Poor Man’s Orange: A question of teeth
Dola Darcy (Kaarin Fairfax) has offered her mother (Anne Phelan) the money to have her teeth done, as part of a campaign to help her look attractive so she can keep her husband from having affairs with other women. Dola is trying to help Mumma to get ready, but her mother keeps finding strategies to avoid going, such as hiding her hat. Dola finally succeeds in getting her mother to the dentist. Summary by Janet Bell.
Anyone who grew up in the immediate postwar era remembers a trip to the dentist for the primitive experience it was, so Mumma’s terrors, although hilarious, were very real to many of the TV audience.
One of the stigmas of the underclass even today is lack of dental hygiene. With regular dental care still beyond the reach of really poor Australians, there’s no more obvious sign of poverty than a mouthful of bad teeth. Until the 1970s and the advent of fluoridation, it was still common for a poor family to offer their prospective son-in-law the present of a new set of false teeth for his bride. The idea was to save the husband the expense of any future dental work for his wife.
Poor Man's Orange synopsis
The story begins just a few years after the end of Harp in the South and continues the story of the Darcys, an Irish-Australian family, and their local community in Surry Hills, after the Second World War. It is a time when the inner-city, for so long the domain of sly grog shops, bawdy houses and a refuge for country people down on their luck, is about to be transformed by gentrification.
Roie Darcy (Anna Hruby) is married to part-Aboriginal Charlie (Shane Connor), whose resentful mother-in-law fears his 'dark blood’ will be visited on her grandchildren. The couple are always looking for somewhere to live, nearby but separate from the family. However, rents are prohibitive and there is a housing shortage. There’s a second child on the way adding urgency to their quest.
Roie’s father, Hughie Darcy (Martyn Sanderland) has been seeing a local prostitute who is bleeding him of any spare cash. His wife Mumma (Anne Phelan) wonders what she can do to compete with this younger, more attractive woman. Then Roie’s pregnancy goes tragically wrong and the family are forced back upon themselves. The youngest in the family, Dola (Kaarin Fairfax), must give up school. She grows up quickly, finding a role at the centre of events, becoming the new linchpin of the family.
Poor Man's Orange curator's notes
The title Poor Man’s Orange refers to having to make do with second best. This is the choice facing Dola after her sister’s death. She is prepared to follow in the footsteps of her beloved sister and marry Charlie although she realises she can never replace Roie for Charlie. It’s a very different sort of love which will sustain her in her new life, a sort of poor man’s orange 'with its bitter rind, paler flesh and stinging, exultant bitter tang’ to quote Ruth Park’s words in the novel.
When the first of the two miniseries, Harp in the South was still in the cutting room, it was so admired by Network Ten’s then head of drama Valerie Hardy that she immediately commissioned this second series. This time George Whaley both adapted the book and directed the series.
Producer Tony Buckley says that this sort of miniseries could no longer be made. The Surry Hills streets are now gentrified and it’s unlikely a production could get permission for such long-term street closures that enabled the shooting of these series. Tony is proud that no CGI (computer generated images) were used in the production.
Notes by Janet Bell