ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection

HMSS 0007 Ralph Wilson Papers

Scope and Content Notes 

Call Number HMSS 007

Ralph Wilson Papers

Date Range

1932 – 1992


4.34m (31 manuscript boxes) and 2 oversize packages

[Please note that the final quantity will change as the unprocessed audio and video material is progressively selected or culled.]
Access Conditions

Restricted access.

The papers and sound recordings were collected from Ralph Wilson’s home in Turner in October 1994, with assistance from Toni and Kyle, Ralph’s widow and son. Further material was collected from Turner and from Kyle’s home in O’Connor on 19 January 1995. Another consignment was brought to the Library in February 1995 by Lisa Angove, who had assisted the family in a final clean-up.  

A large component of the original consignment was audio and video tapes made by Ralph Wilson. While the great bulk are copies of professionally recorded performances and music (mostly on radio), and recordings of theatrical productions and sound effects used in these productions, there are a number of special recordings such as a radio interview with Ralph Wilson. A decision has been made to keep tapes and  videos which relate in some way to Wilson and to Canberra performing arts, and to cull the “non-original” recordings. These will either be referred to the National Film and Sound Archive or discarded. The process of checking each tape was continuing at the time this list was compiled.

File Number -
Related Collections -


Ralph Campbell Wilson was born in Newcastle in 1917, the son of a working-class family. At school he excelled in languages, then studied at Sydney University, where he became involved in theatrical scene, as well as in politics and unionism.

In 1949 he married Antonia Venn in Sydney and in 1954 they moved to Canberra. They had a son Kyle and a daughter, Harriette.

Wilson originally taught at Telopea Park School and later became principal of Canberra High School. His leisure hours were devoted to theatre. His great loves included German, French and Russian literature, European cinema. Classical music, wine and Scotch whisky.

Wilson produced over 200 plays for the Canberra stage and a theatre in Gorman House was named after him. Some of his notable productions (represented in these scripts and programs) were Gogol’s The Government Inspector, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and Brecht’s Mother Courage. The last production he undertook was Beckett’s play Footfalls

With Philip Mackenzie he founded the Classical Theatre Ensemble in the 1980s. Among this group’s productions were Tartouffe, The Country Wife and Lysistrata.

In 1988 he was awarded the Order of Australia and was also named The Canberra Times Canberran of the Year.

Wilson died on 28th May 1994.

Box List

Box No. Series No. File No. Description Date Range
1-3 1 1-4

General Correspondence

Letters from Kyle to Ralph on Kyle’s travels 

The 19 folders in this series contain letters, cards, invitation, postcards and enclosures dating roughly from 1968 to 1992. The correspondence is not sorted, but there are three distinct groups

In folder 1 there are three special items: a letter (photocopy) written by Wilson to his father just before the latter died (which did not reach him in time), a letter (photocopy) from Wilson to his sister about his father’s imminent death and enclosing the first letter, and an original account of a vivid dream which Wilson had in 1983. The originals of the photocopied letters are in Kyle Wilson’s possession.

Other letters are integrated with appropriate series. 

1-3 1 5-8

General Correspondence

Letters from Ralph to Kyle on Kyle’s travels

1-3 1 9-11

General Correspondence

Letters from Ralph to family

3-7 2

Diaries and Notebooks

Volumes 1-15 consist of diaries

Ralph Wilson’s diaries are more than simply records of events. They contain reflections, comments, lists and pasted-in items. In this respect they merge to some extent with the notebooks.

3-7 2

Diaries and Notebooks


3-7 2

Diaries and Notebooks

Volumes 16-31 are notebooks

7-8 3 1-15

Loose Notes and Writings

There are 15 folders in no order. Included are photocopies articles on which Wilson made annotations. One item by Wilson of particular interest (two copies in Folder 6) is Chekhov Plays in Performance, background notes to the Canberra productions of Checkhov, March to May 1987.

9-10 4 1-13

Files on Topics

These 13 folders and two bags contain material such as notes, articles and cuttings which were found to be in untitled manila files. With many of them it is hard to discern a common theme, but some items are clearly grouped around a topic or theme, for example Hedda Gabler.

10-17 5


These unsorted boxes contain copies of scripts which Ralph Wilson made for performances. Many of them are annotated by him. The numerous duplicates of the scripts have not been kept, unless they contain substantial annotations.
18-21 6 1-31

Canberra High School

These 31 folders, arranged in rough date order (1970 – 1981) contain school photographs (individual and class), photocopies of photographs, and class and staff lists. There are also a few letters and reports on students. Many of the annotations aided Wilson in identifying students by sight.
22 7 1-6

Drama Groups, Classes in Drama, Languages and Literature

The largest group represented in these 6 folders is the Canberra Repertory Society, for which there is a substantial quantity of audition sheets. There are also documents pertaining to Rawil Productions, Stage, Stable Productions (Sydney) and the Wagga Wagga School of Arts. Matters discussed in these items include performing and publishing rights

22 8 1-4


These folders contain information about grants, together with grant applications, in no order.
22-24 9 1-13

Programs, Blurbs, Class Lists etc.

In these folders are mainly theatre programs, plus some other brochures, in no order.

22-24 9 10-11

Programs, Blurbs, Class Lists etc.

Of special note are Canberra Repertory Society programs and issues of Repertory Review

24-25 10 1-12

Press Cuttings

There are 12 folders of unsorted cuttings, one scrap book and two bags in this series.

26-27 11 1-4

Photographs and Slides

This series is made up of four folders of prints and snapshots, two printing blocks and three rolled photographs, together with several small containers of coloured slides.

27 11

Photographs and Slides

Three reel-to-reel tapes from Series 14 have also been placed in Box 27.
28 12 1-4


This series, mostly comprising original watercolours, is made up of 4 folders, a drawing book and an oversize package. Not all the paintings were executed by Wilson; there are a few commercial-type prints by other artists 

19 13 1-5


These folders include brochures on wine and spirits and other publications, items written by others, a few bank statements, and various other items. There is also a book of Shakespeare’s Othello, annotated by Wilson. Also copy of book The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Gillet.
30 + 14 Audio and Video Cassettes. Reel-to-reel Tapes
Oversized packages

Photographs, posters and certificates (including the award for Medal of the Order of Australia).