Read The Harp in the South by Ruth Park Online


Amid the brothels, grog shops and run-down boarding houses of inner-city Surry Hills, money is scarce and life is not easy. Crammed together within the thin walls of Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street are the Darcy family: Mumma, loving and soft-hearted; Hughie, her drunken husband; pipe-smoking Grandma; Roie, suffering torments over her bitter-sweet first love; while her yAmid the brothels, grog shops and run-down boarding houses of inner-city Surry Hills, money is scarce and life is not easy. Crammed together within the thin walls of Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street are the Darcy family: Mumma, loving and soft-hearted; Hughie, her drunken husband; pipe-smoking Grandma; Roie, suffering torments over her bitter-sweet first love; while her younger sister Delour learns about life the hard way....

Title : The Harp in the South
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780143569749
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 351 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Harp in the South Reviews

  • Carol Clouds ꧁꧂
    2019-04-08 00:29

    This is Surry Hills, Sydney now. Epitome of gentility.By Orestes654 (talk) 08:34, 23 November 2010 (UTC) - Own work, CC BY 3.0, LinkBut it was a working class slum in the 1940s.and it was home to the working class Darcys, who live in desperate circumstances. The squalor, lack of privacy & bed bugs - this is as far removed from the romantic poverty of I Captured the Castle as it possible to be. The family can barely afford to feed & clothe themselves (certainly not made an easier by father Hughie's bluster & heavy drinking. I can promise you there is one scene that will have most people grinding their teeth in rage at Hughie's fecklessness) but this family loveeach other & when it is important they pull together. These were real people that I came to care about & love.The book is episodic in style. Another GR reviewer has the book was originally serialised in an Australian newspaper & while this shows, I don't think it detracts from their stories at all.& Park won an award from the newspaper. This is from the start of my copy. I have a first edition - if only it wasn't in such poor condition!Ruth Park is fading into obscurity in her country of birth (New Zealand.) I just hope she is better known in Australia where she lived most of her life. This, her first novel, is also supposed to be her best, but I still want to read more of her work.Best New Zealand book I have read this year.

  • Suzanne
    2019-04-20 02:22

    What an Australian classic. This story captures the essence of the hard life of the Darcy family, Sydney in the mid nineteen hundreds. They were poor and down trodden, they did not have anything to their names. What they did have in spades was a lot of love amongst the mess and slum that existed in Surry Hills during that time. Teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, racism (as I listened to an audio version I didn't take notes. But I loved a line between to young people in love discussing marriage, and wondering how the 'black skipped a couple of generations') and poverty was in abundance but this family loved each other and we were left with the impression they were wanting for nothing. The imagery of a young couple honeymooning in Narrabeen with pure delight was lovely. A short classic story, if readers haven't sought this genre before I'd recommend it. Excellent writing and it seems to me a perfectly captured era of the slums and mess and overwhelming love of a family who had naught in the way of materialistic pleasures. Maybe the youth of Australia could learn some things here.

  • 4triplezed
    2019-04-02 23:15

    Very good. A story of the working poor in pre-war Surry Hills in Sydney. Nowadays Surry Hill is probably as expensive as any place on planet earth so the description of this long lost working poor suburb is a look into a past that no longer exists. The story itself covers the life of the Catholic Darcy family, the sons and daughters of Irish migrants, and makes a humane read of these people and their struggles through life be it tragic loss or love. Their trials and tribulations are well told in the hands of Ruth Park who has a beautiful turn of phrase and also an understanding of the life and thoughts of these working poor. Many passages stood out and one of a young girl going to the beach for the first time showed an author of rare insight to youthful joy. “At half past seven that night Dolour, almost purple with sunburn, and with sand in almost everything except her mouth, came bursting into the room. Behind her was a brilliant memory of a day at the beach, of bus rides, of yelling ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘Little Nellie Kelly” and ‘Hail Queen of Heaven’; of swooping white roads and sudden revelations of cobalt seas iced with foam; of Harry Drummy being sick all over the three Sicilianos, and Father Cooley being forced to take Bertie Stevens aside and explain to him about the gigantic hole in the seat of his trunks; of Sister Theophilus sitting calmly hour by hour making high turreted sandcastles which were wiped into spinning dust and pygmy willy-willies by the afternoon wind. There were so many things to talk about. Dolour had experienced them all in one day, but it took her weeks to tell about them all.” The copy of this book that I have is an old Queensland school library copy with a few names stamped in the front cover from back in the early 80’s. I got curious and asked around. I was told that this was on the high school reading list of year 11 students for many years. I have no issue with that at all as the book has subjects that young people should read about and understand, abortion, alcoholism, sectarianism and racial prejudice for example. With that I am intrigued as it making the reading lists of Queensland state schools even as late as 1984. I vividly recall Rona Joyner and her anti humanist campaign in schools for subjects such as sex education and reading lists. This book, I would have thought would have been in that spotlight but seemingly passed the censors by. I recall books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Fahrenheit 451 were attacked. Link here for anyone interested. One other character is Delie Stock. I am wondering if Ruth Park modelled her on the infamous Tilly Devine. book for anyone interested in Australian literature from the past.

  • Shelleyrae at Book'd Out
    2019-04-17 22:30

    I think I was about eleven when I first read this Australian classic and I decided to reread this year it to fulfil my Eclectic Reader challenge requirements after it was named in the First Tuesday Book Club's Top Ten Books to Read Before You Die. The Harp in the South is a glimpse into the everyday life of inner Sydney's poorest post war community and introduces the Darcy family who live in Sydney's slums at Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street, Surry Hills. The Irish Catholic Darcy's are an average family in their neighborhood, working class battlers struggling to survive in their damp, flea infested home. Mumma does the best she can with the little she has while her feckless husband Hughie drinks away much of what he earns. Sweet natured and naive eldest daughter Roie longs for romance while quick witted Dolour dreams of escape.To supplement their meagre income the Darcy's rent rooms to the irascible Miss Sheily and her illegitimate disabled son, and Mr Patrick Diamond, a protestant who baits the family each St Patrick's Day. They take in Grandma when she needs extra care, a lively character who knows her own mind. They are neighboured by a Chinese grocer, Mr Lick, financially assisted by the local madam in time of need and attend church in their Sunday best.The Darcy's are resigned to the grinding poverty and immune to the violence, finding joy where are able - a New Year's bonfire, a school trip to the seaside. They face heartbreak with stoicism and though their home is often chaotic, there is plenty of love within it's peeling walls. Though perhaps more properly a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive narrative, following the Darcy's over a period of about a year, the story is well written. Park has an eye for authentic detail, character and dialogue- not surprising really since she lived in Surrey Hills with her husband at the time. The Harp in the South is a social commentary and brutally honest examination Later followed by Poor Man's Orange and Missus, tracing the Darcy family's past and futureThe Harp In The South is an engaging tale of the triumphs and tragedies amongst the poor working class in Australian cities. A must read for her every Australian who needs reminding just how lucky they are.

  • Deborah Biancotti
    2019-04-01 21:03

    So I figured that, given the amount of resistance I've always had towards this book, I might end up loving it fiercely when I finally read it. But I didn't. I just liked it. Well enough.On the plus side, I enjoyed the fact it's almost a series of short stories rather than a novel (Park herself said she wanted to write a book that was plotless, like life). I enjoyed the early chapters, which were mainly character portraits. I enjoyed the way Park evokes the poverty, over-crowding and lack of hope of the pitiful classes living in Surry Hills in the post-WWII era. I enjoyed one character in particular. Who died. Of course. I was also pleased to find out how gritty it was. (The chapter with the bed bugs stands out!) I even enjoyed the Strine (Australianisms) which might otherwise have evoked desperate acts of cultural cringe in a more sentimental book. And I felt like I grew to understand why people with no hope will continue to pleasure the flesh--mostly through alcohol--rather than try for any grander, more apparently-impossible and longer-term kinds of acts.I didn't enjoy the patronising racism or some aspects of the 'angel in the house' gender moralism, obviously. 'Nuff said. I initially enjoyed but then grew weary of the way no character seemed capable of experiencing an emotion without it somehow becoming Grand and Great, as either a sign of their class, race (Irish, mainly, for some reason) or gruelling lifestyle. I also grew tired of being reminded that anger springs from hurt, & all the ways anger springs, & all the hurts that exist.Though I did, for once, enjoy the 'hooker with a heart of gold'-type character! And also the nuns. And the boarder who refuses to share her first name right up until she leaves. Ha haaa! But especially the hooker, she was kinda great.I did feel that Park occasionally laughs at her characters (for example, when two of them believe they're looking at a ruby when in fact it's something cheaper) & occasionally during the early chapters, I felt there was sometimes more pity than compassion, if you know what I mean. It's hard to quantify a sensibility, though, & I might just be that the old fashioned prose combined with the god-like perspective felt arch when possibly it wasn't intended that way.And I found some of the more tragic events eye-rollingly predictable, but that's with the benefit of several decades more literature to read, about how fate is kinder to women who make servile decisions and how the physically challenged exist to teach the rest of us a lesson about our humanity. But wait! I said I wouldn't mention the moralism.I was glad to receive a kind of happy ending for most of the characters. The title still gives me hives, even though I now know it means The Irish in Australia, & not, as I feared, The Quite Dull Musical Instrument Inna Field Someplace. Conversely, I was pleased to find the word 'verdant' does not appear anywhere in the text.I was, finally, struck by the intimacy of the Darcys, with each other and with the neighbourhood. I thought about them several times as I wandered through my neighbourhood over the weeks I was reading this book. I thought about the mud, & the vibrancy, & the life that was crammed into the streets of these old Sydney suburbs. And I was very glad it's not quite that bad anymore.#aww2013 no.17(marked as 19th Century reading in my list only because it evokes that earlier era)

  • Kiwi Begs2Differ✎
    2019-04-23 01:05

    This novel recounts the (mis)adventures of the dysfunctional but bighearted Darcy family, living in the dirty poor suburb of Surry Hills (Sydney) in the 40s.I liked this is a down under classic for its realism, but one word of warning: one has to steel oneself for the rampant racist comments in the characters’ dialogues. I’m sure they were common and probably supposed to be funny at the time the book was written (1948) but nowadays they are truly cringe worthy. I listened to the audio version narrated by Kate Hood, the best comic parts in her Aussie brogue reminded me of “Kath and Kim”. 3.5 stars

  • M.J. Johnson
    2019-04-01 02:20

    The Harp in the South (published 1948) is actually the second book in a trilogy, although it was written first. The success of the novel was followed by Poor Man’s Orange (1949 - last book in trilogy) and Missus, the first book in the trilogy but actually written very much later, in 1985 in fact. I had no idea until after I'd finished reading it, that the (Harp in South) book was the winner of a newspaper competition and serialised in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1947. It’s not difficult to believe it won, because it really is so very well written; it perhaps also explains the slightly episodic nature of the narrative, which might be viewed as a flaw in the writing until you’re aware of that fact. The novel, perhaps surprisingly today, was seen as controversial when it first appeared, many arguing that Park had made up the slum life we experience through the lives of the Irish Catholic Darcy family who are central to her book. Park attested to the book’s authenticity, having herself lived in a tenement in the Surry Hills area of Sydney with her husband when first married.The book is set at the time it was written, which certainly took this reader by surprise, probably because of the acute poverty experienced by its cast of characters. Initially (because the period isn’t stated), I thought it was set in the early 1930s or even earlier, but oblique references to Lana Turner etc put me on the right track. What really came across for me was the tolerance and care these people demonstrate for each other, how despite everything they somehow manage to uphold their standards of decency, despite the plodding grimness of their lives. It’s hard to believe (from our cosseted lives today) how a day’s outing to the seaside could have been seen as a momentous occasion. There is tragedy, ugliness and despair here, but there are also many light-hearted moments, and the book left me feeling exhilarated and uplifted. The writing itself is excellent and Park’s descriptions are always beautifully crafted.Ruth Park (1917- 2010) was actually a New Zealander by birth and was no stranger to poverty, having grown up through the Depression there. She was a prolific writer, wrote several novels including many books for children and produced literally thousands of radio scripts. She died at the fine age of ninety-three.If like me you were almost completely ignorant when it came to Antipodean literature, then add this title to your TBR pile. Or, just add it simply because it’s a very good book. I’m delighted to have found a new author and especially happy because I still have two parts of the trilogy left to go.

  • Cphe
    2019-04-20 03:07

    This edition contains the trilogy of novels that comprise The Harp in the South, Missus, The Harp in the South and Poor Man's Orange.It was interesting to read the trilogy because you arrive at a better understanding of Hugh and Margaret Darcy. Missus tells of Hugh and Margaret, their early courtship and the history of each family, both Irish and Roman Catholic. The writing is on the wall regarding Hugh Darcy early on and his long suffering, although staunch and lovingly supportive wife Margaret.The Harp in the South is about their time as a family living at Number Twelve and a Half, Plymouth St Surry Hills. Life is a struggle, the houses are vermin ridden, dirty and the residents are poverty stricken but there are still acts of kindness amongst the squalor, pubs and dregs of society. In Poor Man's Orange life has come full circle for Margaret and Hugh and it is their children and grandchildren who carry the story to the end.These are novels that pull at the heart strings, there is love and laughter, cruelty and thoughtfulness. A snap shot of the past. There are pockets of humour where I laughed out loud which relieved the bleakness of the novels overall. Sad to come to the end of the Darcy's, they had a story worth telling.

  • Suzie
    2019-04-08 23:13

    Set in the 1940s, Harp in The South tells the story of the Darcy family who live in the working class suburb of Surrey Hills in Sydney. Hughie and Margaret (Mumma) live with their two daughters Roie and Dolour and Mumma’s mother (Grandma) as well as their boarder Mr Diamond in a small terrace house. Hughie has a job at a foundry, but is often off sick due to the effects of the sly grog he over-indulges in on a regular basis. Mumma is a housewife who does her best to be a good Catholic wife, amongst the bad influences that surround the Darcy family.Harp in the South covers about a year in the Darcy family’s life. The main theme is poverty and hardship, yet there is a real sense of the Aussie Battler making the best of their lot and getting on with life. The influences of the Catholic church, the local brothel madam/sly grog supplier and heartless landlords are all explored. Also you come to understand how people in those times accepted what they had – dreams of a better life weren’t worth thinking about, because it was unattainable.I loved this book! It is a quintessential Australian story. Ruth Park’s description is superb – you can feel the dirt underfoot, smell the various odours, hear the clang of the trams – basically you are transported to 1940s Sydney via her colourful prose. You can’t help but love the characters and feel for them as they battle their various life challenges. And while you can see and feel their hardships, you can’t help but feel that they will be okay.A fabulous read – highly recommended.

  • Sharon Marchingo
    2019-04-03 21:31

    Harp in the SouthBy Ruth ParkThe Harp in the South is a classic Australian novel that was the latest discussion book for the Crusoe Community Book Club. It was also nominated by The Tuesday Book Club on the ABC as one of the top 10 Australian reads of all time. The setting of the novel is Surry Hills in Sydney just after World War 2 (although this is never quite stated). The Darcy family are close knit but live a life of poverty amidst the brothels, grog shops and run down housing of the area. Money is tight and what little there is, Hughie spends at the local hotel to help him forget his life of misery through the lens of a bottle. Yet amidst this life of deprivation there is real love in this family consisting of Hughie and Mumma and their two children Roie and Dolour. In addition to the immediate family there are borders, boyfriends, local shop owners and Grandma who comes to stay. The characters are beautifully and respectfully drawn who each has their own obstacles to deal with.The family are of Irish heritage hence the title ‘Harp’ which is a symbol for all things Irish (according to the findings of Natalie who ran the book club discussion). At this time many Irish and recent immigrants lived in Surry Hills as this was the only area that they could afford. The family suffers much grief including the abduction of their son Thady, who is never found; joblessness, the beatings dished out by the border Miss Sheily to her only son and his subsequent death; Roie’s unfortunate pregnancy and miscarriage; her assault and the death of Grandma. Ruth Park captures the sorrow of these events with great empathy and the reader marvels at the ability of the family to stoically move on regardless of their depressing circumstances. I was reminded very much of Angela’s Ashes and The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck. It deals with a period of history when life was less complex yet tougher, with no government support for struggling families. Yet through all these travails there is always hope that there will be a better life and that love will find a way. The ending of the novel was particularly powerful when Hughie asks his wife what she was thinking about and she turned to him and said, ‘I was thinking of how lucky we are.’ In a time when we have so much materially it is important to remember that it is the simple things in life that give the most pleasure.

  • Lisa
    2019-04-13 21:22

    The Harp in the South (1948) was Ruth Park’s first novel and is, I think, the nest-loved of all her books. While her two small children slept, Ruth Park wrote it on the kitchen table of her parents’ home in New Zealand while she was visiting from Australia. She and her husband D’Arcy Niland were determined to make a living from writing, and the Sydney Morning Herald’s literary competition with a prize of £2000 propelled her into using her experiences in the slum Sydney suburb of Surry Hills for a novel. As she recounts in Fishing in the Styx, this award brought criticism as well as much needed money…To see the rest of this review please visit

  • Rachel
    2019-04-06 20:24

    The Harp in the Southby Ruth Park is set in Surry Hills of Sydney in the 1930's. The story focuses on the way in which the family of the Darcy's who live in number twelve and a half, Plymouth street, deal with the events and environment they are bought up in. The important themes of the book centre around the poverty faced by people living in the area at this time, which is essential to the make up of this book. It enables an understanding of the characters as well as an insight into their daily struggles and expectations. This book, became one that I couldn't put down. I would actually be walking around with my nose stuck to the pages because I needed to know what happened next.I will always recommend this book and will probably re read it in the future (:

  • Shell
    2019-04-09 21:26

    4.5 stars

  • Roger
    2019-04-05 00:24

    I was a big fan of Ruth Park's Muddle-Headed Wombat books as a child, but had never read any of her adult work. This is an incredibly accomplished first novel, set in late 1940s Surry Hills, Sydney - then a slum largely populated by poor Irish and other immigrant families. It's a fascinating look at a period not all that long ago, but totally alien to my 1960s lower-middle class Melbourne childhood. Ruth Park's characters are all well-fleshed out and believable. She takes us inside their heads and guides us through their domestic situations. Her writing is full of genuine emotion, yet she is never overly sentimental. I've already ordered the other two books in the trilogy. Highly recommended, especially to Australian readers.

  • Brenda
    2019-03-27 19:26

    Set in the 1940s and first published in 1948, The Harp in the South is a well renowned Aussie classic. Author Ruth Park (who passed away in 2010) was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia in 1942. After marrying writer D’Arcy Niland they moved to Sydney where she wrote full time, with over fifty books to her name, and she also received many awards including a Miles Franklin Award. The Harp in the South is a story of the Darcy family, living in the slums of Sydney, extremely poor and struggling through their day to day lives. Hugh Darcy had a drinking problem, and many times he came home drunk, suffering from a terrible hangover the next day. When Margaret (Mumma)’s mother (Grandma) came to stay with them, (as Margaret’s sister, who had had Grandma for the past eighteen months and was now unwell herself, could no longer care for her), their small dwelling at Number Twelve-and-a-half Plymouth Street, Surry Hills, became even more congested. The story of Thady, Hugh and Margaret’s son who vanished from their front yard at only six-years-old was a prominent one, with the grief they both felt at not knowing what happened to him one that wouldn’t let up. Rowena (Roie) and her gradual emergence into adulthood, her mistakes, loves and desperation and Dolour, the younger daughter and her puzzlement of life; then there were the boarders who helped the Darcy family make ends meet – Mr Diamond and Miss Sheily and her retarded son Johnny. These wonderful characters mingled with other lesser characters to make an amazing day to day look at life in Sydney back in the ‘40s when all they had was each other; their love for each other meant when Grandma began to lose her memory, slipping into the depths of Alzheimers, they brought her home for her last days, after a brief stint in a nursing home. When Roie suffered terribly, she was nursed at home. I enjoyed this novel, though at times I found it a little slow. But overall it is a classic which should be read by all (Aussies) and definitely earned its place in the Top 10 Aussie Books to read before you die!

  • Mel Campbell
    2019-04-10 21:13

    To be honest I read this years ago and so its details escape me, but I remember being struck by the vividness of its portrayal of inner-city poverty. In its portrayal of old-fashioned Australian working-class life and the role of women in particular, I file it along with Brides of Christ and Come in Spinner.I read it as an example of a bygone form of community in which people of different races and circumstances (disabled, addicted, pregnant, aspirant, etc) were forced to coexist and be confronted by one another. Another example is the Depression-era young adult novels Colour In the Creek and Shadow Of Wings by Margaret Paice, which I read as a kid, and which taught me about a particularly Australian stoicism and laconic community-building in the face of poverty.I live in an atomised world now where the communities we make are created by shared belief systems and tastes, and sheltered by the privilege of class and cultural capital. I've noticed people can be very uncomfortable when confronted with difference – of opinion, of belief, of circumstance – because we're able to retreat from it. The Harp in the South hardly sentimentalises its world – there's plentiful violence and trauma – but it seems to me to illustrate a kind of Australian community that may no longer exist.The other thing is that I didn't realise that 'Roie' was short for 'Rowena' (which gives you a hint of how you're meant to pronounce the name). So in my head I pronounced it closer to 'Roy'. I don't know why I am confessing my ignorance here, but there you go.

  • Daniel Jon Kershaw
    2019-03-26 03:33

    It grew slowly on me like barnacles on a boat, but I was in no hurry to scrap them off once they were there. 3 and a half stars.

  • Carolyn Mck
    2019-03-31 00:08

    Ruth Park lived in Surry Hills, then a Sydney slum (now gentrified and expensive). She witnessed first hand the grinding poverty but also the strength to survive and the strong bonds of family. She based the Darcys on the Irish family of her husband, D’Arcy Niland and they are all memorable characters - the loving Mumma, the hapless Hughie and their daughters, gentle Roie and hopeful Dolour. To make ends meet, the Darcys take in boarders - exaggerated characters perhaps but with unpredictable depths as well. Not to mention the indomitable Grandma who is a source of much humour in the book. This is an Australian classic that has never been out of print since 1946 and for good reason. Ruth valued the outsider and the struggler, giving them a voice where they themselves were often inarticulate. She never shied away from describing the dirt, the malnutrition or the ubiquitous bugs but she wrote a novel that was deeply respectful of humanity. I first read this too many years ago to remember and it was a great pleasure to read it again for our ANZ online book group. Needing to buy it on Kindle (because the print in my old copy was too small!) I had the bonus of purchasing all the books in the Surry Hills trilogy. Missus (written much later as a prologue to The Harp) and Poor Man’s Orange remain a treat in store.

  • Jayde
    2019-04-08 00:12

    Set in Sydney's Surry Hills in the 1940s, The Harp in the South is the story of a working class family and their daily trials and tribulations. Hard as it is to believe, Surry Hills (currently land of the $2mil one bedder) was once upon a time a suburb of working class slums. Looked down upon by almost every other suburb, the Surry Hills inhabitants became a stand alone community all trying to survive from one day to the next. The Darcy family at the centre of the story consists of an alcoholic father, a mother grieving the loss of her son, an older daughter experiencing her first love and a younger daughter growing into her early teenage years. Add in a snarky Grandmother and some bizarre boarders and you have a great cast of characters trying to find happiness amid their bed bug infested homes. I really enjoyed Park's style of writing, which is a mix of humour and pathos. A fantastic snapshot of inner city life in 1940 Australia.

  • Michelle
    2019-03-30 19:22

    The Darcy family were characterised beautifully and I couldn't help but fall in love with them all, despite their foibles. I can't help wondering whether Tim Winton's Cloudstreet was inspired by this story as the similarities were obvious.

  • Marie
    2019-04-07 03:16

    A snapshot, a year and something of one family's life in Surry Hills, Sydney in the 40's. This particular family communicates with an awful lot of yelling and with helplessness covered up as anger. At times I thought the author to look down on her characters, making them less clever, and which gave no extra meaning to the story. But then again, at other times, she makes you completely fall in love with the Darcy family. It's most interesting moments is where the author puts light on abortion, racism, religion, poverty, women's rights all in one novel, still making it realistic within one family. What drives the story is the love the Darcy's have for each other, despite all the yelling.

  • Jo Case
    2019-04-17 20:16

    It’s amazing to think that this treasured Australian classic began life on a whim, when Ruth Park decided to enter the ‘novel’ component of the Sydney Morning Herald’s inaugural writing competition. “We don’t write books,” said her writer-husband, little realising that this was to be the start of a long career doing just that. It’s even more surprising to think that the book caused a scandal with its “immorality” on first publication in 1948. “As a writer, love is what I have always written about,” Park has said – and indeed, the warm, fiercely protective intimacy of the family at the heart of Harp in the South is what first strikes the contemporary reader.The novel follows a couple of years in the life of the residents of Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street, Surry Hills, the heart of Sydney’s “Shanty Town”. There’s big-hearted matriarch (and hopeless romantic) Mumma; her rambunctious, often drunk but essentially good husband Hughie; dreamy, intelligent youngest daughter Dolour; and pretty big sister Roie: shy, fragile and somewhat disaster-prone. Park wrote that she didn’t want a plot, but “just wanted to tell about these people as if they were real human beings”. And indeed, the novel unfolds much as life does – a series of small moments (beautifully rendered) that add up to tell the story of a family and a neighbourhood. But the story is by no means static – although these moments include fights over who will make the annual Christmas pudding and a rare school trip (funded by a notorious neighbourhood madam) to the seaside, there is also plenty of drama. On page two, we learn that the Darcys lost a six-year-old son to the streets years ago; on page six, we burst through a door with Hughie and Mumma to encounter their tenant savagely whipping her retarded son. There are also a series of brushes (and encounters) with death, a peek inside an illegal abortionist’s, an ill-fated romance, and an ecstatic one.The characters are wonderfully complex and often conflicted – never all-good or all-bad. And the chemistry of the squabbling Darcys and their neighbours, who alternately love and loathe and niggle at each other, but essentially form a tight-knit community, is a joy to read. Contemporary readers will squirm at characters like the inscrutable Chinese grocer, Lick Jimmy, and concerns about a possible “sooty grandchild” but the underlying sentiments are not mean-spirited, but inescapably of their times. Well worth revisiting.This review was first published in The Big Issue to commemorate Ruth Park's death.

  • Geoff Wooldridge
    2019-04-10 23:33

    Ruth Park is a wonderful storyteller!The Harp In the South is set in the slums of Surry Hills, a suburb of Sydney, in the 1940s (although this is not specifically defined).The Darcy family, Irish Catholic immigrants, live in a run down tenement at Twelve and a Half Plymouth Street, which they share with a single Irish Protestant man (which leads to insults on St Patrick's Day particularly) and an enigmatic single woman who has, and loses, a handicapped son. The suburb is strongly Irish, but there are also migrants of other nationalities.Hughie Darcy, the father, likes a drink just a bit too much, and Mumma is a large, long-suffering woman who has also lost a son, stolen off the street when he was six years old.They have two daughters - Roie (short for Rowena) and Dolour, who grow up fast in this difficult environment.Roie's first love, a Jewish boy, leads her to become a woman too soon, and ends in tragic circumstances.She eventually finds true love with a good man and they marry and have a daughter.Dolour, the younger sister, is a dreamer who looks on with a mix of wonder, envy and jealousy as Roie blooms into full womanhood.The neighbourhood is full of wonderful characters, so evocatively described by Park - the Irish priest, Sister Theophilus, the nun at the school the girls attend, the Chinese greengrocer neighbor, Lick Jimmy and the local madam, Delie Stock, wealthy from her interests in local brothels and yet always keen to spread some financial largesse to those in need.Park's style is light and easy to read, but full of keenly observed insights into the nature, language and behaviours of her eclectic cast of characters. She captures the period and locality quite brilliantly.I enjoyed this book very much, albeit not quite as much as Park's Miles Franklin Award winning Swords and Crowns and Rings, although there is very little in it.The sequel, Poor Man's Orange is on my bookshelf, and I look forward to taking up the continuing story of the Darcy family in the not to distant future.

  • Andy Quan
    2019-03-28 02:14

    I wonder where Plymouth Street, Surry Hills is, the setting of Ruth Park's 'The Harp in the South'. I can almost imagine it only a block away, perhaps on Albion Street, a little bit further down from Frog Hollow park. I say this because the reason that I read this book from 1948 was because it is set in the neighbourhood in which I live, and that was one of the great pleasures of the book, that I could feel the surroundings long ago, that the short walk down to Chinatown and Market City is one I've done many times, and that perhaps one of the old houses, nestled among warehouse conversions and newer apartments, is similar to where the Darcys lived.It's a rough life the Darcys lead, poor and bedbug-infested, alcohol-soused, and with a swirling mix of naivete, optimism and resignation; and while something in the writing style feels dated, it is also wonderfully colourful and engaging. One lovelorn character is described as such: 'The poor coot thinks the world of her. He'd give her the eyes out of his head to play marbles with.' The feisty Grandma (not unlike the character Granny Sloth from Ice Age 3 that I watched this week) is picking up potatoes to throw at a policeman: 'Great splaw-footed spalpeen... I'll send it clean through his brisket.'But it's not all comic pieces with violence woven throughout: a sexual assault and physical assaults, an accidental death. Park steps out of the colourful dialogue and internal thoughts of her characters to deliver social commentary, almost as if her times asked her to do so:' by day their bonds to the cheap and dirty portion of the city were made stronger. Perhaps they would struggle against it in their dreams, but no more than that... They would grow old and die in Surry Hills, as people have been doing for five generations.'In the end, it is love that redeems but a sweet, hard-fought kind as the naive Roie becomes a wife and mother amidst her happy, alcoholic and poor family.

  • Bruno Bouchet
    2019-03-30 20:07

    I enjoyed reading a classic Australian novel that actually acknowledges how the overwhelming majority of Australians live - in cities. Also working in Surry Hills and having lived there is great to read about an area I’m so familiar with. I found myself looking up the streets names in the book on google maps, but they’ve either gone or were changed for the book. However the description of the streets and references Oxford St and Paddys market, made me feel it was the very streets I work on, around Reservoir St.The book is at it’s best when it concerns Roie, the elder daughter of the Darcy family. I thought the scene where she is seduced/coerced into sex by her first boyfriend was great, really powerful writing and she is by far the most engaging and interesting character in the book. The rest of the family fall too much into the Aussie/Irish larrikin charm poor but happy in the slums: the younger daughter entering the radio quiz, the father thinking he’d won the lottery, it all comes across as quite episodic and cliched. However I have to acknowledge that this was one of the books setting the cliche not subscribing to it. When it was written, no-one else was writing about poverty, drunkenness, and violence in Australian cities. There has been so much about that stuff since, it’s hard to read this book with fresh eyes.All in all it’s a great book of its time, but hard for me to enjoy completely now.

  • Sean Kennedy
    2019-03-31 00:08

    A true Aussie classic, brimming with love, humour, pathos and true character studies, The Harp in the South is notable for having working class heroes in a time where they weren't really championed in Australian literature - surprising seeing so much of Australian identity is focused upon the image of the Aussie battler.Some modern readers may take umbrage with what they see as stereotypical characters but this context is important - it wasn't stereotypical at the time - and it is hard to deny the warmth you feel from them and their misadventures. The Darcys seem real and relatable, and above all it is a beautiful portrait of a family that sticks together despite their trials. Park's insights into the characters are at times truly profound and just a little heartbreaking, especially in their darker moments.

  • Sarah
    2019-04-22 01:20

    I feel very torn about this book- hailed as Australian must read classic I found it dull and boring failing to capture my imagination about the Sydney slums. However reading about Ruth Park and the impact the book had when it was released in 1948 and especially how Mrs. Park gave women a voice through her book made me feel much more gentle and good willing towards it. I listened to it as an audiobook and the reader was fantastic! 3 stars all up!

  • Mimi
    2019-03-25 23:13

    I have this impression that books written in the 40s are sunny and light, and don't address the seamier side of life, or if they do, they do it in a delicate way. Therefore, I was surprised at the frankness of this novel about an Irish immigrant family living in a Sydney slum in the early 20th century. More a series of vignettes than a solidified storyline, it was very interesting and eyeopening reading.

  • Antoinette Buchanan
    2019-04-23 00:21

    Such a great book. It was lovely to spend a few hours with the Darcy's and their neighbourhood again. I was Dolour's age when I read it first, and now I'm about Mumma's. And the intervening years have left me with a greater appreciation of Ruth Park's work - her humour, humanity and historian's eye.

  • Charmaine Clancy
    2019-03-23 02:23

    Australian classic. Good episodic tale of the trials and triumphs of The Darcy's of Surry Hills. There are some very endearing moments in this novel and it inspires nostalgia for those hard times that build the strongest bonds. I did find most of the turns in the story predictable and it left me longing for something to work out as a surprise and not what you would expect.