy’s fervent Protestant lodger. Every St. Patrick's day, he gets drunk and verbally abuses Mrs. Darcy. When he suffers a stroke, Lick Jimmy performs an emergency 'bleed' by cutting open a vein to ease the pressure. Pat was unaware of this, as he had passed out because Hughie, also drunk, had hit him.
Miss Sheily:
Mother to disabled Johnny Sheily, she constantly abuses him. When he is knocked down and killed she seems relieved rather than upset. Later, Roie sees her flagellating herself and crying Johnny's name. She marries a Swedish man named Gunnarson.

Sequel and prequel


In 1949, Ruth Park published Poor Man's Orange as a sequel to The Harp in the South. A prequel, Missus, was published in 1985.



1949 stage adaptation


See The Harp in the South (play)

1951 Radio Adaptation


See The Harp in the South (radio serial).

1964 British TV version


See The Harp in the South (British TV play)

1986 and 1987 miniseries


The Harp in the South and its sequel Poor Man's Orange were adapted into TV miniseries, the former in 1986, the latter in 1987.[2]

The Harp in the South and Poor Man's Orange have been released by Roadshow Entertainment as a 3-DVD package.


Cast Role
Anne Phelan Mumma Darcy
Martyn Sanderson Hughie Darcy
Anna Hruby Roie Darcy
Kaarin Fairfax Dolour Darcy
Gwen Plumb Grandma Kilker
Syd Conabere Pat Diamond
Melissa Jaffer Miss. Sheily
Shane Connor Charlie Rothe
Brandon Burke Tommy Mendel
Ken Radley Johnny Sheily
Lois Ramsay Mrs. Campion
Cecil Parkee Lick Jimmy
Carole Skinner Delie Stock
Charles Tingwell Father Cooley
John Clayton Jim

2014 stage script adaptation


In 2013 & 2014 G.bod Theatre in association with NIDA Independent, developed a new adaptation of Ruth Park's original novel. This was the first adaptation approved by Ruth Park's estate since 1949. An invited audience saw the development in progress, at NIDA, in both 2013 and 2014. The adaptation has yet to be staged.

2018 stage adaptation


Kate Mulvany adapted The Harp in the South, its prequel and sequel into a six-hour play over two-parts. It was first produced by the Sydney Theatre Company at the Roslyn Packer Theatre from August 2018, directed by Kip Williams.[3][4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Falconer, Delia. "The Harp in the South". Reading Australia. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  2. ^ Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970-1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p229
  3. ^ Tongue, Cassie (27 August 2018). "The Harp in the South review | Theatre in Sydney". Time Out Sydney. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  4. ^ Dow, Steve (21 August 2018). "From Sydney slums to gay nuns: adapting Ruth Park's novels for the stage". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 January 2019.