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Melbourne Symphony Orchestra breathes new life into "The Happiness Box"
"The Happiness box" was conceived by Australian soldiers locked up in the Changi prisoner of war camp in Singapore in 1942.

The soldiers and the book survived appalling conditions, and now, 70 years later, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has given the story new life.

Now, 70 years later, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has given the story a new lease of life.

Kate Arnott reports.
Transcript
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: It's a national treasure in Australia and an enchanting tale about discovering the secret to happiness.

The Happiness Box was conceived by Australian soldiers locked up in the Changi prisoner of war camp, in Singapore in 1942.

The soldiers and the book survived appalling conditions.

Now, 70 years later, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has given the story a new lease of life.

Kate Arnott reports.

(Footage of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing The Happiness Box is shown)

STEPHEN CURRY, NARRATOR: Once on a time in a little house, deep in the middle of the jungle, lived three best friends.

(Images of illustrations from The Happiness Box are shown)

KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: Those best friends - Winston the Chee Chak Lizard, Martin the Monkey, and Wobbly the Frog - have all been reborn using the work of author David Griffin and illustrator Leslie Greener.

(Footage of Stephen Curry pretending to be Martin the Monkey during a performance is shown)

HELEN CHUNG, LESLIE GREENER’S STEP-DAUGHTER): I loved the way the children were totally engaged, and the way the conductor and the presenter engaged them, communicated. They were totally absorbed and I was too.

TED GRIFFINS, DAVID GRIFFIN’S SON: Not only did he love theatre, but he loved music. And the idea that this could be put to music be enchanting for hundreds of young children, he would have thought - that just would have been tops for him.

KATE ARNOTT: Ted Griffin has been enchanted by the story ever since he can remember. His father wrote The Happiness Box in 1942 while locked up by the Japanese in a prison camp in Changi.

(Photograph of David Griffin is shown. Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

David Griffin and his fellow prisoners became concerned when they discovered British children were being held in another jail down the road.

TED GRIFFIN: The soldiers decided they should make toys for Christmas 1942 for the children. My father, he had a disability in his arm, so he couldn't actually make toys, but he could write a book.

(Photograph of Leslie Greener is shown. Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

And he spoke to Leslie Greener, the head of what was called the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) Education Unit, and he agreed to do the illustrations, and they knocked it up in 48 hours.

(Image of front cover of The Happiness Box is shown. Courtesy National Library of Australia)

HELEN CHUNG: It’s a marvellous sign of their humanity and love. They survived. There they were in these terrible conditions, and yet they were thinking of the children.

(Images of illustrations Winston the Chee Chak Lizard, from The Happiness Box are shown. Courtesy: Australian National Library)

KATE ARNOTT: The children, though, didn't end up receiving the book. The main character raised suspicion among the Japanese captors, and they ordered the book be destroyed, fearing it contained coded messages.

TED GRIFFIN: The clever little lizard, his name is Winston, (laughs) and of course we had a certain prime minister of England at the time by the name of Winston Churchill.

(Archival footage of Changi prisoner of war camp is shown. Courtesy; National Library of Australia)

KATE ARNOTT: Before the book could be destroyed, the Australians managed to hide it an ammunition container and bury it. It was unearthed when the camp was liberated in 1945. ]


(Images of the original copy of The Happiness Box are shown. Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

This is the very book that was written all those years ago.

The Happiness Box spent years in the Griffin household in Sydney and mow lives in the State Library of New South Wales. It was reprinted in 1947 and again in 1991.

Composer Bryony Marks discovered the book in an exhibition of national treasures.

BRYONY MARKS, COMPOSER: Immediately, I was just absolutely transfixed by both the original book and the story behind the book.

(Illustrations from The Happiness Box are shown. Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

KATE ARNOTT: Leslie Greener's illustrations provided great inspiration for the music.

BRYONY MARKS: As I was writing I looked at them of course over and over again and how light and warm and quirky and comical those characters are. Given that they were illustrated in such a short period of time under such horrific conditions, it just beggars belief.

(Illustrations from The Happiness Box are shown. Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

KATE ARNOTT: Just as the original book was dug up, so too in the story is a box of books which contain the secret to happiness.

(Footage of Stephen Curry performing The Happiness Box with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra)

STEPHEN CURRY: The secret of their happiness lay in their friendship. The secret of their happiness lay inside themselves.

The three best friends were surely the luckiest animals in all the jungle.

KATE ARNOTT: This adaptation of the book brings the story to a whole new generation, 70 years after it was first conceived. And its message certainly hasn't been lost on the audience.

GIRL: They have to be cheerful and stuff and be kind to your friends and think of good ways to get over some bad things that are happening.

(Photographs of David Griffin and Leslie Greener are shown. Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

KATE ARNOTT: David Griffin used the bonds he formed at Changi to help him overcome his imprisonment, and he went on to become Lord Mayor of Sydney. As a pacifist, Leslie Greener was also a journalist and author and remarkably became friends with one of his Japanese captors.

Leslie lived until he was 74; David was 88. Their families say both men most definitely found the secret to happiness.

(Footage of Stephen Curry performing The Happiness Box with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra)

STEPHEN CURRY: They sat together in their little house deep in the middle of the jungle. They felt very, very happy.

(Image of final page in The Happiness Box is shown: three books in the box with the caption ‘The End’. Courtesy: National Library of Australia)
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