There is a light that never goes out....
Please join us this year for the PAHN 2020 Ghost Lightning Talks series! In the last week of November, we will be hosting a curated selection of pre-recorded talks. The series will showcase some of the latest research, exhibitions and published work in Australian performing arts heritage, while also including reflections and provocations on the current "state of the arts". We are very excited to be offering presentations from some of the very best practitioners in the field.
Please scroll down for presentations and presenter bios, or click on the presenters' names below:
Recorded videos will be hosted on this site. The videos will be viewable by registration only.
On 30 November, we will also be hosting a live Zoom Q&A with presenters, to be followed by PAHN's Annual General Meeting. Registered attendees will be sent a password for attendance.
Registration is FREE, but we do encourage everyone to become a member of PAHN by visiting the AMAGA website.
Presentation abstracts and presenter bios
Gillian Arrighi & Zi Siang See
Newcastle’s Victoria Theatre: Impact and future of the digital reconstruction project
Our focus on Newcastle’s Victoria Theatre arises from the national AusStage project, in which researchers are seeking new knowledge about lost theatres through digital visualisation of historic data. Built in 1890-91, the Victoria is the oldest theatre building in New South Wales and the third oldest theatre structure in Australia. When it opened in September 1891 with the hugely popular American musical, ‘Evangeline’ and the show’s co-author, Edward E. Rice, fresh from Broadway to conduct the orchestra, patrons marvelled at the theatre’s interior decorations, comfort, and technical appointments. Leading architects, builders, and decorators had created a resilient and beautiful landmark for Newcastle and during its first decade of operation, the Victoria presented mostly comic entertainments from across the spectrum of melodrama, musical comedy, comic opera, variety, music concerts and drama. Guided by the Victoria Theatre Syndicate, it was maintained as a commercial enterprise for seventy-five years. Ceasing theatre and cinema events in 1966, the building was re-purposed as a retail space for nearly forty years and has lain derelict for the past twenty years. Investigating the Victoria’s unique history leads us to interpret this theatre as “a simulacrum of the cultural and historical process itself,” expressing Theatre’s function as a “repository of cultural meaning” (Carlson 2011, 2).
Due to several major renovations during the twentieth century, all intended to ‘modernise’ and equip the theatre as a hybrid venue for live performance and movie screening, knowledge about the way the theatre looked inside when it first opened in 1891 has been lost; there are no photographs or drawings of its original stage, proscenium, auditorium, dress circle and upper gallery, halls, staircases, lighting sources, or the highly coloured neo-Grecian decorations that were a particular feature of the original. In this paper we briefly introduce our investigative processes that have a) discovered the Victoria’s architecture, interior design, and performance history, and b) rendered the research data in several digital formats. We will discuss how our e-research outcomes are impacting the future of New South Wales’ oldest theatre. In the final section of our presentation we will preview our early extended reality experiments with digital human reconstruction (referenced with real humans and artificial intelligence assisted tools), as we seek to create motion-capture-supported and animated digital characters to be included in future virtual theatre scenes.
Associate Professor Gillian Arrighi focuses her research in the areas of circus studies, popular entertainments (late-nineteenth century to the current day), acting theory and practice, and child actors. Her many refereed journal articles and book chapters appear in scholarly publications and in edited collections. She is co-editor of the scholarly e-journal, Popular Entertainment Studies (now in its eleventh year of publication), co-editor of the books Entertaining Children: The Participation of Youth in the Entertainment Industry (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), and A World of Popular Entertainments (Cambridge Scholars: 2012); editor of a focus issue on circus for the journal of Early Popular Visual Culture (2017); and author of the monograph The FitzGerald Brothers’ Circus: spectacle, identity and nationhood at the Australian circus (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2015). Her current book project, due for completion in 2020, concerns child actors performing on trans-national popular stages, 1880-1910. Her most recent publishing project is the Cambridge Companion to the Circus, co-edited with Prof. Jim Davis (University of Warwick), currently in production by Cambridge University Press.
Dr Zi Siang See has specialised over the past 10 years in the design, use and integration of interactive media, including but not limited to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) research-creation. Zi has over 15 years’ experience of working within the field of interaction design and digital media in both industry and within university institutions, nationally and internationally. As an early career researcher, he has been part of various MOOC projects and been actively involved in scholarly research and international collaborations. His work has contributed to new systems, theory and studies in human-computer-interaction, education technologies and inclusive design. Some of these technical research papers were published at specialised venues such as SIGGRAPH, IEEE Virtual Systems and Multimedia (VSMM), and the Springer’s Virtual Reality. Zi is also working on extended reality (XR) research projects in digital heritage, medical and health sciences training.
Performing Sydney, 1920–2020: Telling the story of theatre in Sydney – venues, repertoire and change
Theatre is sometimes imagined as an art form at risk – from talking pictures in the 1920s and television in the 1950s to the Covid-19 pandemic in the 2020s. But the Wolanski Collection and data from AusStage tell a different story.
Theatres come and go. But, over the last hundred years, the trend in Sydney theatre is one of growth: more venues, with more seats, presenting more performances in a wider range of genres to more spectators. This presentation uses maps of venues in Sydney and visualisations of repertoire to reveal insights into the city’s story of theatre production and cultural change. These visualisations, along with material drawn from the Wolanski Collection, tell this story in the exhibition Performing Sydney presented at UNSW Library and online from 25 November 2020.
AusStage is the Australian database for live performance. UNSW is the current caretaker of the Wolanski Collection.
Dr Jonathan Bollen lectures in Theatre and Performance Studies at UNSW Sydney. He is the author of Touring Variety in the Asia Pacific Region, 1946–1975 (2020) and co-author of A Global Doll’s House: Ibsen and Distant Visions (2016) and Men at Play: Masculinities in Australian Theatre since the 1950s (2008). He has published on data models for theatre research in Theatre Journal (2016), coordinated research for the AusStage database (2006–13), and co-edited recent issues of Popular Entertainment Studies.
Alyson Campbell, Mish Grigor, Anne Harris, Stacy Holman Jones, Peta Murray, Misha Myers
& Rachael Stevens
A love letter to the archive: Legacy letters & wordcloud as archival documentation
History shows that women’s contributions to Australian theatre have been largely buried, denied, heavily criticised & censored. Our project which seeks to restore these lost histories has discovered the creation of digital online legacy letters & wordclouds, as a powerful and personal method of archival documentation. What initially began as an adaptation to COVID-19 restrictions, these 3-minute videos act as love letters to women and works which have gone unpublished, forgotten or lost. Our presentation Love Letter to the Archive therefore discusses the way in which this novel method of archival documentation can draw attention to the indelible achievements and contributions of Australia’s women theatre makers.
Link to our online legacy letter gallery: https://stagingwomenslives.com.au/legacy-letters/
Alyson Campbell is an Associate Professor in Theatre Victorian College Of The Arts. Her key research expertise is situated in gender and sexuality, particularly queer dramaturgies and HIV and AIDS in performance; Practice as/led Research methodologies; affect in performance; and feral queer pedagogies and Feral Queer Camping. Her work as a theatre director spans a broad range of companies and venues in Australia, the UK and the US over the last 30 years. She has collaborated closely with Sydney playwright Lachlan Philpott since our production of his play Bison in 2000, creating queer assemblage wreckedAllprods with him in 2001.
Mish Grigor is the PhD researcher for the Staging Australian Women’s Lives Project. She is situated in the performing arts as a maker, writer and performer. Working across a range of collaborative formats, she is co-director of APHIDS with Lara Thoms and Eugenia Lim, and one third of POST with Zoe Coombs Marr and Natalie Rose. With projects often departing from her own experiences, she enjoys connecting tangible everyday dilemmas with larger political and philosophical concepts. Using humour, facts and fiction, she is intent on examining, wasting and/or cherishing time spent with other people.
Anne Harris is a Vice Chancellor’s Principal Research Fellow at RMIT University, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, an Honorary Research Fellow at Nottingham University (UK), and Director of Creative Agency, a transdisciplinary research lab at RMIT University. Harris researches gender, creativity, and performance ethnography, is a native New Yorker and has worked professionally as a playwright, dramaturg, teaching artist and journalist in the USA and Australia. Further information on Anne’s work and the Creative Agency research lab can be seen at www.creativeresearchhub.com
Stacy Holman Jones is Professor in the Centre for Theatre and Performance at Monash University. Her research focuses broadly on performance as socially, culturally, and politically resistive and transformative activity. She specializes in critical qualitative methods, particularly critical autoethnography and critical and feminist theory. She is the author of more than 90 articles, book chapters, reviews, and editorials and the author/editor of 13 books.
Peta Murray is a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at RMIT deploying theatre, installation and live art to make performable essays and bespoke w/rites as works of activism. Peta’s best-known plays are Wallflowering, Salt and The Keys to the Animal Room. Critical writing includes articles for TEXT, Axon, and New Writing.
Dr Peta Murray
Dr Misha Myers is Course Director of Creative Arts and Senior Lecturer at Deakin University. She works across an inter-disciplinary field of applied and digital performance, socially engaged practice and digital humanities. She has created live performances, digital games, radio broadcasts, audio walks and online artworks to understand how place matters politically, socially, economically and environmentally for isolated and marginalized groups including refugees and asylum seekers, women and rural communities in a global context. She is one of the co-creators of The Walking Library project.
Rachael Stevens is the research officer for the Staging Australian Women’s Lives Project. She is recognised for her contributions to improving the mental health outcomes of Australian women and girls. Previously, she travelled nationally as a public speaker, delivering keynote presentations as a mental health advocate. In 2016 she was awarded the ACT Young Woman of the Year Award for making an outstanding contribution to the lives of women and girls in the ACT. In 2017 she was a finalist for the Young Australian of the Year Award. Additionally, she completed an Advanced Masters in Health, Culture and Medicine at the Australian National University.
From bejewelled crucifix to modern dress: "Shakespeare and Stage Costume" from Wilkie to Bell
With a focus on an object-oriented analysis of costume, this paper elaborates on Oscar Wilde’s contribution to debates on historical authenticity in his essay, Shakespeare and Stage Costume, and examines its influence on the theatre entrepreneur, Allan Wilkie, and his Shakespeare company in the early part of the twentieth century. By looking at the role of costumes in Wilkie’s productions and comparable works from the same period, questions about theatrical aura, colonial transmission and the anxieties of modernity for the reception of Shakespeare in Australia can be explored.
Rachel Fensham is Director of the Digital Studio and a Professor of Dance and Theatre at the University of Melbourne. Author of Movement: Theory for Theatre (Bloomsbury, 2021), her research involves curating performing arts collections and archives, most recently the Theatre and Dance Platform. She is the series co-editor for New World Choreographies (Palgrave) and lead CI for the ARC Linkage Project Creative Convergence: Enhancing Impact in Regional Theatre for Young People (2016-2020).
ADSA, AusStage & PAHN: Together making the intangible tangible
In 2018 the UNESCO Memory of the World Committee hosted the “Documenting Australian Society” Summit in Canberra. The Summit resulted in the Canberra Declaration which aims to improve and better coordinate the identification and preservation of the distributed national holdings of documentary heritage materials for the benefit of current and future generations of Australians. Their efforts are now focused on encouraging and supporting grassroots efforts at improving the identification and preservation of documentation of Australian Society.
Earlier this year the UNESCO Memory of the World Committee approached me to provide a case study outlining the efforts of documenting the performing arts in Australia as an exemplary community of practice. This paper will detail the findings of the case study. How has our distributed community of practice self-organised and operated with the shared aim of improving the coordination of efforts to document the performing arts in Australia?
Jenny Fewster joined AusStage, the Australian national online resource for live performance research, when the project began in 2000 and was appointed Project Manager in 2003. During her time with AusStage the project has been successful in gaining over $5 million (AUD) in funding from the Australian Research Council, Australian National Data Service, National eResearch Architecture Taskforce, eResearch South Australia and the Australian Access Federation. Jenny is active in nurturing relationships between university researchers and cultural collections. She is currently the Deputy Chair of the Performing Arts Heritage Network of AMaGA and has served on that Committee for the last thirteen years.
Julie Holledge & Joanne Tompkins
The return of the Queen’s Theatre in Adelaide
This presentation highlights some of the research we’ve conducted in recovering materials associated with the 1841 opening of the Queen’s Theatre in Adelaide. Our research has taken us through disciplines including theatre, history, indigenous studies, archaeology, geography; and through resources such as plans, heritage reports, newspapers, court reports, letters, memoirs, and paintings, among others. We provide screen shots of the virtual recreation of the Queen’s to illustrate the ambitious origins of a colony eager to set itself aside from the founding principles of the others.
Julie Holledge, Emerita Professor of Drama, Flinders University, Australia, and Professor 2, Centre for Ibsen Studies, UiO. She is a founder of AusStage, the national performing arts database, www.ausstage.edu.au; and has published A Global Doll’s House (2016) with Jonathan Bollen, Frode Helland and Joanne Tompkins, and Ibsen on Theatre with Frode Helland (2018). She is a member of the Visualising Lost Theatres research group led by Professor Joanne Tompkins and has been working on the virtual reconstructions of Ibsen’s first theatre, Komediehuset in Bergen, and the Queen’s Theatre in Adelaide.
Professor Joanne Tompkins has just completed a three-year term as Executive Director for Humanities and Creative Arts at the Australian Research Council. She has returned to the University of Queensland where she is a professor of theatre. Her current work focuses on digital humanities, specifically in visualising theatres that no longer exist. She is completing a book manuscript on 5 such theatres with Julie Holledge, Jonathan Bollen and Liyang Xia. The visualisations have been made by Ortelia. The Queen’s Theatre is the focus of this presentation, and has been completed with the help of the open-access digital resource, AusStage, which documents Australian performing arts materials
Performance photography: a tool, an art, a historical source
This talk draws on a recent collaboration between Arts Centre Melbourne and performance photographer Jeff Busby to consider performance photography from three perspectives: as a practice, as an artform, and as a historical source.
Since the nineteenth century, photography has been used as a tool by performers and producers, to promote shows and as a reference for the staging of shows. In the twentieth century, increasing appreciation was given to photography as an artform in its own right, and some of the major photographers of the period took the performing arts as their subject. And photographs collections, not least those in the Australian Performing Arts Collection (APAC), have been used by historians as a source of information about many aspects of the otherwise fleeting and transient art of performance.
Jeff Busby’s deep reflection on his broad experience, combined with examples from both his own work and from APAC, shows how these three perspectives intermesh. Insights to be gained from understanding the unique role of the photographer as someone both part of, and distanced from, the performance process can lead us to a more nuanced use of photographs as a historical source, can encourage reflection on the art of photography that moves beyond the cliché of the ‘frozen moment’, and can give insight into the relationship between performer and audience.
Dr Ian Jackson has been Assistant Curator, Theatre and Popular Entertainment at the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne since November 2018. In this role he has worked on a number of acquisition and exhibition projects, including a forthcoming digital exhibition, due for launch in early 2021, on performance photography, developed in collaboration with Jeff Busby. Ian’s past museum roles include Curator, Photographs at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
From Brisbane to Bamaga, from Nhulunbuy to Lajamanu: KITE Theatre’s tour of Murri Time (1994 – 1997)
Prominent, but sadly now-vanished, Theatre for Young People company KITE first staged Murri Time as part of the Out of the Box festival in 1994. The performance took place in what was then a construction site at the Queensland Performing Arts Complex (now QPAC). Following the success of the show, Murri Time was toured to regional centres in South Australia and coastal Queensland in 1995. It was then toured again two years after, this time heading to remote and rural communities in Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory.
As part of an Australia Research Council grant, we have been able to interview key members of KITE, retrieve production and touring photographs and other show ephemera, as well as access the QPAC Museum collection for archival material, in order to weave together the story of touring Murri Time. This talk will therefore share some of this research story, focusing on the many moments of connecting with the communities as KITE toured to some of the Australia’s remotest communities.
Natalie Lazaroo is a Lecturer in Drama at the University of Queensland and a Research Fellow (adjunct) at Griffith University. Her current research work focuses broadly on Theatre for Young People, and she is involved in a long-term collaboration with applied theatre facilitators working with at-risk youth in Singapore. Natalie is the Executive Member-at-Large for the Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies, and is on the editorial board of Applied Theatre Research (journal)
Rejecting TINA. Understanding economic choice and the arts in the COVID moment
TINA is an acronym for the phrase ‘There Is No Alternative’. Over the past 30 years, it has been used by some commentators to suggest that the current, neoliberal capitalist mode of market exchange is the only valid conception of economics. Not only is this untrue, it hides the diverse range of views even mainstream economists hold, and avoids engagement with the major economic issues of our time. These include, rising inequality, wage stagnation, rising private and public debt, and a financial sector whose size and lack of effective national governance imparts instability to the whole global economy. Arts and culture are not separate from this bigger economic picture. Both the way they are conceived at a policy level, and the way they are supported by governments (or not) reflects the outcome of these debates. Understanding them is therefore key to the cultural sector’s response to the COVID moment. I will argue that a major task facing the sector now is not to better conform to the government’s economic conception of arts and culture, but to change it. A large part of this lies in rejecting TINA and embracing TARA – seeing that There Are Real Alternatives.
Julian Meyrick is Professor of Creative Arts at Griffith University. He is Artistic Counsel for the State Theatre Company of South Australia and director of many award-winning theatre productions, including Angela’s Kitchen, which attracted the 2012 Helpmann for Best Australian Work. He has published histories of the Nimrod Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company, the Paris Theatre, the Hunter Valley Theatre and Anthill Theatre, and numerous articles on Australian culture and cultural policy, including over 70 articles for the Conversation. He is Chief Investigator for Laboratory Adelaide, an ARC Linkage project studying the problem of culture’s value. His book, Australian Theatre after the New Wave: Policy, Subsidy and the Alternative Artist was published by Brill in 2017. What Matters? Talking Value in Australian Culture, co-authored with Robert Phiddian and Tully Barnett, was published by Monash University Publishing in 2018.
National Library Volunteers
The ripple effect of AusStage
We will talk about three things which the NLA volunteer project with AusStage illustrates:
complementarity developing between performing arts collections in Australia through AusStage
how Trove complements data entry for AusStage
the power of collecting and collections to reveal trends and themes
There are currently eight National Library of Australia volunteers working on the entry of data from the PROMPT collection of theatre programs into AusStage. They have been working on AusStage data input since 2015, and three of the volunteers previously worked on creating finding aids for some of the component collections in the PROMPT collection. All of the AusStage team also work on other National Library volunteer activities (prior to COVID shutdown of the Volunteer program) such as guiding public tours, preparing Guide’s guides for tours, staffing the Foyer Information Desk on the weekends, and working on behind the scenes projects such as research for NLA publications, or work in the manuscripts collection. From time to time they yarn about their working lives as nurses, teachers, librarians, senior public servants, and private sector consultants. These days they claim considerable expertise in biscuit making and coffee drinking to support their AusStage activity. They have also all had to develop some expertise in Zoom use, and Trove correcting during the COVID shutdown.
Adventures with Australian comic actors: Public and private archives and the Players Online Exhibition
Comic actors have made a particularly strong contribution to cultural life in Australia over the last 60 years. Carol Raye, Barry Humphries, Noeline Brown, Max Gillies, John Clarke, Tony Sheldon and Denise Scott pioneered home-grown humour, transformed the image of Australia, intervened in political life, and brought Australian comedy to the world. Anne followed each of these actors around for five years, talking to them at home, in restaurants, backstage, in hotels as they toured, and on the streets during long walks.
These seven actors who are the subject of Anne’s recent book, Seven Big Australians (2019), created iconic figures, including Mavis Bramston, Dame Edna Everage, Clarke and Dawe, Bernadette in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and mesmerising impersonations of prime ministers, presidents and the Queen herself.
This lightning talk captures some of the highlights of five years of research on Australian comic actors in a range of public and private collections, and the creation of the Players online exhibition for AustLit, in which the careers of a large set of actors (including Max Cullen, Nick Tate and Jacki Weaver) are explored against a backdrop of photographs from the 1940s to the present.
Professor Anne Pender holds the Kidman Chair in Australian Studies at the University of Adelaide.
Enjoying the scenery: When the Heidelberg School went backstage
In our mind’s eye, we see them outdoors - standing under a blazing sun in front of easels at Box Hill, Mentone and Eaglemont. But around the time they were painting ‘Shearing the rams’, ‘Down on his luck’ and ‘Golden Summer’, the three Melbourne painters most closely identified with Australian Impressionism were painting indoors - at Bourke Street’s Bijou theatre. In 1890, Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton- all aged under 35 - were asked to paint figures for a new version of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, presented by the renowned Brough & Boucicault Comedy Company.
‘Enjoying the Scenery: When the Heidelberg School Went Backstage’ probes this intriguing footnote to Melbourne art history and discovers theatre mattered to Messrs Roberts, McCubbin and Streeton. They attended live shows, they befriended actors and musicians, and they composed some of their pictures like stage directors. Brough & Boucicault engaged Roberts on three occasions to design scenery and costumes while Streeton was employed as a scene painter.
‘Enjoying the Scenery’ seeks to recover the ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ they inhabited and locate their backstage work in a bigger, broader story of progressive art making in the late 1880s and 90s.
Simon Plant is a Melbourne writer and curator with a special interest in theatre history. He was a Herald and Weekly Times reporter and editor for 30 years, specialising in arts and entertainment. Simon, who holds a Master of Arts (University of Melbourne), has also written two plays (Acting Their Age, Goodbye Mr Bond) and co curated three significant exhibitions - 1956 Melbourne, Modernity and the XVI Olympiad (1996), at Heide Museum of Modern Art; Star Spangled Manner - Americans and the Birth of Australian Television (2000), Arts Centre Melbourne and Screensound Australia, Canberra; and Making A Song and Dance: The Quest for an Australian Musical (2005-06), Arts Centre Melbourne.
Simon, 61, is currently researching showman George Coppin’s travels in Civil War America.
...A library burns down
The contemporary performing arts in australia is critically hamstrung by its disengagement with its past. In the last few years a range of crucial organs of cultural memory have been lost including vital critical journals such as RealTime and tertiary training and research institutions like those at VU, Newcastle and Monash uni's. This paper reflects on the tenuous position of an australian performance arts culture in a climate of wilful forgetting and deliberate erasure.
Dr Robert Reid is a playwright, director, experience designer, critic and historian. He has been the Artistic Director of independent theatre company Theatre in Decay and immersive game company Pop Up Playground. His plays have been performed by MTC and Black Swan, his games have been presented by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the State Library of Victoria, Bell Shakespeare and the Melbourne Football club. He published Hello World: Promoting our Arts on the Net for Platform Papers in 2011, completed his PhD in Australian Theatre history in 2016 and has taught at the VCA, Monash and Deakin universities for the last twelve years. He is currently Co-editor of Witnessperformance.com.
Performing the past: The challenge of revisiting historical performance
Kate Rice set herself the task of recreating the experience of historical performance, in podcast form, with the support of the Frank Van Straten Fellowship, the Australian Performing Arts Collection and Arts Centre Melbourne. Through the research process, with the added challenges of the pandemic and a performing arts industry in crisis, she asked: how is it possible to revisit performances of the past, and why would we want to? What is it about historical performance that is worth remembering?
Kate Rice is an award-winning Australian playwright. She is also a parent, blogger, chorister, and dog-lover. She has written theatre for young people and several plays based on real events. She holds a PhD in ethical creative process.
Brisbane's Albert Hall (1901-1969): More that an arts venue
Involvement in the performing arts is very much an experience of ‘in the moment’. But when photographs and recordings are not available, research into earlier generations of artists relies heavily upon memoirs, press reports and ephemera. This problem is greatly amplified when a heavily used venue no longer exists.
Much is bound up in what an auditorium can offer, not just in terms of the physical infrastructure, but also its acoustics and ambience. Brisbane’s Albert Hall is a case in point. For nearly 70 years until its demolition in 1969 it was the city’s major medium-sized venue for concerts, plays, ballet recitals as well as serving as a lecture or meeting hall for political, educational and religious organisations. With 700 seats including a balcony, the centrally located venue was in great demand for many of those events for which the largest halls and theatres were not appropriate.
During the 1950s Albert Hall hosted an average of 140 events per year, and in the war years it was even higher. Over the years, a veritable ‘who’s who’ graced the Albert Hall stage, from Percy Grainger to Sybil Thorndike, from Samuel Griffith to several prime ministers and premiers, and from Douglas Mawson to Louis Mountbatten, not to mention the many performing artists and community leaders from Brisbane itself. For Albert Hall’s users, it was a shared cultural meeting point.
This presentation will discuss some of the findings from an extended research project about one of Brisbane’s former public venues. Another question that will be addressed is what constitutes cultural memory when we lose a building like Albert Hall, particularly if there is no direct replacement for it.
Peter Roennfeldt has a longstanding interest in the history of Queensland’s music. Ever since his Honours thesis on Robert Dalley-Scarlett at the University of Queensland 40 years ago, he has been fascinated by the stories of this state’s musicians and the places and contexts in which they worked.
For more than 30 years until recently he lectured at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, where for 7 years up until 2019 he also served as its Director. During that time he curated a project working with the State Library of Queensland to produce recordings of locally composed heritage repertoire that have enhanced the ‘Music Queensland’ collection. Since then he has also published three books: the history of the Queensland Conservatorium; the biography of pioneer musician Madame Mallalieu; and the history of the Brisbane Chorale. In addition he has published numerous articles on performance traditions including organ recitals and chamber music; biographical studies including Percy Brier and other pianist-teachers; cultural buildings such as the South Brisbane Municipal Chambers; and studies of professional music training in Queensland.
Peter is also a well-known performer, with interests in historically informed performance practices and presentation of thematic programs in heritage venues. As an Emeritus Professor he remains involved with the Conservatorium and its Research Centre in an honorary capacity. During 2018-2019 he was the holder of the Letty Katts Award at the State Library of Queensland, for which his project was the story of Brisbane’s Albert Hall.
Mark St Leon
The tragic story of Cassim & Abdallah
I recently visited Sawpit Gully, about 15 kilometres southwest of Queanbeyan, NSW, a place so remote it is not marked on maps, or even the generally thorough Google Maps. "What's so great about Sawpit Gully?" I hear someone say. “What does Sawpit Gully have to do with Australia’s performing arts heritage?”, I hear someone else say. Well, it was at Sawpit Gully, in November 1861 that an Indian man, Casserotti, was brutally murdered by person/s unknown and robbed of the money he was carrying, about 114 pounds.
Casserotti was the manager of two Indian “jugglers", named Mahomet Cassim and Mahomet Abdallah. Although called “jugglers”, Cassim and Abdallah were actually exponents of the ancient Indian martial art of kalaripayuttu. The three wandered the bush, the goldfields, the shearing sheds, the towns giving their extraordinary performances, quite unlike anything seen in Australia before and perhaps never seen since.
Video clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI84oM_bJeg [excerpts only]
On their way from Queanbeyan to Braidwood, some of their horses strayed from their overnight camp. They searched the surrounding bush, in the vicinity of Sawpit Gully, but got separated from each other. When Casserotti did not return to camp that night, Cassim and Abdallah assumed he had absconded with their earnings. Unbeknown to them, Casserotti had been attacked, murdered and robbed as he descended a lonely pathway leading to Sawpit Gully.
Scorning their recalcitrant manager, Cassim and Abdallah made their way to Sydney and caught a boat for Adelaide where they joined Burton’s National Circus, the leading colonial circus. With Burton, they toured the colonies, everywhere to great acclaim. About a year after Casserotti's disappearance, in October 1862, Burton’s Circus passed through Queanbeyan where Cassim and Abdallah again gave the townspeople another taste of their mesmerising performances.
About three months later, in January 1863, the remains of a man were accidentally discovered on the remote trail leading down to Sawpit Gully by a young boy out searching for stray cattle. The man had obviously been murdered and there was just enough circumstantial evidence surrounding his remains to identify him as the manager of the two Indian “jugglers” who had first passed through Queanbeyan about 15 months earlier, Cassim and Abdallah. The two young men were soon apprehended, arrested, charged with murder and removed to Goulburn for trial. Then, the law, human prejudice and bureaucratic expedience took their natural course.
Lacking command of English, Cassim and Abdallah were unable to adequately defend themselves in court, let alone understand the charges brought against them. After a trial lasting less than two days, the bush jury promptly found both men "Guilty" and Mr Justice Wise of the Circuit Court sentenced both to death. After an appeal to the Governor of NSW, Cassim’s sentence was upheld and he was hung in Goulburn Gaol in May 1863. Abdallah's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, with hard labour in irons for the first three years. After three years chopping sandstone in Sydney's Darlinghurst Gaol, his health broken, he was permitted to self-exile home to India. He died on the voyage.
After several months research, I and my colleagues eventually identified the likely location of the mysterious Sawpit Gully. The place matched quite closely the descriptions given in contemporary newspapers and court depositions. Sawpit Gully is located on reserved land just beyond the boundary of a landlocked sheep station actually named Sawpit Station. The owner of Sawpit Station, Peter Wells, very kindly allowed us to traverse his property by car. Unable to enter the fenced-off reserve, we descended to the Gully below on foot, all the time imagining the awful scene that took place there 159 years ago.
Video clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pbm4hgoD-0Q&t=3s [excerpts only]
The true murderer/s of Casserotti were never satisfactorily identified. So, I also hear ask, "If Cassim and Abdallah did not commit the murder of Casserotti, then who did?" For the answer to that question, you will need to see the movie, read the book, or both.
Dr Mark St Leon, now retired, was formerly Senior Finance Officer of the Australia Council, 1983-94. For some 25 years he was a freelance lecturer in accounting, economics and management. Descended from one of Australia’s earliest circus families, he is the author of the definitive history of circus in Australua, Circus: The Australian Story [Melbourne Books, 2011] and has written numerous monographs and articles on the subject. In 1991, he founded the Sydney Arts Management Advisory Group [‘SAMAG’], now in its 30th year of continuous, non-profit operation. He was recently appointed a Councillor of the Royal Australian Historical Society. Mark’s website, The Penny Gaff, will be launched shortly at www.pennygaff.com.au.
In the name of theatre: The history, culture and voices of amateur theatre in Victoria
Australian communities have been enriched across four centuries by a continuum of theatre companies built on the passion, time and skills of unpaid theatre-makers. Cheryl Threadgold's PhD research explored the history and culture of musical and non-musical amateur theatre in Victoria, commencing in New South Wales in the late 18th century and working through the decades until modern-day. Live cultural performances presented by First Nations People for over 60,000 years are respectfully acknowledged.
The title of Cheryl's talk is derived from her recently released self-published book In the Name of Theatre: the history, culture and voices of amateur theatre in Victoria, based on the thesis and also containing stories from 130 currently operating Victorian theatre companies. Cheryl will present an overview of amateur theatre in urban and regional Victoria through the decades, and share some field research interview data including the transformative benefits of amateur theatre.
Dr Cheryl Threadgold OAM researched amateur theatre in Victoria for her 2019 award-winning PhD thesis, then in June self-published the book In the Name of Theatre, the history, culture and voices of amateur theatre in Victoria, winner of a 2020 Victorian Community History Award. Cheryl’s first play in 1958 at the Arrow Theatre, Middle Park led to a love for amateur theatre. She worked professionally for 29 years behind the scenes in ABC Television and since 2005 has been honorary theatre writer/reviewer for the Melbourne Observer newspaper. A committee member of Theatre Heritage Australia and Vice Chair of the ABC Reunion Club, Cheryl also convenes the Bayside U3A Writers Group, casting and directing radio plays written by the writers for community radio.
On and off the stage
Walter Bentley was a world-renowned and celebrated actor, legendry for his Shakespearean and dramatic repertoires. He was on Australian and New Zealand stages through the 1890s and again from 1909 until his death in 1927. Although his name is found in histories of performing arts in Australasia until the 1950s, it has slipped out of contemporary writing on colonial and early twentieth-century theatre. Research in his scrapbooks housed in the State Library of New South Wales, and the online archives of newspapers from the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand, has revealed extraordinary rich details of the life of travelling theatrical companies.
This short talk will delve into the tours of the Walter Bentley Company in Australia and New Zealand in 1892 and 1893
Sue-Anne Wallace is an art historian whose doctoral research considered the liturgical theatres of the rock-cut churches in Cappadocia, Turkey. She has extensive experience in arts development and museums, with the Australia Council, National Gallery of Australia, Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney and Queensland University of Technology Cultural Precinct. In the latter position, she was also the director of the Gardens Theatre Brisbane. She is a former president of Museums Australia, now the Australian Museums and Galleries Association. She is currently researching late nineteenth and early twentieth century theatre in Australia with a focus on renowned Scottish actor Walter Bentley who toured in UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand from 1873, settling in Australia in 1909. Memorabilia of Walter Bentley’s is housed in the State Library of NSW and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Sydney.
John Truscott and the art of spectacle
When the blockbuster musical spectacular Camelot opened in November 1963 even the most hardened critics were ebullient when describing John Truscott's set and costume design as a triumph. All agreed that Truscott's Camelot was 'a dream of incredible beauty' and sheer theatrical magic. Unlike anything seen before its near genius artistry, as one critic put it, had to be seen to be believed. The challenge, explored briefly here, has been how, working fifty six years on with scant archival material, to identify the mechanisms of the Truscott magic that left critics and audiences breathless with awe and wonder.
Dr Denise Whitehouse is a design historian dedicated to the development of an Australian design history. Convenor of DHARN, the Design History Australia Research Network, www.dharn.org.au, Denise co-curated the acclaimed Design for Life: Grant and Mary Featherston exhibition at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne in 2019 and wrote the accompanying monograph. She is currently the John Truscott Foundation Research Fellow tasked with producing a manuscript that captures the magic and cultural significance of his work.
We couldn’t arrange for all the ghosts to be present: Interpreting a vanished theatre through practice
In 2019 I wrote and directed Ghosts of the Olympic Theatre, which was presented at the Junction Arts Festival as a promenade performance at the Launceston Post Office, site of the 1840s Olympic Theatre Royal. The text drew on my research into the last night of the season in November 1843, when Eliza Winstanley-O’Flaherty and Cordelia Cameron, both leading performers in the 1830s and 40s, appeared together in George Lillo’s 1731 true crime tragedy The London Merchant; or, The History of George Barnwell and Blue Jackets; or, Her Majesty’s Service, A Farce in One Act by Edward Stirling, Esquire.
In this presentation I will describe how we approached the resurrection of early nineteenth-century repertoire and performance methods. I will speculate on the rewards of dwelling in the difficult spaces of knowing and not-knowing as a theatre historian, and share my insights as a writer-director bringing her embodied understanding of theatre practice to the archive.
Dr Jane Woollard is Head of Theatre and Performance, School of Creative Arts and Media, University of Tasmania. Jane has directed many productions and has mentored emerging writers, performers, designers and directors. As a professional writer-director Jane has made theatre about forgotten women. The Hammer of Devotion (1994) was a playful exploration of four medieval writers. Aelfgyva (2003), a collaboration with composer Stevie Wishart, explored the Bayeux Tapestry through female experience. Prophet and Loss (2009) juxtaposed contemporary stories of bereavement with laments from the Book of Isaiah. Her recent work as a writer-director is born out of her research into actresses on Australia’s early stages, 1830-45. Miss W Treads (2017) was a postmodern exploration of actress Eliza Winstanley, Ghosts of the Olympic Theatre (2019), about early performers of Launceston, was seen at the Junction Arts Festival.
As Artistic Director of Here Theatre, Jane has directed six plays by award-winning playwright Kit Lazaroo: The Vanishing Box, (2003); True Adventures of a Soul Lost at Sea, (2004); Asylum, Kit Lazaroo (2007 & 2008); Letters from Animals, (2007); Topsy, (2010); and Bright Shiny & Green Night, (2015). These works theatricalise the relationship between human and non-human worlds, offering speculative realms where animals speak, and contest human dominance of the environment.