In the Lower Hunter there are numerous memorials and references to James Leslie (Les) Darcy. His tragic death in the United States in 1917 has become the stuff of legend, with local historian Cynthia Hunter writing, “As with so many other young Australians lost during the years of World War One, Darcy’s death represented promise unfulfilled.” Each year the members of Allison Ley’s book group choose one “blokey” book to read, and invite their husbands to participate. In 2012 the book chosen was Peter Fitzsimons The Ballad of Les Darcy. Roger Ley had a longstanding interest in film-making and when one of the members remarked that “the life of Les Darcy would make a good film script”, Roger took up the challenge and began researching.
He developed a particular interest in Les Darcy’s acknowledged mentor, Father Joseph Coady (1877-1959). He was the local priest during Les Darcy’s youth, and as Roger observes, “He would have been confessor to the whole Darcy family, which means he was also a major influence on Les’ mother, Margaret.”
Roger contacted Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle archivist, Julie Craig, to learn more about Fr Coady. “He must have been an ‘old school’ priest, dedicated to his flock, helping the sick and the poor, the Darcy family included. He was a boxer, so in keeping with the times, if circumstances required it, he wasn't averse to taking off his clerical collar and practising his skills! Being sympathetic to the Irish cause, he would have supported Margaret Darcy's vehement objections to Les' attempts to join up. He also helped Les in several practical ways,” said Roger.
Several months later, Roger happened upon a story about Newcastle mates Tom Arthur and Zac Garred and their plan to bring the story of Les Darcy to the big screen. The pair has bought the screen rights to Fitzsimons’ book and Zac is preparing to portray Darcy. Roger contacted Tom and Zac and was invited to the launch of their production company.
Roger had earlier attended, at his family’s urging, Robert McKee’s renowned ‘Story’ seminar. “McKee’s a former professor of screenwriting at UCLA and author of the screenwriter’s ‘bible’, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. Roger offered to collaborate with Zac and Tom in writing the script. He had uncovered documentation that was new to them so there was mutual benefit, and little point in two Les Darcy scripts being produced simultaneously.
Roger is enjoying stepping back from an international career which involved consultancies in places as varied as Tanzania and Thailand, Kuwait, Lesotho, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Solomons. He worked broadly in project management and consultancy in education, governance and development. “Until now, my writing has been limited to project proposals and reports for various agencies, so I’m relishing the opportunity to indulge my more creative side,” he said.
While it will be some time before The Ballad of Les Darcy reaches the silver screen, there’s little doubt that it will have a ready audience around these parts, where descendants of Les Darcy still live.
Please visit www.ecfc.com.au and www.maitland.nsw.gov.au/Heritage/DarcyGravesite to learn more about the Les Darcy story.