Guide to the Papers of Louis Nowra

MS 10042

National Library of Australia

Date completed: October 2007
Last updated: December 2007

This finding aid is published with the assistance of the Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust.

Collection Summary

Creator: Nowra, Louis, 1950-
Title: Papers of Louis Nowra
Date Range: 1971-1999
Collection Number: MS 10042
Extent: 2.85 m. (19 boxes) + 13 folio boxes
Repository: National Library of Australia


Scope and Content

The papers consist of correspondence, diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, literary manuscripts, photographs and personal and business papers. The correspondence largely relates to Nowra's professional activities. Correspondents include Jim Sharman, Nadia Tass, Vincent Ward, Veronica Kelly and Bob Herbert-Hay. Details of the contents of the notebooks and about the literary works were supplied by Louis Nowra in list form. Relevant sections of the list have been copied and are located in Folder 1 or Folio Box 1 in the series to which they refer. Not all items on the original list were received by the Library.


The order has been imposed on the collection by the Library although the series arrangement employed is loosely based on categories outlined by Louis Nowra in a list supplied with the papers. The majority of the papers were in folders or scrapbooks when received and the internal order of papers inside these containers has been retained.


The collection is available for reference.


The papers were purchased by the Library from Louis Nowra in 1999 (Acc99/161).

Copying and Publishing

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Related Material

A biographical cuttings file on Louis Nowra is held in the Newspaper and Microform Reading Room.

In the Oral History Section, interviews of Louis Nowra are held at ORAL TRC 1/1213 and ORAL TRC 5217/15, and an address by Nowra at the National Press Club in 1993 can be found at ORAL TRC 4365.

A photograph of Louis Nowra is held in the Pictures Collection and is available online at

Correspondence of Louis Nowra is held in the following collections of personal papers and organisational records in the Manuscript Collection: Dave Riley (MS 9684); Currency Press (MS 8084); Alex Buzo (MS 6383); and John Bell and Anna Volska (MS 8864).

Literary manuscripts and published works of Louis Nowra are also held in the following collections of personal paper and organisational records in the Manuscript Collection: Nicholas Hasluck (MS 8328); Patrick White (MS 9982); Currency Press (MS 8084); and Jack Hibberd (MS 6607).

Nowra's published works are listed on the Library's catalogue, which can be searched online via the Library's website at

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Louis Nowra, National Library of Australia, MS 10042, [series and/or folder number]'.

Biographical Note

Louis Nowra was born in Melbourne in 1950 as Mark Doyle. He developed a love of theatre in childhood through school plays and exposure to J.C. Williamson productions where his uncle, Bob Herbert (also known as Bob Herbert-Hay), was stage manager. He studied at Melbourne's La Trobe University without completing a degree. In the early 1970s he changed his name to Louis Nowra.

Nowra lived an itinerant lifestyle until the mid-1970s when his plays began to attract attention. His first plays were written at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne in 1973. He was resident playwright of the Sydney Theatre Company in 1979-1980 and has held administrative positions in several other theatre companies as well as directing theatre and opera productions, including a period as Associate Director at Adelaide's Lighthouse State Theatre Company in 1982-1983. Nowra has been a writer-in-residence at the University of Queensland where he also lectured, and in 1988 held the position of lecturer in Australian Drama at Yale University. In 1996 Nowra was awarded an honorary doctorate by Griffith University.

Whilst Nowra is best known for his many plays, his output includes opera libretti and song cycles, fiction, non-fiction, autobiography and writing for film, radio and television. He has translated plays for the Australian stage, including Cyrano de Bergerac. In collaboration with his first wife, Sarah de Jong, Nowra wrote the music for a number of his plays and other productions.

Nowra's work has attracted many awards, including: the Prix Italia Drama Award (1990) for Summer of the aliens; the New South Wales State Literary Award for Plays (1992) for Cosi ; the Canada-Australia Literary Award (1993); the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, Louis Esson Prize for Drama (1994) for The temple; and the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (1996) for Cosi.

Harris, Samela . 'Reluctant elitist writes with dedicated fervor', The Australian, 20 May 1982, p. 8.
Nowra, Louis. 'How I became stagestruck', The Australian, 12 January 1985, 'Good weekend' pp. 34-35.
Austlit database entry for Louis Nowra (2007?)
Wikipedia entry for Louis Nowra (2007)

Series List and Descriptions

Series 1 Diaries, c. 1975-1982, 1992-1995

This series consists of an annotated desk calendar, some loose pages and two volumes of personal diaries, and loose appointment diary pages. The personal diaries document Nowra's work, the plays, films and books he was reading or viewing, and collaborations he was involved in at the time (notably with Jim Sharman, Rex Cramphorn and Stephen Sewell).

Folder 1 Penthouse desk calendar, 1975
Bag 2 Diary, 1979

Includes entries describing: working on 'Beauty and the beast' with Rex Cramphorn; Nowra's play, Precious woman; and contacts with Jim Sharman and Richard Wherrett.

Bag 3 Diary and loose pages from a diary, 1980, 1982

Entries include references to Jim Sharman, Stephen Sewell and Nowra's play, 'Spellbound'.

Folders 4-7 Filofax pages, 1992-1995

Series 2 Correspondence, c. 1978-1998

This series consists of letters, faxes and cards, largely relating to Nowra's publishing, theatre and film activities and professional appearances at festivals and other events. Dispersed throughout the series are letters and faxes to and from Nowra's agents, Hilary Linstead and Associates. In addition there is a small number of letters from family members: sister Michelle Bentley, Nowra's father and his uncle, Bob Herbert-Hay. Outgoing correspondence is present in the form of faxes only.

Business correspondence appears in all folders in the series and only where there are significant amounts of mail on a particular topic are these highlighted in the folder descriptions below. Apart from a small amount of loose papers, the correspondence was filed inside folders and envelopes with handwritten notes on the outside of each container providing dates. The internal order of the containers has been retained and each container of correspondence has been placed into an archival folder. The folders have been arranged chronologically by the Library.

Folder 1 Correspondence, 1988-1989

Includes: theatre company and Australia Council contracts; a copy of a letter to the editor by Patrick White on the subject of Nowra's play, Visions; letters from Richard Wherrett; and correspondence relating to the 1988 International October Writers' Meeting held in Yugoslavia at which Nowra delivered the first Miles Franklin Memorial Lecture.

Folder 2 Correspondence, 1989

Includes faxes sent by Nowra whilst in Ireland, contracts and financial papers.

Folder 3 Correspondence, 1992-1993

Includes letters from Juliet Taylor and Clifton (Cliff) Dolliver.

Folder 4 Correspondence, 1992-1993

Includes: letters from Nadia Tass, Vincent Ward and Veronica Kelly; financial papers; and correspondence in relation to the 1994 Canada-Australia Literature Award bestowed on Nowra for his complete body of work at that time.

Folders 5-6 Correspondence, 1994-1995

Includes: letters from Veronica Kelly, Nadia Tass and Vincent Ward; contracts and financial papers; correspondence with the Australia Council, the Canada-Australia Literature Award organisers and the Association for the Study of Australian Literature relating to grants and awards received by Nowra; and a copy of an article, 'Is there a Santa Claus?', written by Nowra for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Folder 7 Correspondence, 1995-1996

Includes: correspondence with Zootango (theatre company) about a production of Nowra's 'Deceit'; correspondence relating to the 1995 Canberra Word Festival; letters from the Australia Council about Nowra's appointment to the Writing for Performance Committee; financial papers; and letters from Vincent Ward and Veronica Kelly.

Folder 8 Correspondence, 1995-1996

Includes: correspondence with Griffith University relating to an honorary doctorate being awarded to Nowra; a short article by Nowra, 'Composers and librettists', describing his libretti-writing projects; and letters from Veronica Kelly, Nadia Tass, Vincent Ward, Bob Herbert-Hay (containing family history information) and actors writing about their parts in a production of 'Miss Bosnia'.

Folder 9 Memorandum of agreement for a screenplay by Nowra for a proposed film, Nobody, nowhere, 1996
Folders 10-11 Correspondence, 1996

Includes: letters from family members, Bob Herbert-Hay (Nowra's uncle), Nowra's father and his sister, Michelle Bentley; correspondence relating to Nowra's membership of the Australia Council's Literature Fund; correspondence and legal papers associated with a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) case against Nowra's play, 'Miss Bosnia' (see also Series 8 for further papers relating to this case); business papers relating to Nowra's company, Amanita Pty Ltd; and letters from Veronica Kelly and Vincent Ward.

Folder 12 Correspondence, 1997

Includes letters from Hugh Piper, Jim Sharman, Tim Bevan, Vincent Ward and Bob Herbert-Hay.

Folder 13 Correspondence, 1997

Includes set designs and a letter from Jim Sharman relating to a proposed play by Nowra, 'Flame'.

Folders 14-17 Postcards and greeting cards, c. 1978-1998

Series 3 Personal, business and financial papers, 1989-1996

This series comprises family history material, Nowra's honorary doctorate certificate, royalty statements and taxation records.

Folder 1 Family history information, 1989

Research material gathered by Nowra's sister, Michelle Bentley, with covering letters. It includes family memoirs and genealogical information used by Nowra in his autobiography, The twelfth of never: a memoir.

Bag 2 Citation and degree certificate for honorary doctorate presented to Nowra by Griffith University, 1995-1996
Folders 3-4 Taxation papers, 1992-1993, 1995-1996
Folder 5 Financial records, 1995-1996
Folder 6 Currency Press royalty statements, 1996

Series 4 Notebooks, 1985-c. 1999

This series consists of 17 numbered notebooks compiled by Nowra between 1985-1998, and three others used for specific writing projects. The notebooks contain handwritten notes and cuttings relating to Nowra's works. Details of the contents of the numbered notebooks were supplied by Nowra in the form of a list, a copy of which is in Folder 1 of this series. Two notebooks used by Nowra when writing 'The storm' can be found in Series 5 (Bag 53). Loose notes relating to specific works can also be found in Series 5-9. Some of the notebooks contain only cuttings and may have served a similar purpose to that of the scrapbooks in Series 10.

Folder 1 List of contents of the numbered notebooks, c. 1999
Volumes 2-18 Numbered notebooks, 1985-1998

The numbered notebooks form a numerical sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5a, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10a, 11, 12, 13, 13a and 14.

Bag 19 Notebook: 'Encyclopedia notes' , c. 1988

Notes for Abaza: a modern encyclopedia.

Bag 20 Notebooks: 'Auto' (ie autobiography) and 'Greek fire', c. 1996

Series 5 Writings of Louis Nowra, c. 1974-c. 1999

This series contains material produced by Nowra during the writing of his plays, screenplays, fiction, non-fiction and libretti. It includes notes, drafts, typescripts and copies of his literary works. The works have been arranged alphabetically by title by the Library. Correspondence which was found amongst the papers has been left in place. Information about the works included in the folder descriptions below was supplied by Nowra in the form of a list, a copy of which is in Folder 1 of this series. Four works have been separated from this series and can be found in later series: 'Map of the human heart' (Series 6), 'Half breed' (Series 7), 'Miss Bosnia' (Series 8) and 'K-19: the widowmaker' (Series 9).

Folder 1 List of literary manuscripts, c. 1999
Folder 2 'Beatrice': original manuscript of draft screenplay, 1984
Folder 3 'Beauty and the beast' by Rex Cramphorn and Louis Nowra: original manuscript
Folder 4 'Beirut': scene breakdown by Louis Nowra and Stephen Sewell
Folder 5 'Black and blue' by Louis Nowra and Hugh Piper, 1998

Story by Hugh Piper.

Folder 6 'Black fire': character descriptions and an overview for the first 90 minute episode, photocopy
Folder 7 'Byzantine flowers': rehearsal draft, photocopy
Folder 8 Capricornia (mini-series), episode one, 'Sins of their fathers': draft manuscript, photocopy, 1995

Adaptation of the book by Xavier Herbert.

Folders 9-10 The cheated: original photographs and photocopy
Folders 11-13 Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, translated by Louis Nowra: photocopies of script and original notes taken during the rehearsal period
Folder 14 'Dance on dancer' (song cycle), lyrics by Louis Nowra and music by Sarah de Jong: typescript copy, 1974

One of the singers listed in the credits is Pam Tassopulos (aka Nadia Tass).

Folder 15 'The death of Joe Orton': original manuscript, 1974
Folders 16-18 'Deceit': rehearsal draft, prompt copy and program, poster and production photographs from Zootango production, 1996
Folder 19 'Directly from my heart to you' (Tale three of 'Twisted tales'): final draft, photocopy, 1996
Folder 20 A distant shore (song cycle), lyrics by Louis Nowra and music by Andrew Schultz: original manuscript and letter from composer, c. 1988
Folder 21 'Dreamhouses': [corrected copy], 1974
Folder 22 'The drowners': outline, 1997
Folder 23 'Elvis killed my brother': draft screenplay, original manuscript, and director's suggestions and notes, 1994
Folders 24-25 'Fallen angels': film script and research material, 1987

See also radio play draft entitled 'The temple of fallen angels' (Folder 58).

Folder 26 'Heaven's burning': draft manuscript, 1996

See also Folio 26A in Folio Box 1, which is an enlarged press cutting about censorship of the film.

Folders 27-28 'Holy fire': notes, outline by Louis Nowra and Vincent Ward and research material c. 1986-1992

Includes papers relating to 'Map of the human heart' and 'The fever'.

Folders 29-30 The incorruptible: notes, correspondence, rehearsal draft, revised scenes and research material, 1995-1996

Papers relating to the original Playbox (1995) and Sydney Theatre Company (1996) productions.

Folder 31 'Jim Sharman's films': original manuscript for proposed book on Jim Sharman
Bag 32 The jungle: original script
Folder 33 'Lethal dreams': screenplay, photocopy, 1987
Folder 34 Love burns: libretto by Louis Nowra, music by Graeme Koehne
Folder 35 'Lulu', by Frank Wedekind, adapted by Nowra: script, photocopies, and program for opera
Folder 36 'The matchmaker': shooting draft based on revised script, 1996
Bag 37 'Moon of the exploding trees': original manuscript, radio play, 1994
Folder 38 'Mountains of the mist', episode 2: 'The rules of the game'
Folder and Bag 39-40 Palu: screenplay, original manuscript, and Hungarian translation, 1997
Folder 41 'The princess of Malaya': documentary proposal and screenplay, 1994
Folders 42-43 Radiance: shooting scripts, plus extra lines for Priest, 1997
Folder 44 'The recruiting officer': original notes
Bag 45 Red nights, written by Louis Nowra in collaboration with Jim Sharman: screenplay, 1984
Folder and Bag 46-47 Red nights: original manuscripts and notes for novel and press clippings of reviews, c. 1995-1997
Bags 48-49 'Royal show': working draft, photocopy, and promotional 'showbags'
Folder 50 The song room: screenplay, photocopy
Bag 51 'Spellbound': rehearsal script, photocopy
Folder and bag 52-53 'The storm': original research material, notes and notebooks containing a second draft
Bag 54 'The storyteller': shooting script with story boards, 1997
Folder 55 Summer of the aliens: first draft screenplay, notes and images, 1992
Bag 56 'Sydney': radio play, photocopy
Folder 57 The temple: published script with revisions for a Sydney season, c. 1993
Folder 58 'The temple of fallen angels': radio play, first draft

See also film script and research material under 'Fallen angels' (Folders 24-25).

Folder 59 'Ten anecdotes about Lord Howe Island': manuscript in long hand on index cards
Folder 60 'The watchtower': original notes
Bag 61 Whitsunday, music by Brian Howard, libretto by Louis Nowra: libretto, copies
Bags 62-63 'The widows': radio play, photocopy, and stage version, revised draft, c. 1994
Folder 64 Miscellaneous writings: research material and notes relating to a work possibly entitled 'Andalusia', 1991
Folder 65 Miscellaneous writings: journal articles by Louis Nowra, 1985, c. 1990-1995
Folder 66 Miscellaneous loose notes and research material

Series 6 'Map of the human heart', c. 1991

This series comprises notes, a photocopy of an early version and shooting scripts for Louis Nowra's screenplay, 'Map of the human heart', and a spiral-bound volume of notes and published diary entries entitled 'The making of "Map of the human heart"'.

5 Bags

Series 7 'Half breed', by Louis Nowra and Gerri Williams, 1992-1994

This series comprises research material and a proposal for a six-part documentary series entitled 'Half breed'.

5 Folders and 1 Bag

Series 8 'Miss Bosnia', c. 1994-1997

This series consists of: press cuttings, possibly used as research material in the writing of 'Miss Bosnia'; promotional material for a production of the play by a University of Queensland theatre group; and correspondence and legal papers relating to an inquiry into 'Miss Bosnia' by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. See also Series 2, Folders 10-11 for further papers associated with this inquiry.

3 Folders

Series 9 'K-19: the widowmaker', 1996-1997

This series comprises research material, financial papers, correspondence, draft outlines and draft scripts for 'K-19: the widowmaker'.

7 Folders

Series 10 Scrapbooks, c. 1973-1999

This series consists of 75 numbered scrapbooks compiled by Louis Nowra and described by him as 'a series of newspapers and magazine cuttings ranging from odd spots [sic] to fashion, to cartoons, to political articles, to current events of which several incidents have been the basis for plays and novels.' The contents of the scrapbooks include news articles about violent crime, graphic material, reviews of Nowra's work and articles in which he is the subject or interviewee. The numerical sequence of the scrapbooks is not continuous as the Library received only selected volumes. Where the same number has been allocated to more than one scrapbook, the Library has added 'a'and 'b' to differentiate between them. The date ranges for each folio box of scrapbooks reflect the publication dates of the cuttings.

The first four scrapbooks in the series (numbers 3-6) differ from the remainder as they contain largely handwritten notes entered by Nowra when developing structure and dialogue for various works. The dates for the scrapbooks and the works to which the handwritten notes relate are identified in a list supplied by Nowra, a copy of which is in Folio Box 1 of this series. The next four scrapbooks in Folio Box 1 (numbers 98, 103-104 and 106) were apparently used by Nowra as source material for his book, The cheated.

Folio Box 1 Scrapbooks numbered 3-6, 98, 103-104, 106 (8 scrapbooks), c. 1976-1978, 1996-1998

Scrapbooks 3-6 were compiled by Nowra between 1996-1998. The remaining scrapbooks in Folio Box 1 contain cuttings dating from c. 1976-1978.

Folio Box 2 Scrapbooks numbered 113, 116, 119, 123-124, 129-130 (7 scrapbooks), 1977-1979
Folio Box 3 Scrapbooks numbered 131, 135, 137, 143, 145-146, 154 (7 scrapbooks), c. 1976-1981
Folio Box 4 Scrapbooks numbered 155-156, 159-161, 163, 166 (7 scrapbooks), c. 1973-1982
Folio Box 5 Scrapbooks numbered 167, 169-172, 178 (6 scrapbooks), 1980-1986
Folio Box 6 Scrapbooks numbered 179, 181-182, 184, 188 (5 scrapbooks), c. 1982-1988
Folio Box 7 Scrapbooks numbered 189-194 (6 scrapbooks), 1986-1988
Folio Box 8 Scrapbooks numbered 195-200 (6 scrapbooks), 1987-1990
Folio Box 9 Scrapbooks numbered 201-202, 205-208 (6 scrapbooks), 1990-1993
Folio Box 10 Scrapbooks numbered 209-211, 213-215 (6 scrapbooks), 1992-1996
Folio Box 11 Scrapbooks numbered 216-223 (8 scrapbooks), c. 1992-1997
Folio Box 12 Scrapbooks numbered 224-231a, 231b (8 scrapbooks), 1996-1998
Folio Box 13 Scrapbooks numbered 232, 234, 237a, 237b, 238-240 (7 scrapbooks), 1998-1999

Series 11 Programs, publications and reviews, c. 1971-1998

This series comprises: programs, posters and fliers for productions of Nowra's plays or plays or operas he directed; theatre reports; journals containing articles about Nowra; and cuttings of articles about Nowra and of reviews of his works. The programs have been arranged alphabetically by play/opera title by the Library.

Folder 1 Programs, posters and fliers for plays or operas - B-C, c. 1992-1994
Folder 2 Programs, posters and fliers for plays or operas - D-I, 1977, c. 1987-1996
Folder 3 Programs, posters and fliers for plays or operas - J-L, c. 1981-1995
Folder 4 Programs, posters and fliers for plays or operas - M, 1976, 1995-1997
Folder 5 Programs, posters and fliers for plays or operas - N-S, 1982-1984, 1993-1997
Folder 6 Programs, posters and fliers for plays or operas - T-W, c. 1982-1988
Folder and Bag 7-8 Articles about Louis Nowra, 1993-1994
Bag 9 Thesis by Nicole Gross-Parsons: 'Le rôle de traducteur dans la traduction de textes dramatiques', 1995
Folder 10 Miscellaneous publications, catalogues and articles, c. 1971-1998

Series 12 Photographs, c. 1992-1996

This series contains photographs, largely informal snapshots of Louis Nowra with other people and travel photographs. The remainder consist of photographs of a submarine and of an amateur production of one of Nowra's plays.

3 Folders

Series 13 Graphic material, c. 1996

This series contains a variety of graphic material, including books of collaged press cuttings apparently compiled by Nowra, and published items.

Folder 1 Books of collaged press cuttings

Consists of one exercise book entitled 'A geography of emotion, volume 1 (included in "Every dream home a heartache")', and one bound volume of photocopied pages of collaged press cuttings.

Folder 2 Sketches of faces
Folder 3 A comic book by, and a picture of, cartoonist John Kricsalusi, c. 1996
Bag 4 Publication: Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood
Folder 5 Framed picture and greeting card of mushrooms
Folder 6 Program for the wedding of 'Joel and Sandra', 1995

Container List

Series Folder/Item Box
1 1-7 1
2 1 1
2 2-9 2
2 10-17 3
3 1-6 4
4 1-11 5
4 12-20 6
5 1-9 7
5 10-19 8
5 20-26 9
5 26A Folio Box 1
5 27 9
5 28-35 10
5 36-45 11
5 46-53 12
5 54-61 13
5 62-66 14
6 1-4 14
6 5 15
7 1-6 15
8 1-3 16
9 1-3 16
9 4-7 17
10 Folio Boxes 1-13
11 1-4 17
11 5-10 18
12 1-3 18
13 1-6 19