AustLit logo
image of person or book cover 6841355156562151642.jpg
This image has been sourced from ABC website
Leah Purcell Leah Purcell i(A11198 works by)
Born: Established: 1970 Murgon, Murgon - Wondai area, Kingaroy - Murgon - Kilkivan - Woolooga area, Central West Queensland, Queensland, ;
Gender: Female
Heritage: Aboriginal Wakka Wakka ; Aboriginal
The material on this page is available to AustLit subscribers. If you are a subscriber or are from a subscribing organisation, please log in to gain full access. To explore options for subscribing to this unique teaching, research, and publishing resource for Australian culture and storytelling, please contact us or find out more.


Leah Purcell is an award-winning actor, singer and writer. She was born to a black mother and a white father who did not publicly acknowledge her as his daughter. In Year 10 at Murgon High School she gained the role of Gloria, the secretary in Bye Bye Birdie. Performing saved her from the consequences of heavy drinking that started when she was seven. Her professional acting career began in 1992 and she came to prominence in 1993 with a role in Jimmy Chi's Bran Nue Dae. Purcell subsequently appeared in film and television roles including a part in Lantana, the adaptation of Andrew Bovell's play, Speaking in Tongues. She also appeared in Nick Cave's The Proposition. and the award-winning film Jindabyne (2006). Purcell received a Matilda Award for theatre in 1994 for her performance in 'Low'.

In 1997, Purcell starred in her own highly acclaimed, one-woman play, Box the Pony. She performed in successful seasons around Australia and in London, Edinburgh and Broadway. Purcell won a number of awards both for the script and for her acting, including the Premier's Literary Award in New South Wales and Queensland. The script is on high-school syllabuses in four states and an audition monologue at NIDA. In 2004, Purcell was invited to the United States for the three-month Eisenhower Fellowship. She was the first indigenous person to be offered this opportunity. In 2005 Purcell played Condoleezza Rice in David Hare's play, 'Stuff Happens' and in 2006 Eve Ensler's acclaimed one-woman show about body image, 'The Good Body'. In 2007 Purcell was nominated in the Best Actress in a Lead Role category in the Sydney Theatre Awards for her performance in the play, 'The Story of the Miracles at Cookie's Table'.

In 2016, Purcell wrote an adaptation of The Drover's Wifewhich won 11 awards, and has since been published as a novel, and adapted into film. Her children's television series Little J and Big Cuz won Most Outstanding Children's Program at the 2019 Logie Awards.



Most Referenced Works

Personal Awards

Awards for Works

y separately published work icon The Drover's Wife : The Legend of Molly Johnson Camberwell : Hamish Hamilton , 2019 18076321 2019 single work novel historical fiction

'Deep in the heart of Australia’s high country, along an ancient, hidden track, lives Molly Johnson and her four surviving children, another on the way. Husband Joe is away months at a time droving livestock up north, leaving his family in the bush to fend for itself. Molly’s children are her world, and life is hard and precarious with only their dog, Alligator, and a shotgun for protection – but it can be harder when Joe’s around.

'At just twelve years of age Molly’s eldest son Danny is the true man of the house, determined to see his mother and siblings safe – from raging floodwaters, hunger and intruders, man and reptile. Danny is mature beyond his years, but there are some things no child should see. He knows more than most just what it takes to be a drover’s wife.

'One night under the moon’s watch, Molly has a visitor of a different kind – a black ‘story keeper’, Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities in the nearby town, and exchanges kindness for shelter. Both know that justice in this nation caught between two worlds can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

2020 shortlisted Davitt Award Best Debut
2020 longlisted Davitt Award Best Adult Crime Novel
2020 longlisted Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) Australian Literary Fiction Book of the Year
form y separately published work icon Little J and Big Cuz ( dir. Tony Thorne ) Victoria : Ned Lander Media Australian Children's Television Foundation , 2017-2019 10444886 2017 series - publisher film/TV children's

'Little J is five and has just started kindergarten year at school. He lives with his grandmother (Nanna), his girl cousin (Big Cuz) who is nine, and their dog (Old Dog) who is also the story narrator. LITTLE J & BIG CUZ follows the family's adventures and is told primarily from the point of view of Little J.'

Source: Screen Australia.

2020 nominated Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards Best Children's Television Series
2018 inaugural winner The Screen Diversity and Inclusion Network Award
2018 winner Logie Awards Most Outstanding Children's Program
y separately published work icon The Drover's Wife Strawberry Hills : Currency Press , 2016 11151204 2016 single work drama

'If anyone can write a full-throttle drama of our colonial past, it’s the indomitable Leah Purcell.

'We all know Henry Lawson’s story of the Drover’s Wife. Her stoic silhouette against an unforgiving landscape, her staring down of the serpent; it’s the frontier myth captured in a few pages. In Leah’s new play the old story gets a very fresh rewrite. Once again the Drover’s Wife is confronted by a threat in her yard, but now it’s a man. He’s bleeding, he’s got secrets, and he’s black. She knows there’s a fugitive wanted for killing whites, and the district is thick with troopers, but something’s holding the Drover’s Wife back from turning this fella in…

'A taut thriller of our pioneering past, with a black sting to the tail, The Drover’s Wife reaches from our nation’s infancy into our complicated present. And best of all, Leah’s playing the Wife herself.' (Publication summary)

2018 shortlisted New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Indigenous Writer's Prize
2017 winner AWGIE Awards David Williamson Prize
2017 winner Helpmann Awards for Performing Arts in Australia Best Play
2017 winner Helpmann Awards for Performing Arts in Australia Best New Australian Work
2017 winner AWGIE Awards Stage Award
2017 winner New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Book of the Year
2017 winner New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting
2017 winner Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Victorian Prize for Literature
2016 winner Sydney Theatre Awards Best New Australian Work
2016 winner Sydney Theatre Awards Best Direction of a Mainstage Production
2016 winner Sydney Theatre Awards Best Mainstage Production
2017 winner Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Louis Esson Prize for Drama
Last amended 14 Jun 2021 13:10:19
Other mentions of "" in AustLit: