Script earns playwright and actor a gong

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The story of 1950s sugarcane cutters Roo and Barney is a script that has occupied the minds of thousands of Australian students for decades.

The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, a play by Ray Lawler, has featured in school curriculums across the nation.

Lawler, who recently turned 101, is highly regarded for his groundbreaking work in theatre, which has been credited with forever changing the landscape of Australian drama.

The Doll, as the play became known, opened in 1955 at Melbourne's Union Theatre. Lawler played the role of Barney Ibbot and the play catapulted him to success after a 13-week national tour.

The script follows the lives of Roo and Barney and their barmaid girlfriends Nancy and Olive, and touches on themes including gender, culture and identity.

The play had an extended eight-month run on London's West End. It received rave reviews and won Best Play at The Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

The Doll later made its way to Broadway, where it garnered mixed reactions which the New York Times attributed to "thorny Australian vernacular" posing obstacles to American comprehension.

These days Lawler lives a quieter life.

"He's not particularly excited about reaching 101, he says that everybody lives to be 100 these days," son Martin revealed.

The milestone was marked by a family dinner, and there is another reason to celebrate.

Lawler been appointed an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia as part of the Queen's Birthday Honours List, released on Sunday.

The honour is for distinguished service to the performing arts as an actor, playwright and director.

"My father is delighted and very grateful," Martin said.

"As you can imagine, we're all immensely proud of him and glad to be able to celebrate it with him."

The honour comes more than 40 years after he received an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the performing arts.

Lawler was born into a working-class family in Melbourne and left school aged 13 to work in a factory.

He and actress wife Jacklyn Kelleher have twin sons, Adam and Martin, a daughter Kylie, plus grandchildren with children of their own.

Lawler is one of 54 Australians from the arts sector recognised in the Queen's Birthday 2022 Honours List.

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