Playground Duty by Ned Manning: 366 Days of Writing

Budding and experienced teachers will find value in reading Ned Manning’s Playground Duty, a memoir of the author’s thirty odd years of teaching drama to students young and old.

The book is a lesson in itself, using Manning’s career as a rich resource of “how tos” and “wish I’d nevers”, illustrating his drive to share and transfer ways of doing.  Whether it’s the best way of engaging with students as a new teacher in the country, or teaching indigenous adults in inner city Redfern, Manning’s writing style is honest and engaging without being preachy – no doubt a reflection of his overall teaching style.

Manning kicks off his story in the 1970s, where after a brief stint teaching in Gunnedah, he moves to Tenterfield.  He explores the difficulties that early career teachers, usually not much older than their students, face when isolated from family and friends.  From unsupportive older colleagues who resist change, to unwittingly sharing a beer with underage students at the local pub, Manning is able to explore the mix of uncertainty and passion that often drives young teachers to try and make a difference in the lives of their students and communities.

Moving to Canberra in the late 70s, where the ACT’s education system is in a period of transition, Manning’s professional life is in a parallel state of flux, as he juggles an emerging acting career and success as a playwright. The 1980s see him in Sydney, and his stories of teaching drama and performance to indigenous adults at the Eora Centre in Redfern are moving and insightful. This humbling experience for Manning results in another step forward in his professional lives, resulting in the performance of Close to the Bone a play resulting from the drama class.

The book winds up with Manning’s work in the NSW education system marking regional higher school certificate drama students, and then moving to teach drama at the Newtown School of Performing Arts – both roles for which he seems to have been born.

The lack of photos in the book is one disappointing aspect – the purple body shirt of the 1970s should really be seen!

While Playground Duty provides specific insight into the teaching of drama and performing, its lessons are wider than that.  It shows the value that one person with drive, ambition and compassion can offer by applying themselves to teaching (anything).

Review by Amanda Caldwell 

Amanda is a writer and editor who works in communication management. 


Taking our cue from the National Year of Reading 2012, we’re having our very own National Year of Writing 2012, aka 366 Days of Writing.

Send your reviews in to us! We want to hear about great Australian books, be they new or old, fiction, poetry, plays, short stories, memoir – we want the lot! This year is all about promoting Australian books and Australian readers. Reviews should be between 200 and 400 words.

Send reviews to sbarnes(write at)

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