Last Man Standing: articles

Marieke Hardy

Marieke Hardy, screenwriter of Last Man Standing.

Standing her ground

She was born with a pedigree for writing, but screenwriter Marieke Hardy—awaiting the start of her new TV series—likes to do it her way.

Although she prefers to keep her online identity a secret, Marieke Hardy, the 29-year-old Melbourne screenwriter who wrote and produced Seven’s 22-part drama, Last Man Standing, drops some fairly strong clues about it in her own publicity material for the show.

Along with her impressive professional credentials in the program notes for the 20-something series are the lines: “Marieke Hardy has a radio show, a political fashion label, a go-go dancing career, a regular DJ gig and a secret contentious life on the internet.

“People often find her irritating and say she swears too much, but no one ever accuses her of being tall. Her dog’s name is Bob Ellis and she has four tattoos.”

Apart from being just about the most interesting profile of a TV writer to be found in network PR material, the key words are more than enough to lead anyone sufficiently curious to the place where Hardy’s parallel identity exists. There, she adopts a feisty persona who takes no prisoners and suffers no fools in her commentaries about things or people—online or in the real world. She appears to be either loved or loathed by those who discover her in cyberspace.

Among her very public exploits have been a run-in with conservative Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, who attacked her in print last year for a speech she made at a writers’ festival. This followed conflict between Hardy and members of the Young Liberals at the University of Melbourne.

Having read there, and in Hardy’s mainstream TV bio that she calls herself an “irritant”, and even “irritatingly smug”, it’s quite a surprise to meet her. She doesn’t come across as smug, nor does she drop a single curse word in an interview of more than an hour. Nor does she appear fierce enough to have deserved some of the sharper criticism levelled at her for things she has said or written.

The self-described political activist is petite, very girly in long, tousled pigtails and a low-cut frock, and sports a large artificial flower behind one ear.

Having had plenty of conventional TV writing success for someone so young, Hardy, the granddaughter of Melbourne author and communist Frank Hardy, would have reason for self-satisfaction. Her first storyline was accepted for production on the program Altogether Now when she was just 14 years old.

Since then, the Melbourne-born Hardy has appeared as an actor in, and written for, shows including Blue Heelers, Always Greener and Something In the Air. She won an AWGIE (the writing equivalent of the Logies) award for Short Cuts, the children’s series she wrote solo. The latest project, which has promising previews, is by far her most ambitious—22 hours of big-budget local drama, approved and made at a time when getting a show up for Australian television has never been more difficult.

Last Man Standing, which premieres on Monday night, promises to be part The Secret Life of Us, part Sex and the City. Its twist is that all the stories, drama and humour are based around a group of men in their late 20s who seem to be grappling with growing up, or joyfully avoiding it.

Hardy describes the show as “a very, very affectionate, sympathetic view” of a bunch of blokes at a stage in life where “you’ve probably ended the long-term relationship you thought was going to be the relationship (and have entered) a time of questioning in your life”.

She has drawn heavily on the lives of her male friends and used “absolutely everything” from her own life in storylines for the series. “Every relationship, every boyfriend, every horrible thing I’ve done at some point” is in there, she says—except her strongly left-leaning political views which, like her alternative writing personality, she likes to compartmentalise.

Hardy, who turned 29 the day after our interview but is still “blissfully immature”, was invited to write and produce the Melbourne-based show by its executive producer, Ewan Burnett. His long list of Australian TV credits includes the children’s series The Wayne Manifesto, Eugenie Sandler PI, Short Cuts, Fergus McPhail, The Henderson Kids II and Round the Twist.

The Last Man Standing project took three years from inception, during which time Hardy also started her politically spiked fashion label with a couple of girlfriends. It features witty and/or biting political messages on such must-have items as “Sorry truckin’ hats”, heartshaped Bob Brown cushions, “Joan ‘Jett’ Kirner” and “Spot on, Joan” handbags, and “I Only Put Out For Boys Who Vote Left” lingerie. Hardy says the items are “quite irreverent and comedic, a way to get young people in and thinking”.

“Sometimes you can reach a lot more people using humour, or a funny pair of knickers, than you can by standing on a street corner hitting them over the head with a sign.”

Perhaps Hardy’s biggest contemporary influence in literature and the politically aware life is the Labor speech-writing stalwart and author, Bob Ellis. He was an acquaintance of her grandfather, Frank (author of the landmark work of political and social intrigue, Power Without Glory). Hardy mentions Ellis often, with reverence.

“I think Kim Beazley once referred to him as Labor’s pet cat—he came and went as he pleased, and had no particular loyalty,” she says, sitting in her favourite local cafe, The Tin Pot, in North Fitzroy. She says her television-producer parents, Galia and Alan Hardy, have also been inspirational—although she has been at pains to establish her career independently, as has her great aunt, sardonic TV personality Mary Hardy.

An only child, Hardy remembers her grandfather as the man always having in-depth political debates with friends such as the late eye surgeon Fred Hollows, as she sat glued to a book in the corner. Hardy still holds dear a note Frank Hardy wrote to her when she was small. He had read a story the eight-year-old Hardy had tapped out on his typewriter and gave her a note reading: “You’re going to be a great writer one day—you have a great gift with words.”

“I hadn’t seen it for about 20 years… I dug it out recently,” says Marieke. “I think I’d said I wanted to be a teacher, and I think the letter says, ‘I’m sure you could be a teacher too, but I think you should write’.”

Although the influence of Frank Hardy, and the infamy of his treatment, still echoes for Marieke Hardy, she says that being part of the Hardy dynasty doesn’t mean she feels the weight of expectation. She says simply: “He was one of the great Australian writers; I’m very pop-culture-influenced. I’m a young woman. We’re very different.”

But she describes her activist political inheritance from Hardy senior as “badge of honour” to be worn proudly.

“I’ve got a big red streak running through me; (like Frank Hardy) I’m also an activist. My parents are very passionate politically, but I think possibly I’m more like Frank—I’m obsessively one-eyed, whereas my parents are much more level.”

In the spirit of egalitarianism, she defends the right of critics of her new-media persona or her mainstream one, to say what they like about her.

“I’ve got a couple of people who are saying horrible things about me (online), and I love that. I’ve got the freedom to express my opinions on the internet about whatever I so desire, so I would never begrudge anyone that freedom,” says Hardy.

And coming out as “an irritant”—although in one hour, at least, she’s not even vaguely annoying—is just one way of heading them off. “You’ve got to wear your own faults on your sleeve and carry them around as a badge of honour,” she says, “rather than letting anyone else use them to try and slow you down.”

By Wendy Tuohy
June 06, 2005
The Age