Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community
Below is the first of our Australian profiles. We hope that members of the Australian Jewish community from all walks of life will eventually be represented. Everyone is welcome to submit short biographies (or autobiographies) which you think appropriate.
Morry Swerdlin was born in England in 1917 into a typical Jewish family. As he recalls, "My bubbe wore a sheitle and my zeida had a long beard. We kept kosher, not because we necessarily believed or questioned, but because everyone kept kosher. It was simply the way of life."
Morry's Judaism has never left him and throughout his time in Australia he has been actively involved with Jewish communal affairs helping the UIA (United Israel Appeal), Manly Warringah Jewish Group, the JNF (Jewish National Fund) and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. He also taught Cheder (Sunday School) and very many of his former students remember him with love and gratitude.
Just as his parents inspired his love of Judaism it was his high school English teacher who inspired him to write. A teacher "who made you love the English language, ironically a Welshman called Jones, with poetry in his soul".
After a series of jobs in accounting and insurance during the Depression and post-Depression years Morry's business career was cut short by the Second World War. With the outbreak of war Morry immediately joined the army's Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers as a radio technician and during this time he married his lifetime partner, Zelda. Later a son and daughter were born. Morry kept a daily diary of his military life and wrote to Zelda every single day.
"It was hard to find what to write about. I discovered that writing is a discipline, you simply have to sit down and write and not get up until you have finished. You find yourself describing things you might not otherwise have given a second remembrance."
Morry spent six years in the army but the joy of demobilisation was somewhat dampened by the difficulties of civil life in post- war, depressed London. It was hard to make a living but eventually Morry established a small wholesale business in radio and electrical parts. Morry battled on, so it took three years, after a suggestion from relatives in Australia, for the family to decide to emigrate as ten-pound* migrants.
Accommodation was expensive and the family was helped out by friends and family. This meant starting life in Sydney with Zelda and daughter, Julie, billeted with an aunt in Petersham and Morry with son Michael in Vaucluse with friends. With his usual good humour Morry comments "It was like dating all over again. We had this complicated schedule of arrangements and bus timetables so as to see each other." Morry found work in the electrical parts industry and became the Sydney manager of a firm importing professional sound equipment. Eventually the family bought a home in Lane Cove on Sydney's leafy North shore.
In 1969 Morry re-focussed on his life-long ambition to be a professional writer by attending a creative writing course tutored by the writer Mona Brand. As part of this course he was set an exercise to write a 3 minute sketch as it would be performed on the Mavis Bramston Show, which was then at the peak of its popularity. The sketch was so well received, he was advised to send it to Channel 7. It was accepted, Morry was paid $60 and asked to write further sketches for the show, as well as for its off-shoots, the Mavis Bramston Special and True Blue.
During this time Morry wrote his first full-length play, "Same Difference". After several knockbacks he offered it to Hayes Gordon at the Ensemble Theatre. Gordon immediately picked it up for production in 1972. It was a hit, running to packed houses at the Ensemble for three months. It later played to Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and New Zealand, before returning to Sydney's Bondi Pavilion Theatre.
In 1979, Morry had another full-length play, "Bargain Time", produced at the Australian Theatre in Newtown. Morry continued to write after this but had no success with his new scripts. His work was out of sight for a few years, but not forgotten by the producer Christopher Cummings who got in touch with Morry to share his ideas for a revival of "Same Difference".
"Same Difference" was adapted as a musical for a second season at the Bondi Pavilion in 1994 during which time writer and producer developed an excellent working relationship and friendship. Morry showed Christopher his draft of "Board Decision" which he had begun writing in 1987 and they made the decision to work on it together.
"Board Decision" is a story of how a man's life is affected when his Board decides to terminate his employment after 20 years of faithful service. It is the culmination of years of experience Morry himself has had sitting on 'Boards' for many organisations where he had the chance to witness first-hand both the good and bad aspects of their operation. Despite the serious theme of the story, "Board Decision", which premieres in Sydney on Saturday March 29th - May 3rd 1997 is told with great humour and compassion.
It is a reflection, too, of Morry's community mindedness (and Christopher's support) that WIZO (Womens International Zionist Organisation) has the entire theatre for one night and some free tickets have been donated to JOIN.
The Sydney Jewish community is truly enriched by having Morry Swerdlin among us.
* 10 pounds (Sterling) was the special subsidised fare available to English migrants to travel by ship to Australia.
Copyright © 1997 J.O.I.N.