A legacy built across five decades within the arts is being brought into focus following the death of Mary Ward at the age of 106.
Ward appeared in more than 20 television series throughout her career, including Prisoner, Sons and Daughters, Neighbours, and Blue Heelers.
She passed away peacefully at a Melbourne aged care facility on Monday morning.
In a statement made to IF, the Ward and Breheny family of which she is survived said their relative was not only an inspiring pioneer of the arts with her radio, film, and television career, but also for women of her generation.
“Mary was a strong independent woman who set off overseas at 20 years old to make her mark on the world and that she certainly did,” they said.
“While the family is saddened by her passing, we are honoured to be related to such an amazing woman.”
Ward’s time in the entertainment industry has been highlighted by a series of ‘firsts’.
Born in Western Australia, she studied drama in Perth before travelling to the UK in 1938 to further her training, going on to become a member of many repertory companies alongside luminaries as Trevor Howard and John McCallum.
The outbreak of war after a two-week closure saw theatre become an important part of the British lifestyle and Ward was in constant demand.
She returned to Perth in August, 1940, but found it necessary to travel east to Sydney, where she joined the Minerva Theatre under the direction of David Martin and later in productions at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre.
Her stage success led her to the ABC, where she was one of the first female announcers alongside Dorothy Crawford.
The remainder of the war years saw her gain acclaim as “The Forces Sweetheart” on Radio Australia combating the propaganda expounded by the infamous “Tokyo Rose”, and performances in radio plays for the commercial stations.
In 1947 she appeared in the film Eureka Stockade with Chips Rafferty and continued her radio work in numerous serials and stage appearances. Ward returned to the UK in 1948 to pursue opportunities in theatre, films, radio and television, appearing in the first live-to-air serial on ITV.
She would also achieve another first in the UK, performing “live” commercials as a sewing demonstrator for a program sponsored by Vogue when commercial television was introduced.
After returning to Melbourne in 1956, Ward was heavily involved in the early years of Australian television drama, working in all the early ABC Productions, before progressing to successful Crawford and Grundy television dramas, including a sustaining role as Jeanette ‘Mum’ Brooks in the long-running series, Prisoner.
She continued to be a pioneer in the media, becoming the first woman to broadcast fashion from the Melbourne Cup Race Carnival in the early 60s.
Later on, Ward would also make appearances in The Henderson Kids, G.P, and The Damnation of Harvey McHugh, as well as in feature films Jenny Kissed Me and In Search of Anna.
Her family said her love for her profession and her fans was constantly on display.
“When she was still out and about in her 90s she would stop and talk to fans on the street and even for her 105th birthday last year when she was shown the 600 plus birthday messages she was sent, she said, ‘I must reply to them all’,” they said.