Mary Hardy

Loud, Rude and Strangely Likeable
Mary Hardy with co-worker, Graham Kennedy.
 Image from "The  Age" newspaper.
Eccentric, vibrant and a tad acerbic, sister of writer Frank Hardy and Great Aunt of opinion-dropper Marieke Hardy, entertainer Mary Hardy was a familiar figure on radio and TV to many Australians in the 1960s and 70s.

My mother, who, it must be said, held certain snooty bourgeois pretensions, never liked her and on more than one occasion described her as 'vulgar', a term which, to my childish ear, always carried a cachet of intrigue and sparked a curiosity for the person or thing thus described. 

From the beginning, I guiltily found Mary more than a little fascinating and very different from most of the other blandly respectable television personalities my mother favoured - she was, after all, the first woman to say the 'F' word on Australian television. In an era of cute barrel girls and delightfully-mannered hostesses,  as a female entertainer she was so...brash. Not everyone appreciated her refreshing lack of inhibition of course and she could easily rub people up the wrong way, including my mother, who valued niceness above candour.

Never a beauty, a condition she was only too well aware of herself, Mary refused to be ignored and managed to garner a place in the spotlight via the strength of her wit and personality and at a time when not many female television personalities could manage it. In the early days of Australian TV, physical attractiveness and a certain discreet nod to the established male order was a prerequisite for success for women in that medium.

Novelist Frank Hardy
Mary Hardy had come from a large, raucous Catholic family [though her father was an atheist]. One of eight children, the Hardy's were of modest means but politically conscious and creatively ambitious. Mary's birth in 1931 coincided with the Great Depression. Her brother Frank was a notorious red-ragger best known for his novel, Power Without Glory, a story of political corruption, originally commissioned by the communist party. Mary, the youngest of the eight Hardy children, made her debut stage appearance at the Bacchus Marsh Mechanics Hall. At 12, after the death of her father she moved to Melbourne with her mother.

Unlike many celebrities, Mary Hardy never removed herself too far from the average Joe, maintaining an easy rapport with her public and therein lay a big part of her appeal. Perhaps she made a point of never losing touch with those early working-class roots.  In the video below, a couple of literary tourists filmed the old Hardy house at 48 Lederderg St, Bachus Marsh, a country town West of Melbourne.  Interestingly, it was the same street in which novelist Peter Carey lived.

The All-round Entertainer
Although we were never officially allowed to watch Penthouse Club [way too vulgar], a vehicle for televised horse-racing, which aired on HSV7 in the 70s, I would occasionally catch snippets of Mary and her quick-draw ad lib wit in between the 'trots' on that show and later, on radio 3AW. There was something about Mary that was so essentially Australian or at least a particular strain of Australian - outspoken, comical, irreverent, yes, vulgar and an oddly affecting mix of confidence and self-deprecation.

By the time I discovered Mary she was already well into her 40s but many older Melbournians remembered her from her successful stage work and satirical reviews in the 1950s as well as her 3UZ afternoon show and her appearances with Graham Kennedy and Noel Ferrier on In Melbourne Tonight a popular variety show[also deemed irredeemably tasteless by my ever-watchful mother] which aired on HSV7 in the 1960s. Hardy was a versatile performer, at her best in the live arena where her spontaneous wit could bounce around unscripted and she won several gold Logies for efforts; an award bestowed not by industry peers but by votes from the public.

An Unhappy Joker
When Mary Hardy's fatally wounded body was discovered in her bath in 1985, shock waves reverberated through the Melbourne public and entertainment industry. Although it was no secret that she had battled depression, having spent time in hospital for 'nervous breakdowns', such events shake everyone's equilibrium and to those who were close to her, undoubtedly right down to the core. 

According to most accounts, age had made the uber-feisty Mary more mentally fragile and at 54 she had made the decision to bow out with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, perhaps due to a cumulation of factors - loneliness, insomnia, the diminishment of her career [not helped by conflicts with management], unresolved issues with her Catholicism, self-esteem wounds and other issues unknown. Ultimately, though those close may have an inkling, the internal dynamics of any suicide is a mystery known only to the person involved and perhaps not fully, even then.

Mary had married musician Lee Gordon Pearce in 1968 and they divorced in 1975. Presumably she had other relationships but never remarried. Reputedly, Hardy lamented her childless state and this too, may have contributed to her depression. Conscious of her appearance, she had also suffered from a sense of inferiority in the beauty department and a nose-job in her 40s failed to rectify her insecurities.Though far from ugly, she was, it seems, an overly harsh critic of her own aesthetic appeal.

Yet, just two years prior to her death, there were plenty of signs of life - at a 1983 Liberal part function Hardy had managed, with characteristic irreverence,  to get herself arrested for heckling the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser and sending out crow calls during a rallying song performed by pop singer Colleen Hewitt. Strange to think that that spirited act was probably her last public performance.