By Mike Ladd
Born: July 5, 1935, Boleroo Centre
Died: September 9, 2012, Adelaide.
Poet, playwright and short story writer John Griffin grew up at Hammond in the mid-north of South Australia, the son of a farmer and shop owner. The family farm was often in the grip of drought – John used to joke that Goyder’s line ran “right through the middle of our dining room.” The landscape of the Wilochra plain and the realities of its starve-acre farms are a strong feature of John’s writing. At Hammond primary school he was taught by the Jindiworobak poet Flexmore Hudson, a lucky event which helped begin his lifelong love of poetry and story-telling. The family sold the farm in 1950 and moved to Adelaide where John was already attending Sacred Heart College. John went on to teachers’ college and began a thirty-six year career as a high school teacher. Later he taught at Adelaide College for the Arts in the professional writing course.
John published two books of poetry in the 1970s: A Waltz on Stones (Makar,1974) and Menzies at Evening (Angus and Robertson, 1977). He was also an accomplished radio playwright, penning many plays for the ABC. One of his most successful was One Tango With Juan Peron, starring Robyn Nevin in the lead role. It was about a housewife who had such a vivid fantasy life she actually believed she had an intimate relationship with the famous Argentine president. John Griffin’s stories and radio-plays were often about ordinary people who had a secret somewhere, or a strange fantasy, revealing unexpected depths.
John was one of the driving forces in the early days of South Australia’s long-running Friendly Street poetry reading, and for a brief time was poetry editor of The Advertiser. Along with Peter Goldsworthy, Peter McFarlane, Barry Westburg and me, John was a member of the Hot Seat Writing Group which met at the Left Bank Cafe, long-since demolished. The members of the group helped to edit each other’s work, and despite forthright commentary, stayed good friends.
John’s last book Backyard, was published by Wakefield Press in 1997. Dedicated to his Italian father in law, it’s a collection of humble, illuminating memoirs and poems about a lifetime of gardening. John himself was a humble man. He was the last person to self-promote, though he could be quietly assertive. He leaves behind a significant contribution to South Australian literature.
In his final years John suffered from Lewy Body Dementia and was admitted to Tappeiner Court Nursing Home. He died there just two months after the death of his wife Tina. John is survived by his daughter Emma, and two sons, John and Andrew.