Alfred Frith

  • A Child Among You (Part 1)

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    In July 1923, Hugh J. Ward engaged British comedian, Charles Heslop in London to play the male lead in the Australian premiere of the British farce Tons of Money, to be staged at the Palace Theatre, Melbourne in November by Hugh J. Ward Theatres Ltd. in partnership with brothers, Sir Ben and John Fuller, as joint Governing Directors.  Embarking on the voyage to Australia with his actress wife, Maidie Field, son, Peter and fellow passenger, Dorothy Brunton (who had also been engaged by Ward to play the female lead) Heslop penned a series of articles for the London theatrical journal The Stage recounting his adventures Down Under, of which this is the first instalment.

    R.M.S. “Orsova,” October.

    Strictly speaking, the quotation should be “A Chiel Amang Ye” (I believe?), but I have deliberately spared you that, and in any case the original conclusion, “takkin’ fishers,” is so inappropriate to the present circumstances that I prefer to leave it abbreviated and intelligible, if it is all the same to you. [1]

    Who that has once heard them can ever forget those words of old Geoff. Chaucer’s—those words of old—just a minute—here they are:

    “When y-wis klepe dan Moder brae . . .”

    and so on? And are they not singularly applicable to the present case, I ask you? That is to say, there is nobody who engages in foreign travel who does not at some time or another—sooner or later—later or sooner—yearn to write home about it to the more fortunate stay-at-homes. When Nim, the son of Shur, left the tent of his fathers for the dug-out of his in-laws way back in B.C. let-me-see, hieroglyphics hastily scribbled with chisel and hammer on granite tablets carried the glad tidings to the world. When Hetty the Hen adventured o’er the road the darkest races of Ethiopia bade their minstrels fashion from her journey a conundrum in vogue to this day. And so the good work goes on, e.g., “America Through the Eyes of a Tortoise,” “Seeing India with a Bandmann,” [2] and other imperishable volumes. These few notes are about Australia—Australia from the theatrical point of view, as it strikes the ordinary average touring English actor (fresh from Sunday night arrivals in Rochdale or Tunbridge Wells and Monday morning meetings at Jonas' corner and other characteristic spots.) With not one reference to the Back Blocks and entirely free from Beating about the Bush. And, first of all, we have to get there.

    This is usually done by boat, in my case the “Orsova.” [3] This boat will go down to history as that unit of the Orient fleet which carried Charlie Austin and the Misses Pounds, to say nothing of George Tully and others, to their triumphs "down under.” Many are the anecdotes of these famous folk, related to me by the chief officer, by the purser, and by the skipper himself. This voyage must be very tame by comparison, I'm afraid. That universal look of high expectancy which used to greet me as I entered the smoking-room has now, I notice, died down to a mere glazed recognition. Entertainment is sought in other quarters, notably from the tall slim figure with the thin, keen face of an ascetic enthusiast, and withal a boyish, boisterous sense of fun, regarded, I imagine, with something of suspicion by the staider members of the ship’s company. In great demand, he is equally ready to referee the boxing, to auction the figures of the day's run, to present the prizes to the third-class, to voice the complaints of the passengers, to recite to me, privately, from Browning and Kipling in support of some political tenet, to emerge victorious from the final of the bolster-fighting championship, to rehearse with me a five-scene problem drama he has projected for one of our two distinguished actor-managers, interspersed with tales of touring days in England and South Africa, with Sass and Nelson. A varied and vivid personality. In sum, Mr. Pemberton-Billing. [4]

    There is that about these sea voyages. One has regular meals and one has the opportunity—so painfully lacking at No. —, Railway Cottages, Chester-le-Street—of mixing with the Nobility, Clergy, and Gentry. That again is not to everybody’s taste. For instance, it didn't suit my friend Alfred, the Shy Comedian. That was not his bill-matter, it was his misfortune. He travelled to Melbourne on board a vessel which had the honour of conveying, in addition to Alf., a Very Great Personage, indeed. I think he was a Viceroy or a Governor-General or perhaps a Potentate. In any case, he was poor Alfred’s downfall. When he and this Magnifico met face to face on a lone expanse, of deck (as they frequently did in spite of all Alfred’s scheming) it taxed the comedian’s resource to the utmost to devise new methods of unconscious avoidance of the august eye. Paroxysms of sneezing and coughing gave way to the good old Refractory Bootlace. The Young Man suddenly arrested by Thrilling Sight Five Hundred Miles out at Sea stunt was much overworked. It was getting poor Alf down, which probably accounts for his entering for the Gents’ Doubles in the Deck Quoits competition, without reckoning up possible consequences. Realisation came later. The Very Great Personage, in genial mood had entered also. Supposing—cold shivers attacked the Shy Comedian's spine at the very thought. The imminence of the draws found Alfred a nervous wreck; to a lady “Committeeman” his repeated inquiries as to whether she had yet made them presented itself as the worst kind of joke shamelessly persisted in. And then, of course, it happened. Alfred and the Duke were drawn together. To be played off at 2.30 and any competitor failing to arrive losing the game. Alfred did not tell me how the episode ended, but I like to picture a grimy comedian emerging at midnight from the stokehold, happy and disqualified.

    We go ashore at Toulon. The dramatic possibilities of Toulon appear to be undeveloped. At any rate, judging by the display of bills which recall the theatrical priming of, say, Chislehurst in the sixties. Why should the taste of Toulon be so far behind Paris? Toulon may be the Portsmouth of France, but Mr. Peter Davey would not like the parallel to be extended to its theatrical catering. Naples—where we next stopped—seemed in a worse plight. That is, unless the printing was very, very misleading. We in England are perhaps a little too much influenced by “the poster on the walls.”

    The ship is very full, and I think 75 per cent, of its first-class passengers are Australians and New Zealanders returning from holiday at “home.” They appear, most of them, to have spent the bulk of this holiday in London—in West-End theatres. They criticise us very candidly and very intelligently. London acting is more polished than Australian, they tell me—and I thank them most politely, but where are our singers, they ask? They heard very little singing worth calling singing in our revues and musical comedies. In this direction Australia will astonish me (they assure me). I had to explain that our revues and musical comedies are breathless affairs. There is no time for singing in the best of them. Dear souls; I wonder whether the theatre will hold one half of the people who have so eagerly promised to attend our first night. Bless them! and it makes no difference at all that so many of them don't know or won't remember even our names.

    We are fortunate in having Dorothy Brunton with us. She is a great favourite “down under”; the demeanour of our fellow-passengers made the telling unnecessary. [5]

    Colombo. Here is the East, with a Maidenhead and musical comedy setting. My “rickshaw-driver” (I don't suppose this is what they call him) stays his servile trot to pluck the sahib a scarlet flower from the hedgerow. My taxi-driver never did so much for me on the heights of Haverstock Hill. Extending this pretty idea (duly charged for, I suppose, but I got in such a muddle with cents and rupees that I don’t know whether I set him up for life or cast him down to death), would it not add to the amenities of travel if George, taking advantage of a stoppage in the traffic, were to hop off his driver’s seat into a near-by “Lyons,” and bear forth, all steaming, a fragrant cup of tea for his sahib? Even, with the traffic problem growing acuter still, a luncheon at Ludgate, with dinner to follow outside Liverpool Street? Inside a Cingalese interior (into which I shamelessly rubber-necked) I beheld framed upon the wall two highly coloured chromo-lithos of good King Edward in Coronation robes and George Robey in full regalia as the Mayor of Muckemdyke. No doubt the loyal coolie reverently and impartially removes his shoes before daring to contemplate either. The Sahib’s roving eye furthermore noted that in the Public Hall for one week only “Daisy Harcourt, the original singer of ‘Blighty,’ would be supported by those famous all-English artists, the Dandies.” Henry J. Corner, please note.

    Colombo— with its officers’ mess of the Ceylon Police, its Galle Face Hotel, its Prince’s Club—was a particularly green oasis in a rather arid voyage, and we started on our ten days’ run to Fremantle with real regret. 

    October 18.—A low-lying dark blur on the port—or is it the starboard bow? The elegantly gowned ladies of the haut monde around me murmur excitedly. A hum of patriotism swelling as the dark blur on the horizon swells, and made articulate at length by the fashion-plate beside me:


    I believe it is.

    THE STAGE (London), 29 November 1923, p.19

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    Compiled by Robert Morrison

    [1] The quotation comes from Scots poet, Robert Burns’ 1789 verse On The Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro’ Scotland(Collecting The Antiquities of That Kingdom) and occurs in the opening stanza:

    Frae Maidenkirk to Johnie Groat’s;-

    If there’s a hole in a’ your coats,

    I rede you tent it:

    A chield’s amang you takin notes,

    And, faith, he’ll prent it:

    (Ref: )

    [2] A pun on the surname of New York-born theatrical impresario, Maurice E. Bandmann (1872–1922) who toured English musical comedy and dramatic companies throughout India and the Far East between 1905 and 1922 from his home-base in Calcutta.  Following his death his companies continued to operate and it was not until the late 1930s that the Bandmann Eastern Circuit and its attendant companies finally closed down. (Ref: )

    [3] The Orient liner, RMS Orsova departed from London on 15 September 1923, and arrived in Toulon on 21 September and Naples on 23 September en route to Australia via the Suez Canal.

    11 Orient Line adFrom The Illustrated London News, 8 September 1923, p.1

    A pictorial video of the Orsova and its luxurious on-board appointments may be viewed on YouTube at

    [4] Noel Pemberton Billing (1881–1948) was a British aviator, inventor, publisher and politician. He emigrated to Australia in 1923 to establish an acoustic recording studio and record production plant in Melbourne, but ultimately returned to Britain after the failure of the business in 1926, when the new electrical recording systems had supplanted the now out-moded acoustic system.

    It was in Australia that he patented a recording system intended to produce laterally-cut disc records with ten times the capacity of existing systems. Billing’s “World Record Controller” fitted onto a standard springwound gramophone, using a progressive gearing system to initially slow the turntable speed from 78 rpm to 33 rpm and then gradually increase rotational speed of the record as it played, so that the linear speed at which the recorded groove passed the needle remained constant. That allowed over ten minutes playing time per 12-inch side of the records, but the high cost of the long-playing discs (10 shillings apiece), the fact that the speed varied, and the complexity of the playback attachment, prevented popular acceptance.

    In 1923, Billing set up a disc recording plant under the name World Record (Australia) Limited. The plant was in Bay Street in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, from where he produced his 78 rpm to 33 rpm discs.

    The plant was also the base for radio station 3PB, which he established in August 1925, for the purpose of broadcasting the company’s recordings. It was a limited “manufacturers’ licence”, a type which was only available during the first few years of wireless broadcasting in Australia. 3PB was only on the air for four months.

    The first recording made by World Record (Australia) was released in July 1925, and featured Bert Ralton’s Havana Band, then performing at the Esplanade Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda.

    (Ref: Ralph Powell, Magician or Mountebank—The Mecurial Noel Pemberton Billing—Pioneer of Commercially recorded Sound in Australia; Vjazz, issue 67, August 2015, pp.14–15 [Australian Jazz Museum, Wantirna, Victoria]: )

    [5] Melbourne-born actress, Dorothy Brunton (1890–1977) was returning to Australia after an absence of almost two years. She had made her London debut in 1918 appearing as ‘Fan Tan’ in Shanghaiat Drury Lane, and in December, took over the female lead in Soldier Boy at the Apollo Theatre, followed by lead roles in The Bantam, V.C. and Baby Buntingin 1919–20. Dot then returned to Australia to star for J.C. Williamson Ltd. in the local premieres of the musical comedies Yes, Uncle! (in June 1920) Baby Bunting (in December 1920) and Oh, Lady! Lady!!(in June 1921), as well as revivals of her earlier successes High Jinks and So Long Letty, plus Going Up and Irene.

    12 Baby BuntingField Fisher, Dorothy Brunton, William Greene and Alfred Frith in a scene from Baby Bunting (1920). Photo by Monte Luke–Falk studios.

    At the conclusion of her Australian tour, Dot left with her mother in early November 1921 to return to London via America, where they visited her brother, Jack in Los Angeles, who was working as a manager at their stepbrother, Robert Brunton’s Studios in Hollywood. 

    Robert Brunton was a son of their Scottish father John Brunton’s first marriage in Edinburgh, who had initially followed his father’s profession as a scenic artist in London for some years before being sent to New York with an English theatrical company around 1914. When his engagement was completed he did not return to London, and later found scope for his ability in moving picture studios. His real opportunity came when a coterie of investors financed a film-making venture known as Paralta Plays Inc. and built a studio at Los Angeles, California in 1917. Robert Brunton was appointed manager of it, but due chiefly to a spirit of mutual distrust that developed among the partners, the company did not make a success of the venture. Eventually it was decided to put the plant up at auction in 1918, and Brunton made an offer to buy it at a price in excess of what it was likely to fetch under the hammer, for a small cash payment, and bills for the remainder of the purchase money. This was accepted, and in a few months he turned the proposition into a profitable concern. Brunton did at times interest himself in the production of pictures, but his chief business was to accommodate independent companies and hire out anything necessary to make their films. (Mary Pickford was amongst the Hollywood stars who made films at the Brunton Studios.) In January 1922, Robert Brunton disposed of the business to a syndicate which included T.J. Selznick and Joseph Schenck (the studios later became the site of Paramount Pictures) and left for England with Dorothy intending to establish a similar plant there.

    Dot had intended returning to the London stage, but was persuaded by Robert to take a rest with him on the Continent. They set off from Paris, and toured by car from one country to another taking in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and then down to Italy, where Dot revelled in the beautiful theatres in Rome, and saw musical comedy in Venice. The period of rest and comradeship came to an end, however, with the sudden death of her stepbrother in London on 7 March 1923 and, grief-stricken, Dot turned her back on Europe and found refuge for a time in Florida with her brother, Jack (who now managed the Miami Studios built by the Curtiss Airplane Co.), where she was eventually persuaded to return to the stage again. She thus played for a time in Tons of Money in London, where she was subsequently engaged by Hugh J. Ward for his Australian production.

    Although Dot had previously appeared under Hugh J. Ward’s auspices during his tenure as joint Managing Director for JCW from 1911, Tons of Money marked her first appearance for Ward after his resignation from The Firm (following its take over by the Tait Brothers in 1920) to form Hugh J. Ward Theatres Ltd. in partnership with Sir Ben and John Fuller in 1922. 

    (Refs.: Australian Dictionary of Biography ; AusStage ; Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 15 September 1921, p.41— ; The Herald (Melbourne) Saturday, 7 January 1922, p.16— ; Wikimapia & The Age (Melbourne), Tuesday, 23 October 1923, p.9—


    To be continued

  • C.H. Workman in Australia (Part 6)

    1 bannerMonte Luke’s promotional photos included scenic artist, Leslie Board and the show’s 28 year-old stage manager, Rege Carey. Punch (Melbourne), 8 April 1915, p.18

    Following the conclusion of the Sydney premiere season of High Jinks (to make way for J.C. Williamson’s pantomime season, which traditionally commenced in the harbourside city at Easter time) JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company travelled Southwards to open at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on Easter Saturday, 27 March 1915. With Victor Champion taking the conductor’s chair as its local Musical Director, the cast remained much the same as it had in Sydney, with only a few minor alterations, which included the return of English actress, Gwen Hughes, who took over the role of Dr. Thorne’s nurse, ‘Florence’ from Eileen Cottey, and the addition of speciality dancer, Jack Hooker, who was given a solo spot in the Act 3 cabaret scene.

    Melbourne audiences took to the new musical with the same enthusiasm as the Sydneysiders had, which was reflected in the newspaper critiques published on the following Monday.

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     “HIGH JINKS.”

    The new musical jollity at Her Majesty’s Theatre is infinitely brighter, more cheery and melodious than any half dozen of the same class that have preceded it. It has also the advantage of improving through its three acts, the last one being a climax of irresponsible absurdity that sent the huge audience home in the best of spirits. It comes from American sources and the author is unannounced, but there are ample signs that it has been doctored a good deal in its passage from the States, and after. The music is mostly of the sparkling comedy, with a charming valse theme introduced in the beginning by Miss Dorothy Brunton, a song principally with harp and reed accompaniment, the melody also appearing in the score continually affording opportunities for admirable chorus singing. The second attraction was Miss Brunton’s and Mr. Plunket’s graceful duet and dance, “Not now, but later;” the third the trio, “Faust in ragtime,” with a serious travesty on grand opera by Mr. Workman, Miss Marie Eaton and Mr. F. Maguire, and the fourth Miss Eaton’s rousing ballad, “Sammy sang the Marseillaise,” the soul-stirring strain of the great French war song dominating the number. An additional treat was the exquisite dancing of Mdlle. Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann.

    Of course there is a plot, but it has all its work to do to carry the three acts on its back, and there is no strain necessary to follow it. The “High Jinks perfume,” if only smelt for a moment, has the power of turning the staid into jolly dogs, the dour towards roses and raptures and wine, and the cold-blooded to seek dare-devilry and Adventure. Of course it is all hilarious nonsense taken—after the first act—in the very highest of animal spirits, and finishing with a banquet full of surprises, the chief delight being the throwing of joyous handsprings by the lost, heavy father—of course after supper—to the joy of his newly-discovered wife, who has been dancing with all the energy worthy of a certificated pupil of St. Vitus.

    Mr. Field Fisher—who may be remembered as the stolid waiter in The Girl in the Taxi—takes the part of Dr. Thorne, an American specialist, the first victim of the perfume expressing, his new found mercurial vitality in attractive dancing, and fresh affection for his wife and for the wives of others, only avoiding a duel by urgent business at a bathing resort on the French coast, whither all the other characters come, the result being higher jinks than ever. Miss Florence Vie appears to every advantage as a woman of the world who has lost her husband, an American lumber king, for years, but manages, for all that, to live on and enjoy life to its full, which Miss Vie makes it very plain she does, throwing herself heart and soul into a performance that kept the stage lively all the time she was on it, especially in her duet with Mr. Rawlins, “Come Hither,“ and “The Dixiana Rise,” with the full company backing her as chorus. Miss Dorothy Brunton’s is chiefly a singing role, and as the adopted daughter of Miss Vie she was rather overshadowed in the dialogue but she gave her songs archly and brightly, making the hit of the evening with the valse number, “Is This Love at Last?” and subsequently in a ballad “By the Sea,” but in the last act she is almost obliterated, and is an onlooker only at the revels. As the stolid American lumber man, J.J. Jeffreys, transformed by the “High Jinks perfume” into a jovial and even dangerous man, Mr. W.H. Rawlins had a character rich in that class of humour in which he is an adept at portraying, and, with Miss Vie, kept the fun always at the topmost notch. A cleverly dealt with character was that of Jacques Rabelais by Mr. Paul Plunket, and departing from stage tradition rightly made him a gentleman—all Frenchmen are gentlemen. His graceful dance and song, “Not Now but Later,” with Miss Brunton, charmed by its verve and refinement. Of the explorer and inventor of the famous perfume, Mr. Workman had not much opening for his undoubted capabilities, but he made a telling hit with his first number, “High Jinks,” and in the duet “Chi Chi,” with Miss Glyn. Miss Marie Eaton was also—as Dr. Thorne’s real wife—assigned a singing part which she dealt with in fine style, and Miss Glynn was heard in a tender song, “The Bubble,” the effect being further illustrated by coloured air balloons that rose and fell, and even made their way to the roof of the theatre, where they found a home amongst the ornate mouldings. Mr. Frith’s Colonel Slaughter, who was also given and did smell of the perfume, was a neat comedy character, and Mr. F. Maguire, who does not appear till late, lent worthy aid by his singing to “Faust in Ragtime”. Miss Gwen Hughes created a pretty Red Cross figure—as nurse at Dr. Thorne’s; Mr. Chris Wren was a satisfactory garcon; Miss Nellie Hobson a rather sedate Madame Rabelais; and Miss Cecil Bradley a spruce Boy in Buttons, alias a page; and Mr. J. Hooker did a rattling double rag-step dance. The scenery by Messrs Board and Little, was captivating, and Mr. Victor Champion conducted skilfully, while a word of praise must be awarded Miss Minnie Hooper for the many pretty dances she has arranged. The piece, which had a very hearty reception by a packed house, will be repeated nightly with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

    The Argus (Melbourne), Monday, 29 March 1915, p. 6,

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    For the packed house at Her Majesty’s theatre on Saturday night three hours seemed to pass as so many minutes. The J.C. Williamson New English Comedy Company made a decided hit with “High Jinks,” truly described by Harry B. Burcher, the producer, as a musical jollity.

    The scenes are laid in France, first at the sanatorium of Dr. Thorne, an American, afterwards at Beauvllle, a coastal bathing resort. That the doctor, under the influence of the perfume, secretly administered by his chum, Dr. Wayne, permitted himself to be kissed by the wife of M. Jacques Rabelais, was the cause of a maze of misunderstandings, and most of the jollity. Wives became inextricably mixed with sweethearts, husbands dodged duels with the utmost difficulty, yet in spite of all, they sang and danced with a verve that delighted the audience. To sketch the plot would be to presume that it mattered, whereas it was submerged under an avalanche of mirth and mischief, lilting refrains, gay repartee and twinkling feet.

    Mr. C.H. Workman (Dr. Wayne, an explorer), the exploiter of the magic perfume, linked it, at the beginning of the first act, with the haunting melody of a song, “High Jinks." The song, the perfume, and Mr. Workman were then essential to the continuance of the piece.

    Miss Dorothy Brunton (Sylvia Dale, in love with Dr. Wayne), received an ovation for her most important number, “Is This Love at Last?" Her duet with Mr. Paul Plunket (M. Rabelais) was another success. Miss Marion Eaton (Mrs. Thorne) did justice to her numbers, particularly “Sammy Sang the Marseillaise.” Miss Florence Vie (Mrs. Jeffreys, a runaway wife), was responsible for much of the frivolity, and her song “Jim,” was especially well rendered. Miss Gertrude Glyn (Mile. Chi Chi, a dancer), was warmly encored for her tuneful “Bubbles.”

    Excellent work was done, with little respite, by Messrs W.H. Rawlins (Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, American lumber king), Field Fisher (Dr. Thorne), Paul Plunket (M. Rabelais), Alfred Frith (Colonel Slaughter), and Fred Maguire (Johnnie Doe). Others who pleased were Misses Gwen Hughes (a nurse), Cecil Bradley (a page), and Nellie Hobson (Madame Rabelals), and Mr. Chris Wren (garcon).

    In the third act Miss Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann were seen in a spirited dance. Mr. Jack Hooker contributed an eccentric step dance.

    The jollity will continue till further notice.

    The Herald (Melbourne), Monday, 29 March 1915, p.7,

    4 Fisher Workman Vie   Hal Gye caricatures for The Bulletin (Sydney), 8 April 1915, p.9

    The J.C. Williamson Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company having just concluded its final return Melbourne season at Her Majesty’s prior to the advent of High Jinks prompted the Age critic to draw comparisons with the evergreen comic operas. 

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    The medley of mirth and song staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday well represents the trend of advance—or the line of retreat—in matters musical since the Gilbert and Sullivan operas were written 30 years ago. In actual fact the world has probably become more serious since then. In its plays, and particularly in its musical comedies, it has become more flippant. Compared with Iolanthe or The Yeomen of the Guard, a production like High Jinksis an iridescent bubble on the surface of events. It is a chanson to an epic poem, or, if one prefers it, a souffle to a pancake. But whatever it is or is not, it is capable in the hands of a clever company of being made a very agreeable and light-hearted form of entertainment. And this is what happens to it in the present instance. The crowded audience on Saturday night gave the new production a cordial reception, and left the theatre feeling thoroughly satisfied. The three acts do what they profess to do; they furnish scenes of musical frivolity and light-hearted good humor; they provide some genuinely mirthful situations; and they carry the house along with them at a rapid, almost a breathless, pace. If anyone expects to hear improving moral sentiments or find a serious plot in High Jinks he will be disappointed. If he wants to have his fancy amused and his eyesight captivated he will be thoroughly satisfied. One is reminded at times of the lines in Mrs. Browning’s Wine of Cyprus, which may be applied to this extravaganza. It is:

    Bright as Paphia’s eyes e’er met us,

    Light as ever trod her feet.

    The name of the author of High Jinks does not appear on the program, but it is manifestly a composite work, built up by the collaboration of stage mechanist, dresser, librettist and musical composer—perhaps several of each. The result is really a harmony of its kind; a harmony made out of a number of sparkling and irresponsible materials, but none the less a harmony. The first scene is laid outside a doctor’s house in Paris. An accredited doctor, whether French or American, is not as a rule the kind of man who makes love to his patients, or takes unknown ladies on frivolous missions to the seaside. But there is a reason why the eminent American specialist, Dr. Robert Thorne, should do so in this case. A fellow practitioner has presented him with a wonderful specific; it is a perfume the merit of which is that it will galvanise into sudden life and “flirtatiousness” anyone who takes so much as a breath of it. Even the most serious-minded suffragette, it is claimed, could not resist this perfume; on a second or a third application she would forgive the British Prime Minister, and possibly dance a can-can with him in Trafalgar Square. At any rate, the effect on Dr. Thorne and the members of the High Jinks company is enlivening and exhilarating. There is no need to follow all the complications of the story. The doctor becomes an apostle of cheerfulness. He prescribes seaside resorts and young, good-looking nurses for all of his male patients. As for the women, he conceives it to be his mission to cheer them up by making love to them. A husband of one of them, who is unreasonable enough to object to this form of treatment, is completely pacified when given the opportunity of himself making love to the doctor's wife—or rather of a lady whom the doctor has thoughtfully passed of as his wife. It is all very impossible and very amusing. The second and third act, thrown against the background of a French watering place, introduce pretty dresses, pretty faces and comic situations in bewildering variety. The third act is perhaps the most handsomely staged and decorative of any. It is lit with lamps and adorned with shimmering evening dresses; and it is interspersed with music and very clever dancing, in which Mlle. Vlasta Novotna. Mr. Victor Lauschmann and Mr. Jack Hooker carry off the honors.

    The company that interprets this musical medley, and keeps it moving briskly from start to finish, is the one that appeared here last season in The Girl in the Taxi. The individual members, with scarcely an exception, appear to more advantage in this production than in the last, though Miss Jarvis, the leading lady, has in the interim deserted the stage for matrimony and domestic life. The leading part of Sylvia Dale, the young lady who has to pose both as assumed wife and assumed daughter falls to Miss Dorothy Brunton, who quite comes up to expectations. Miss Brunton seems to he improving with each new part. Her useful soprano voice, which she manages very pleasingly, is heard to great advantage in the song ‘Is This Love at Last’ in the first act, and also in the number ‘By the Sea’ in the second act. She shows, too, that she has stage sense and histrionic ability. Miss Gertrude Glynn, who will be remembered as Lady Babby in Gipsy Love, has a congenial part in this production as Mlle. Chi Chi, a dancer. Her clever dancing and good stage presence make her duet with Mr. Workman in the second act both graceful and effective; she is also heard to advantage in a pretty song, The Bubble, in which the effect is heightened by the sending up of large bright-colored bubbles to the ceiling. Miss Florence Vie is a large, cheerful and altogether successful runaway wife—so much so that the audience can hardly agree with the husband who congratulates himself on having a wife who is so considerate as to run away. Miss Marie Eaton performs creditably as the wife of Dr. Thorne, but the effect of her good singing voice would be enhanced if she gave the audience the benefit of the words. Of the others, Mr. Field Fisher does exceptionally well as Dr. Thorne, his dancing agility standing him in good stead. His conception of the part is legitimately humorous. The imposing personality of Mr. W.H. Rawlins fits admirably into the character of Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, the “lumber king,” and Mr. C.H. Workman, though not the ideal lover of romance, is sufficiently well cast as the comparatively serious hero—if anything in the play can be called serious. Mr. Paul Plunket as the would-be duellist husband, Mr. Alfred Frith as a very lively patient, Mr. Maguire as a young man about town, and Mr. Chris Wren as a droll and small sized waiter are others in the cast.

    The Age (Melbourne), Monday, 29 March 1915, p.7,

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    In addition to noting the absence of an author’s credit for the libretto, The Age critic correctly concluded that the score was a composite work, as Rudolf Friml’s original musical score had been bolstered by the addition of various interpolations, which was standard practise for musical comedies staged in Australia by JCW at this period, with Andrew MacCunn serving as chief musical adviser on such matters. In addition to the “Faust in Ragtime” trio showcasing the combined vocal talents of Charles Workman, Marie Eaton and Fred Maguire, the show also sported two popular American songs from 1914 to highlight the talents of its two leading ladies, “By the Beautiful Sea” (by Harold R. Atteridge and Harry Carroll) for Dorothy Brunton, and “Dancing the Blues Away”(by Joe McCarthy, Howard Johnson and Fred Fisher) for Marie Eaton.

    While the most likely source of the interpolated Act III opening chorus “Beauville” was the Act II opening chorus “Friville” (with amended lyrics) from the 1911 British musical comedy Peggy, featuring the music of Leslie Stuart and lyrics of C.H. Bovill, for which JCW held the Australasian performing rights (under a long-standing agreement with London impresario, George Edwardes to acquire the rights to all musicals and operettas staged at his London Gaiety and Daly’s Theatres, which had been instituted by J.C. Williamson himself) since the musical was never professionally staged by The Firm in Australia (although the original orchestra parts remain extant in the “J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials” archived at the National Library of Australia in Canberra.)

    The theatre critics for the weekly Melbourne newspapers and periodicals were no less stinting in their praise of the new musical than their colleagues of the daily press.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    The Playgoer

    By “Peter Quince”


    There were no signs of war or world-troubles upon the playgoing face which, loomed large, shining and smiling at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday evening. The house was densely crowded, and the welcome which was accorded to the members of “The Girl in the Taxi” Company as they made their reappearance was warm to the point of enthusiasm. The new production is entitled “High Jinks,” and is a musical farce, the name of the composer being modestly withheld, probably because it is that of a German. The piece has achieved a great success in America, and will probably do the same here, if one may judge by the favour with which it was received on the first production. “High Jinks” is an hilarious nightmare, as amusing a story as it is wildly improbable, inconsequent and utterly irresponsible. The music is varied, bright and enjoyable, the fact that it is reminiscent of much that we have had before detracting but little from its attractiveness. The name “High Jinks” serves the double purpose of describing the action of everybody concerned, whilst under the influence of the perfume, “High Jinks.” This magical scent has the effect of making any person who sniffs it amorously happy and deliriously demonstrative. The doctor who has tested it becomes at once oblivious to the troubles of his patients, except when they are young and pretty, and require soothing kisses to be administered; rheumatic patients under the influence of the smell shake off their stiffness in a remarkable way, and develop at once amativeness and Terpsichorean energy, whilst its potency is so all-powerful as to send everybody to a charming seaside resort, where the hours are spent in singing, dancing, love-making and strolling on the sands in the most fetching of costumes, full, scant and intermediate. In fact, the spell of the High Jinks perfume is irresistible.

    * * * *

    Hazily seen, through the piece is woven the love story of a Manila lumber king, who has married an actress. They, after a brief honeymoon, had agreed to separate, and at the time the opera commences this separation has endured for twenty-three years. The actress after separation, sent her husband a cable notifying the birth of their little girl. The story of the birth was a “frame-up,” which the pseudo-mother covers up afterwards by adopting an attractive young singer. The lonely lumber king comes to France for the good of his health, and under the influence of “High Jinks” is condemned to a course of treatment at the hands of a fascinating nurse. The actress-wife and the supposed daughter visit the same watering place, and at once find themselves entangled in the web of intrigue and misunderstanding which “High Jinks” weaves everywhere it is permitted to mingle with the atmosphere. An excitable French gentleman and his wife are prominent in the action, as also are many dancers. The final result is that the subtle perfume gets into the nostrils of the audience, and the piece leaves them in a state of “High Jinks,” merriment and an atmosphere of “dunno-where-they-are.”

    * * * *

    In this piece Miss Dorothy Brunton plays perhaps her most important part—that off the adopted daughter Sylvia, and in the character sings in a much improved and effective manner, giving altogether a most creditable rendering of the young, proper and affectionate girl. Miss Brunton has the song of the piece, “Is This Love at Last,” a waltz number of haunting quality. She also scored in “By the Sea” with an effective chorus, and running through the refrain at times is heard the “swish” of the far resounding sea, as the rollers lazily chase each other upon the sands of Beauville. Miss Brunton, of course, looks a delightful picture, and acts with spirit and charm. Miss Gertrude Glyn as Chi-Chi, a dancer, is in this piece a character of minor importance, but Miss Glyn made her as bright and convincing as possible, and scored successes in “The Bubbles,” and in her duet with Mr. C.H. Workman. Miss Florence Vie as the separated wife of the lumber king was quite in her element, and in her quaint appearance, costumes and sayings must be held responsible for a large proportion of the laughter of the evening. As the doctor’s wife Miss Marie Eaton achieved a distinct musical success; the two adjectives must be taken as bracketed together, for her singing of the music was as distinctly successful as the words of the songs were indistinct and unintelligible. Perhaps now that Germany is under a cloud, operatic artists will reconsider the true value of “lieder ahne worte,” and give the author, as well as the composer, an opportunity of being heard and understood. Miss Nellie Hobson as Madame Rabelais, and Miss Gwen Hughes as a nurse, were respectively “bits of all-right,” and Miss Cecil Bradley filled the role of a page with marked success. The gentlemen in the cast may be briefly summarised as “all there” in dialogue, music, dancing, action and the provocation of merriment. They were Messrs. Field Fisher, W.H. Rawlins, C.H. Workman, Paul Plunket, Alfred Frith and Fred Maguire. More of them next week. During the third act a dance by Mr. Victor Lauschmann and Mdlle. Vlasta Novotna was warmly appreciated. The piece was enthusiastically received, and will prove a shining Easter attraction.

    Punch (Melbourne), Thursday, 1 April 1915, p.32,

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    7 By the Beautiful SeaDorothy Brunton and the girls’ chorus sing “By the Beautiful Sea”. Photo by Monte Luke. Punch (Melbourne), 25 March 1915, p.27.


    The complaint as to a slump in matters theatrical can scarcely be well-founded considering the capital attendances at the regular theatres, notwithstanding the counter attractions of picture-shows innumerable. Her Majesty’s Theatre is packed nightly. On Saturday night hundreds were turned away from the doors. “High Jinks” went as befits its name—merrily and boisterously. The piece is strong in comedians, who keep the ball rolling briskly. Mr. W.H. Rawlins is a great favourite as Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, who curses his fate, in being called after the former champion of the prize ring. Poor Jeffreys has come to Paris for the cure, which seems to consist of pleasant treatment by a comely nurse who has no serious objection to playing up high-jinks when required. Mr. Rawlins and Miss Florence Vie are very successful in their humorous duet. “Come Hither,” Mr. C.H. Workman is bright, brisk and lively throughout, and is heard to great advantage in the scene, “Faust in Ragtime,” in which he shares the honours with Miss Marie Eaton and Mr. Fred Maguire. Mr. Field Fisher carries the important burden of Dr. Thorne lightly, Mr. Paul Plunket, gives characteristic tone and action to the impressionable and fire-eating French husband, Mr. Alfred Frith does splendidly as Colonel Slaughter, especially in the banquet scene. The dancing introduced into “High Jinks” forms an important and attractive feature. The pas de deux by Miss Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann is a brilliant and graceful measure, and is loudly applauded, whilst the eccentric double-rag dancing of Mr. Jack Hooker is something in the way of a revolution in step-dancing. The graceful movements and dances incidental to the action of the piece are highly creditable to their arranger, Miss Minnie Hooper. “High Jinks” will be produced every evening until further notice.

    Punch (Melbourne), Thursday, 8 April 1915, p.32,

    * * * * * * * * * * * *


     “High Jinks.”

    Packed in every part, there was quite a gala spirit rife at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night. From the opening of the overture there was a breath of espiegle and gaiety about the new production, “High Jinks,” that set everyone in a good humor. There is plenty of dash and “ginger” in it from start to finish, and never a dull moment. Events are hurried at the breathless speed and with all the hustle which characterises American productions. The music is bright and sparkling, with catchy airs and a pretty waltz refrain, which, however, is not intruded too much. It has also that rare thing in musical comedy—a plot which is followed almost without a break to the very end. It is thin, but it serves to keep up a strong interest right to the close of the third act.

    The story opens outside Dr. Robert Thorne’s surgery, a busy specialist, who is brusque in manner. Patients arrive to consult him, and Dick Wayne, a friend, drops in. He is the inventor of a wonderful perfume, “High Jinks,” with magical qualities, so that a mere whiff makes one genial and ready to frivol. The doctor receives him snappily, then, to make some amends, says he will take his perfume and have a look at it. He does so, with the effect that it makes him skittish, and he scandalises several persons by being caught dancing most energetically. Finally, in the very act of kissing Madame Rabelais, he is detected by her husband, who challenges the doctor and gives him the choice of being killed or allowing Monsieur to kiss Mrs. Thorne. The latter alternative is chosen. The lady is to be at Beauvllle, but a little plot is arranged to have a pseudo wife represent her; and an actress, the adopted daughter of an ex-stage favorite, is chosen to play the role. But Wayne is a devoted admirer of her, and has watched her night after night from a box, and he begins to suspect and to be furiously jealous when he sees her in a compromising situation. There is another patient, who is sent off to recruit with a nurse, J.J. Jeffreys, who tells how he has not seen his wife, whom he married from the stage, for over 20 years.

    They all arrive at Beauville, even the stately, real wife of the doctor, and there are many muddles and explanations before it is all straightened out.

    To do justice to the production, a specially-picked company is necessary, especially on the masculine side, for each role has to be sustained by a comedian with a sense of character, and at the same time a dancer and more or less a singer. Such a company the management has been lucky enough to find, and consequently “High Jinks,” which is beautifully staged and mounted, has a dash and breeziness which are quite irresistible. All the parts fit the performers as though made for them. C.H. Workman is excellent as Dick Wayne, a role in which he displays acting ability of no mean quality, real vocal talent, and proves himself a dancer who is wonderfully light on his feet. Of Field Fisher, as Dr. Thorne, much the same may be said, except that he is not quite so well endowed as a singer. But right through he keeps to the spirit of the part in an effective way.

    Paul Plunket is admirable as the excitable, volatile Frenchman, Mons. Jacques Rabelais. Alfred Frith, as Colonel Slaughter, an elderly military dandy and fire-eater, is another well-worked-out role which provokes humor, and W.H. Rawlins is first-rate as J.J. Jeffreys, who has mislaid a wife and daughter and acquired a too pronounced figure and some digestive ills.

    Marie Eaton makes one of the most striking successes on the feminine side. Like Mr. Workman, she comes out strong as quite a dramatic actress, a singer of high merit, and a dancer. The trio in the third act, in which she, C.H. Workman, and Fred Maguire give the “Faust” burlesque in ragtime, represents something very fine vocally, such as is rarely heard in musical comedy; it approaches very nearly grand opera, and arouses the audience to a regular salvo of applause.

    Florence Vie, in the comedy part of Adelaide Fontaine, the mislaid wife, is next in prominence and scores a big popular success, for she bubbles over with humor and good spirits.

    Dorothy Brunton is sweet and dainty as Sylvia Dale, her adopted daughter, with just the right dash of assertive spirit to prevent Sylvia being too cloyingly sweet. Gertrude Glyn has not much opportunity as Mdlle. Chi Chi, but manages to make the part stand out, and does well in her one song and dance.

    Gwen Hughes as the nurse at Doctor Thorne’s, Nellie Hobson as Madame Rabelais, Cecil Bradley as a page, Fred Maguire as Johnnie Doe, and Chris. Wren as Garcon, are well placed in the minor roles. Mdlle. Novotna and Victor Lauschmann give a graceful dance number in the third act.

    There are many new ideas in stage effects and movements, and the whole production reflects the greatest credit upon Harry B. Burcher, who supervised the whole. The orchestra, under Victor Champion, does excellent work.

    Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 1 April 1915, p.25,

    8 Scenes 1(l to r) Florence Vie & W.H. Rawlins—Gertrude Glynn, W.H. Rawlins & Cecil Bradley (as the page)—Alice Bennetto & Field Fisher.
    Photos by Monte Luke. Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 25 March 1915, p.27.

    THEATRES, &c.

    Coming on the heels of the Gilbert and Sullivan season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, musical comedy has its differences, its defects, thrown into sharper contrast, but “High Jinks” is as well fitted to stand the strain as anything in the line produced of recent years. That this kind of entertainment maintains its popularity there can be no doubt. The air and attitude of the large audience which welcomed it back on Saturday evening offered convincing proof upon that point. The gaiety of the house was infectious—it increased with the progress of the frolic, which is admirably arranged to create expectation at the outset and carry one on from that pleasant state to the feeling of unbounded, irresponsible gaiety reached in the climax. “High Jinks,” if not consecutive, is sparkling, melodious, and graceful all through. No author has put his name to it, but possibly a dozen have contributed to what is, after all, the least important part of an entertainment, brought to perfection chiefly by stage art and experience. As “The Mikado” has a fresh musical surprise for us in each melodious moment, so “High Jinks,” in other ways and by wholly different charms, keeps one simmering always, sometimes shouting impulsive and unstinted approval. As with “Seven Keys to Baldpate,” [the George M. Cohan play starring Fred Niblo then playing at the Theatre Royal] it is better to leave a good deal for revelation on the stage. Mention of the idea is almost sufficient—a magical perfume, the secret of which is possessed by an American doctor resident in Paris, and the effect of which even at a single sniff is to make moody people bright and bright people intensely gay. It is an elixir calculated to do much good in some communities, maybe harm in others, though no moral that anyone can discover is hinged on or even suggested at Her Majesty’s. The doctor who administers it, and who at the outset is impelled only by scientific zeal, the glamour of a great discovery, is not immune to his own medicine. So he is infected, and his remedy for all ailments—not discoverable in the pharmacopoeia—is to make love to his patients, serious or frivolous, maiden or married alike. If husbands find fault with the method and seek interviews, a whiff of the magic perfume removes all jealousy, all gloom, and thence on—to use imagery suitable to the situation—they are “in it up to their eyebrows.” Two of the acts are set at a charming French seaside resort, with all that the atmosphere and the situation offer or suggest. For the rest of the story—the detail that completes it, the bits in parentheses that have nothing to do with it—but are not less welcome on that account—the curious, as in the case of “Baldpate,” are best referred to the theatre. To those who fail to find full enjoyment, either the magic perfume itself or an everyday tonic is prescribed. In curt analysis, “High Jinks” may be defined as a hybrid between the lighter, brighter side of musical comedy and the just-deceased revue. It is produced—and better played and sung—by the company which appeared in “The Girl in the Taxi,” with whom Miss Dorothy Brunton, now in the lead, has been winning fresh distinction. Miss Brunton has in this instance chiefly a singing part, and fate in the allotment of its favours is unkind to her only in the last act, where she is mainly a picturesque looker-on. In the earlier scenes, however, Miss Brunton does more than enough for her reputation—and chiefly in the song “Is This Love at Last?” In such a production as this the chief comedian is of vital importance. As the doctor driven to gaiety by the diablerie of his own medicine, Mr. Field Fisher has altogether a different kind of character to the waiter of the Jeunesse Doree restaurant, and fresh opportunity reveals in him new and highly entertaining qualities as a comedian. Mr. Fisher is no specialty artist. He grasps and reveals the humorous and the ridiculous on the broadest lines. The doctor has two wives, the one taken before, the other after the perfume. Miss Florence Vie, the after effect, has run away from one husband, a rough and ready lumberman of the back woods, who, getting within range of the joy-bringer, is transformed in the usual way. Miss Vie is decorative, musical, and, like the Waverley pen, “a boon and a blessing to men,” while Miss Marie Eaton, as the wife of the scientific era, sings supremely well, though always with more regard to the value of musical notes than song words, which are, however, of lesser importance. The comedy is sprinkled with good songs and bright situations, and some distinct, if not vital, characters. The frivolous Frenchman of the English stage is very often a grotesque caricature. As a concession to the Entente, Mr. Plunket in this instance corrects such errors without losing anything in effect upon the light side. His Jacques Rabelais is not very Rabelaisian—just Rabelaisian enough. Miss Gertrude Glynn, Miss Gwen Hughes, Mr. Frith, Mr. W.H. Rawlins—who is very happy indeed as the transformed and rejuvenated man of the pine woods—and other artists equip this comedy in a way that offers little chance for betterment. All that stage art can do in colour design and effect to give it suitable setting is accomplished; the dancing of Vlasta Novotna and Victor Lauschmann wins unbounded admiration. Nothing better in fun, frivolity, light-hearted and graceful entertainments—with just sufficient of the spice of wickedness—has recently been staged at Her Majesty’s than “High Jinks.”

    The Australasian (Melbourne), Saturday, 3 April 1915, p.24,

    9 Scenes 2(l to r) C.H. Workman & Dorothy Brunton—Field Fisher caught kissing Nellie Hobson by Paul Plunket—Gertrude Glynn & C.H. Workman—Field Fisher & C.H. Workman.
    Photos by Monte Luke. Punch (Melbourne), 25 March 1915, p.27.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    The critic for The Leader, however, was far more grudging in his praise and seemed to regard the whole enterprise as unworthy of his serious appraisal, and of possessing only a few redeeming features.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    DRAMA, &c.


    High Jinks, produced at Her Majesty’s by The Girl in the Taxi Company, is described as “a musical jollity,” and is certainly entitled to no higher commendation. It has been devised for the amusement of those who are content with rollicking farce and desire no more intellectual form of entertainment. There is no deception practised, for the title is quite sufficient to indicate the nature of the show. Those of the audience who are not satisfied with the broad effects which evoke laughter, with the inspiring music, and the dancing which seems to be the outcome of irrepressible influence, have no business to give their patronage. High Jinks may be taken to represent the lowest phase to which musical comedy has descended, though we should not like to say that there may not be in the lowest deep a lower deep. It is redeemed from its worst aspects by the tuneful quality of some of the musical accompaniment, and by the kind of tarantelle dancing which furnishes its principal attraction.

    The idea, if it can be called an idea, which is contained in the story, is found in the mysterious virtues attaching to a certain perfume. A whiff of this is sufficient to overturn the mental balance of the most staid and correct of individuals, and to send him capering with a nimbleness which defies any sense of restraint. A doctor of irritable temperament and sober demeanor, who was induced to try it by his friend the explorer becomes a new being, eager for amatory converse with his patients and ready to seize on any opening for intrigue. He is discovered by a jealous Frenchman kissing his wife, and to avoid a duel prefers to face the threatened alternative of a retaliation in kind. His own wife he sends off on a wild goose chase, while he arranges for temporarily filling her place with an accommodating dancer, who is quite ready to be kissed by the indignant Frenchman on a basis of substantial pecuniary reward, but as her terms are exorbitant, the doctor thinks he can make more economical arrangements by engaging the services of a grass widow and her adopted daughter. Then follow an inextricable series of complications which are supposed to be irresistibly amusing. Whenever there is danger of a hitch, the intoxicating perfume is brought into action and sets everybody's legs wildly gyrating. Those who are willing to succumb to the suggestion that there is something exhilarating in this form of humor will find ample excuse for riotous laughter, but it is a kind of fooling which may well make the judicious grieve.

    The only reasonable occasion for satisfaction in High Jinks will be discoverable in the music, the dancing, and the setting. There are some catchy songs interspersed throughout the performance, and all the principal characters are given an opportunity. The main theme, repeated again and again, has a tuneful quality, and the parody of Faust, given by Marie Eaton, C.H. Workman and Fred Maguire, is of quite ambitious character, though the conversion of Gounod’s magic tone into ragtime may be condemned as a desecration. The dancing is a distinctive feature of the performance, and apart altogether from the funny capers which are an adjunct of the perfume, there are ballets of an attractive kind, and a specially delightful illustration of the poetry of motion supplied by Vlasta Novotna and Victor Lauschmann. The costuming and setting of the play are other merits to be acknowledged.

    The company does the most it can with the material at its service, though the conditions are not as favorable as those under which the original reputation was obtained.  Mr. C.H. Workman is most to be pitied, for his part of the explorer who has to whisk about with the scent bottle is an impossible one. As some compensation, he is given more chances of displaying his vocal ability. He has a song, a duet and the Faust trio, but we miss his humor. Miss Marie Eaton is in greater prominence than usual, and when she has singing to do acquits herself well. Miss Dorothy Brunton bids fair to become a great favorite with the public, and though now lacking in certainty, has qualities which should enable her to achieve success. A pleasant appearance, a charm of manner, and a voice which enables her to sing prettily, are good assurances of recommendation. Miss Florence Vie seems to experience a joy in living which she communicates to the audience, and her style of humor finds a convenient environment in High Jinks. Miss Gertrude Glynn as Chi-Chi, the dancer, combines vocal and pedal gymnastics. Her song, The Bubble, with its quaint accompaniment of colored air balloons, was distinctly novel. The doctor was played by Mr. Field Fisher with a thorough appreciation of its spirit. Mr. Alfred Frith as a volatile Colonel, and Mr. Paul Plunket as the indignant Frenchman, made the most they could of their parts. Mr. W.H. Rawlins as an American lumber king, who was not averse to amorous adventure while in search of his long lost wife, was appropriately ponderous, with an occasional outburst into amazing agility. Aid was rendered also in minor measure by Miss Gwen Hughes as a nurse, by Miss Nellie Hobson as the kissed wife of the Frenchman, by Miss Cecil Bradley as a page, and by a young male member of the company who contributed a lively step dance.

    The Leader (Melbourne), Saturday, 3 April 1915, p.34,

    10 castPunch (Melbourne) 8 April 1915, p.18

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    The theatrical gossip columns in the daily press and weekly periodicals continued to promote public interest in the entertainment world by reporting items of interest.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *


    Mr. Harry Burcher, “producer” of “High Jinks,” is the latest to sing the praises of the Australian chorus girl. “Her versatility is simply remarkable,” says Mr. Burcher. “In London a chorus girl generally remains a chorus girl, or, at any rate, is seldom able to distinguish herself in an emergency such as the Australian girl is capable of. We have in the chorus of the ‘High Jinks’ company, at the present time, at least six girls who could step out of the ranks and play parts if called upon. The same applies, to some extent, to the male members of the chorus, who are far above the average type of chorus man we have in London. The ranks of the Australian chorus provide a remarkable amount of material for turning into highly accomplished artists.”

    The Herald (Melbourne), Wednesday, 28 April 1915, p.1

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Harry Burcher was as good as his word and during his tenure as a producer (or stage director in modern parlance) with JCW, he helped to promote the careers of many Australian performers in his productions, including Madge Elliott, who he brought out of the ballet and cast in her first acting and singing roles, culminating with the titular Cabaret Girl in 1923.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    On and Off the Stage

    11 Chocolate Soldier 1910“I’ve just had quite an interesting experience,” said C.H. Workman, the famous comedian in “High Jinks,” at Melbourne Her Majesty’s. He had just emerged from a book-seller’s shop, and displayed a copy of an English souvenir of “The Chocolate Soldier,” in which he created the part of Bumerli. “I was buying a magazine,” he explained, “when the man behind the counter looked at me sharply for a moment, and then remarked, ‘I think I have got something here that will interest you.’ He handed me a copy of the ‘Chocolate Soldier’ souvenir. ‘You're Mr. Workman, I think?’ I admitted that I was. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘would you care to accept this? I have often thought I would like to meet the original of that picture of Bumerli on the cover. I saw you in the piece in England, and it does seem strange that I should meet you in Melbourne.’ It was quite a strange sensation to me to see my own picture on a periodical thousands of miles from England, and so unexpectedly.”

    Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 29 Apr 1915, p.20

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Widespread public sympathy for Belgian refugees displaced from their homeland by the German invasion, which had precipitated Britain’s declaration of war against the aggressors (with Australia following suit in support of the Empire) resulted in many charitable appeals to support the Belgian Relief Fund to provide food and clothing for the beleaguered nation. One such appeal was Belgian Rose Day held on 8 April (to mark the birthday of King Albert of Belgium) which saw Charles Workman and his fellow cast members rubbing shoulders with the Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, and Melbourne’s own hometown operatic diva, Nellie Melba, who was just then embarking on the patriotic fund-raising work that would earn her the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in early 1918. (As a world famous exponent of the role of ‘Marguerite’ in Gounod’s Faust, Melba’s reaction to the interpolated “Faust in Ragtime” trio in High Jinks went, sadly, unrecorded. A curiously comical juxtaposition was provided by a charity matinee staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in aid of the Actors Association of Australia Benevolent Fund and the Royal Comic Opera Company's Sick Fund, on the afternoon of Friday, 8 September 1916, in which Melba sang the prison scene from Faust to end the first part and the New English Musical Comedy Company concluded the entertainment with a performance of the complete second act from High Jinks, which included the musical “travesty” performed therein wherein Faust comes to bail Marguerite out of prison, and Mephistopheles, who has a taxi waiting outside, bewails the fact that it is ticking off dollars while the trio are singing.)

    * * * * * * * * * * * *


    Decorated motor cars paraded the streets, bands of pierrots, and masked, mysterious ladies sang patriotic songs. The streets were gay with red, yellow and black banners and flags. Several of the shop windows were dressed in the national colours of Belgium, and through the crowded streets went on busily the clinking of coins into tin boxes. Each affair of this kind seems to bring out more girls to collect—there were nearly 700 yesterday in the city alone. Most of the collecting activity seemed to be displayed in the forenoon. The 100,000 artificial roses were sold out by midday, but there still remained the postcards, ribbons, and the real roses. At luncheon time the principal cafes were decorated with roses and Belgian colours, and a number of politicians and leading citizens took advantage of the occasion to say pleasantly true things about King Albert and in praise of the people who stood for a fortnight against the brutal might of Germany.

    In the afternoon there was a parade through the city of the decorated motor cars. The motor car is not a thing which lends itself much to decoration, but indubitably the best effect was that obtained by the car which headed the procession—a chariot in blue and white, with two white swans perched over the bonnet, and giving an effect of Lohengrin. The second car, in autumn colours, was also well designed and a good effect was gained by the one which came later in the procession—the body being massed around with blue and white flowers with a Union Jack design at the back, and a pole in the centre to which gaily-coloured streamers led.

    His Excellency the Governor and Lady Stanley came in during the afternoon, and halted for a while at Lady Allen’s kiosk opposite the Town Hall; moving on to see the return of the motor procession at the Federal Parliament House. The weather throughout was pleasant and sunny, though rather warm …



    At quarter past 2 o’clock the decorated cars, some of which had been acting as kiosks during the forenoon, drove up opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral, under the eye of the Lady Mayoress, who judged them, and awarded the prize to Madame Melba. The car for which the first prize was given was that mentioned above as reminiscent of Lohengrin. It was a perfect bower of blue and white, most elaborately and tastefully handled. It was the only thing in the procession which did not look like a motor car, and the prize could only have gone elsewhere by a shocking error of taste. Half a dozen banners were given to half a dozen other cars, and the procession left for the city, via Collins street to William street, and thence through Bourke street to Parliament House. Madame Melba’s car went first, Madame herself distributing the flowers to the crowds which lined the route …


    The official luncheon in [the dining-room of the Oriental Hotel] was given by Mesdames Percy Russell, R. Hallenstein, V. Wisher, and Arthur Woolcott, who had the use of the lounge as a depot. The principal guest was the Prime Minister (Mr. Fisher). The table at which they sat was ornamented by an immense canopy of roses amid foliage, and from the centre rose a fountain of rose-scented water. At the given time the Prime Minister rose and proposed the toast “His Majesty the King,” and then in a few words gave the toast of the day. Early in the afternoon preparations were made for the cafe chantant, for so many tables had been booked that, in addition to the Winter Garden, accommodation in the lounge and dining-room had to be requisitioned. A capital programme was rendered from the musicians gallery, the contributors being Miss Dorothy Brunton and Miss Florence Vie (of the “High Jinks” company), Mr. Lawrence Leonard, Mr. Fred Collier, Miss Elsie Treweek, Miss Anne Williams, Mr. H. Hamilton, Miss Rosa Walton and Miss Florence Finn. Programs were sold for silver coins, and a few which Madame Melba autographed realised fancy prices, as much as £1 being given for one.

    At the conclusion of the procession of decorated cars, Madame Melba took tea at the Oriental, her arrival being announced by Mr. F.A. McCarty, who said he had just received from her funds amounting to close on £30, which she had collected during her tour through the city. Madame Melba had intended putting up several articles for sale by auction, but she felt too fatigued to conduct the sale, so Mr. Workman of the “High Jinks” company, and Mr. P. Bush, of the Theatre Royal company, acted as auctioneers with the result that £13/12/6 was raised from two Belgian flags (£8/15/), a prize rose (£1/10/), and two bottles of “High Jinks” scent (£3/7/0). The proceeds from the tea tickets amount to close on £30.

    The Argus (Melbourne), Friday, 9 April 1915, p.6 [extracts],

    * * * * * * * * * * * *


    The members of the High Jinks company gathered at the Savoy Cafe on Saturday night with the object of helping the Belgian fund. Mr. C.H. Workman, with the co-operation of Mr. H.B. Burcher, directed the proceedings, a feature of which was an auction sale by Mr. Workman. A £1 note was purchased by Mr. Falkiner for £110, and he also secured a pair of poplin curtains for £24. A collection by Miss Marie Eaton realised £17 8/, the total amount received being £131 18/. During the evening an entertainment was given by Mr. Workman, Mr. [Victor] Lauschmann, Mr. Alexander Yakovleuko, Mme. Clere and Miss Eaton.

    The Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 3 April 1915, p.50

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Having established his home-base in Melbourne with his wife, “Tottie” and son, Roy, Charles Workman also helped to organise further charitable events with the co-operation of fellow citizens of his adopted city and the active participation of Mrs. Workman.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Mr. Workman’s Garden Fete

    Mr. C.H. Workman, of the “High Jinks” company, with Miss Dorothy Brunton, has organised a garden fete and café chantant, in aid of the Belgian Fund, to be given at Ascog, Southey street, St. Kilda, next Saturday, May 8. There will be numerous attractions, including the attendance of a large theatrical party, who will appear by permission of J.C. Williamson, Ltd. Those taking part in the program will include Mr. Workman, Miss Dorothy Brunton, Mr. Hector Goldspink, Mr. Willie Conway, Miss Elsie Warman, and members of the “High Jinks” company.

    The Argus (Melbourne), Saturday, 1 May 1915, p.18,

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    The residents of Ascog and Whinbank, St. Kilda, were the successful organisers of a garden fete combined with a café chantant and tennis tournament, which was held in the spacious grounds of Ascog, lent by Mrs. J. Grace, on Saturday, May 8, in order to raise funds for the Belgians. Flags and streamers in the Belgian colours decorated the stalls which had been erected on the front lawns, and the gay scene was enhanced by all the young girls assisting wearing white frocks, with aprons and caps in our national and Belgian colours. The opening Ceremony was performed by Mr. C.F. Beauchamp early in the afternoon, but, though the sale of gifts only then commenced, the tennis tournament had been in progress from 10 o’clock a.m.

    The arrangements for this were supervised by Miss Mamie Marks, who had been assisted in the preliminary work by Mr. E. Trend. There were between thirty and forty entries, and some exciting matches were witnessed in the concluding rounds. When the final contest took place the daylight was rapidly departing, consequently it was difficult for the players to distinguish the ball. The successful pair, Mr. A Whyte and Miss Jones, just managed to win from Mr. K. Trend and Miss Essie Price. The trophies for this tournament had been donated by W. Drummond and Co. and the balls by the Dunlop Rubber Co. The café chantant was in the billiard lounge, and throughout the afternoon it proved a great attraction, as a large number of well-known artists gave their services on the program, including Mr. C.H. Workman, Mr. Fred Maguire, Mr. C. Wren, Miss Dorothy Brunton, Miss Queenie Paul (all of the “High Jinks” Company), the Misses Elsa Warman, Mansell Kirby, Master and Miss Scurrah, and Messrs. Hector Goldspink, E.H. Leahy, G. Chant, and W. Conway.

    The various side-shows included Aunt Sally (in charge of Mr. Trend), bran pies, fortune telling, spinning jennies, motor and pony rides (the car and ponies having been lent by Miss Simmonds and Miss Joseph respectively.) Tables for afternoon tea out on the broad verandah, and those who directed the arrangements there were Mesdames Workman, James, and Richardson. A well-stocked stall for sweets was in charge of Mesdames C.F. Beauchamp, J.B. Macglashan, and Miss Beauchamp; and another which displayed an attractive show of cut flowers and pot plants was managed by Mrs. Raphael. Among those who sold sprays for coats or dresses was Miss Gwen Hughes, of the “High Jinks” Co. In the evening Mrs. J. Grace arranged a palais de danse, which was attended by some hundreds of visitors, and was a great success. The committee of direction for the fete, &c., was formed by Messrs. C.H. Workman, E. Trend, D.O. Reeson, T. Grace, and J.B. Macglashan. It is estimated that the proceeds will result in about £100 being handed to the Belgian Relief Funds.

    The Australasian (Melbourne), Sat, 15 May 1915, p.40,

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    N.B. £1 in 1915 would be equivalent to approximately $108.50 in today’s currency; thus £10 = $1,085 and £100 = $10,850, etc. (ref: )

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Other wartime charities were also the beneficiaries of the theatrical profession’s largesse in supporting worthy causes by donating their talents gratis, which also extended to the management providing the performance venues without cost, especially on Sundays when the staging of regular theatrical entertainments was prohibited in accordance with the Lord’s Day Observance Act. Such extra-curricular activities that took place on the Sabbath day were generally given the billing of “Sacred Concerts” in order to circumvent the law. The “Grand Entertainment” organised by the tenor, Walter Kirby, in aid of the Australian and British Red Cross Funds staged at the Theatre Royal on Sunday, 16 May was thus advertised in the local press with the stated proviso that the artists taking part “Will Sing or Talk, as the Spirit moves, in Sacred or Sunday Mood.”

    * * * * * * * * * * * *


    An attractive program is being arranged for the entertainment to be given at the Theatre Royal next Sunday night in aid of the Red Cross funds. The whole of the “High Jinks” company have volunteered their services. The entertainment will commence at a quarter to 8 o’clock. In view of the urgent need of funds for the Red Cross a big success is hoped for.

    The Argus (Melbourne), Friday, 14 May 1915, p.12

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    The Melbourne season of High Jinks finally wound up after a highly successful 8 weeks, with the closing performance on Friday, 21 May ending in particularly high spirits (including those of the bottled variety!)

    * * * * * * * * * * * *


    Animated scenes and humorous happenings marked the last night of the Highs Jinks company at Her Majesty's Theatre. The members of the company had made themselves very popular during their stay in Melbourne, and “in front” amongst the crowded audience were many friends of the artists, who helped to keep the proceedings throughout thoroughly lively—from first to last. The artists themselves entered into the spirit of the evening. The big ragtime scene was one of the hits of the evening, being embellished with many incidents that were not set down in the “script” of the stage manager. It had to be repeated thrice in response to insistent demands, and each time it was gone through with variations. The climax was reached when Mr. Paul Plunket seized a lady member of the wardrobe staff who had been watching interestedly from the “wings” and waltzed her across the stage into the melee of frenziedly-working ragtimers. The final fall of the curtain was the signal for a prolonged demonstration of applause, and a lavish presentation of flowers to the lady members of the company, as well as mysterious looking parcels—the contents of which could be guessed at—to the gentlemen of the cast.

    The Leader (Melbourne), Saturday, 22 May 1915, p.49,

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    The New English Musical Comedy Company then made their way Westwards in preparation for their first appearance in the South Australian capital of Adelaide.

    [To be continued.]


    The Interviewer.


    A man of varied talents and varied interest, Mr. Field Fisher—who is Dr. Robert Thorne in “High Jinks,” around whom all the story circles—is a very interesting man to meet in private life. He is by no means wrapped up in his theatrical work alone, although he is keenly interested in it, but at the same time he has a little attention to spare for the questions of the day, and so can talk about other things than the theatre. In fact, he does not talk “shop” much at all, although if that subject crops up he follows it without any marked reluctance, for there is no affected pose about him.

    He is caught at Her Majesty’s Theatre one morning, and then ensues a search for a quiet corner in which to talk. This involves a regular journey of discovery over a dark stage and round corners, upstairs and downstairs, until we settle in the Lounge, as every other place seems to be in the hands of energetic cleaners. There, in the only two unshrouded chairs, we make ourselves comfortable, and Mr. Fisher almost immediately begins to talk of newspaper work, and says—

    “I know something of press-work, for I used to do some of it, or, rather, drawing for the papers—for the Harmsworth publications. Yes, humorous sketches and that kind of thing. The first sketching I ever did was costume designing. This was when I was with Laurence Irving (I was with him for a long time) when he was going to put on the play ‘Margaret Catchpole,’ which, by the way, is Australian, isn't it? At least, she ended her life out here or something of the sort; he was in some difficulty about the costumes, and l undertook to design them, which I did. Then the next thing I attempted was posters and little sketches. One day a member of the staff of one of the papers, ‘The Sketch,’ saw one and asked to be allowed to show it to the editor. He sent for me, and so I was launched on my newspaper work, and did it for some time, finally working for several of the Harmsworth papers and for ‘Comic Cuts,’ ‘Ally Sloper’ and such publications.

    “No, I do not do it now. I found it meant that I needed to be in the city, and was too much of a tie; I used to have to be at the offices to see the editor and talk things over.”

    Mr. Fisher then launches off into talk about the war, suggested by a sudden recollection of the first actor to lose his life there, whom he knew personally. “It was sad about Mackinder, wasn’t it—one of our best all-round actors. He was offered a commission, but refused, and said he preferred to serve as a private with the men he knew and had always been with. He had been in a position to earn a handsome salary—about seventy pounds a week the year round—and he gave it all up. Did you hear how he died? They received an order one night to change trenches, eight of them; he was the last. When they reached the new trench they found they were only seven, so went back to look for him and found him on his back. They asked him if he were hurt,’ and he answered, ‘I don't know,’ and died immediately. [1]

    “There are so many who have given up so much, and gone to the front. It is fine, isn’t it?”

    Then Laurence Irving’s sad death in the “Empress of Ireland” wreck is mentioned, and Mr. Fisher says:

    “I was to have been with him then. Even to the Sunday before he left for America it was all arranged, and we had dinner with him to talk things over. Then this offer for Australia came and I decided to accept it, and in consequence was not with them on the wreck. Yes, he could have been saved had he not gone back for his wife, but that was just what he would do; it was just like him. [2]He was a most absent-minded man; but good natured and a genius. It was only just beginning to be realised in England too. H.B. was the elder son, and inherited the bulk of the money, and at Sir Henry's death the father's mantle fell upon his shoulders, and Laurence had no such help, and had to fight his own way.

    “One incident I recall about his absent-mindedness. When I went to America with him on a previous visit, he said the day after we arrived: ‘Come on, and I'll give you a real American dinner!’ This was about four o’clock in the afternoon, after rehearsal. We went to a fashionable restaurant and had a splendid dinner; then the bill came and Laurence put his hand in his pocket, and said, ‘I haven't any money; but it doesn’t matter, you pay.’ He never did have any money. Well, I had about a dollar, so I said: I have no money, either.’ He said: ‘Never mind,’ and explained to the waiter, who he was and that he would send and settle the bill. But the waiter would have none of it, and said: ‘It’s all very well, but that won’'t go with me; we have had that before.’ So after some argument it ended by us going off to Irving’s hotel, accompanied by the waiter, for he would not trust us.”

    “You have had command performances at Sandringham?”

    “Yes, several times. That was when we had our own little company—my brother and my two sisters. It was known as the Field Fisher Quartette Company, and we used to appear at ‘at homes’ and private entertainments, giving a musical show of a refined nature. [3]

    “It was rather funny how we came to have our first Royal command. We were appearing at the pier pavilion at Ryde—that is near Cowes, Isle of Wight, you know. One of my sisters came off the stage and said: ‘There are two men in front who seem to be trying to be free. I wish you would go and give them a look.' You see, the girls had been rather strictly brought up, and my mother always travelled with us, so they were well looked after. They were fine girls, I must say, though they are my sisters.

    “So I went on, and had a look at two men in yachting costume in the front row, and I gave them a look. We continued giving them looks during the rest of the performance.

    “Then as we were walking down the pier on our way home, my sisters being on in front, we saw the two men stop them and speak to them—one being very tall, the other short. My brother and I naturally hurried up, and the tall one turned to us—

    “I was just saying to your sisters I think they must have forgotten me. I am Abercrombie, and I had the pleasure of meeting you at Lady So-and-So’s.'

    “It was quite right, we had been engaged by the Countess and had met the Earl of Abercrombie, and he turned to his companion and said: ‘May I introduce the Prince of Wales?’ That was the present King. He complimented us upon our performance, and said, ‘You must come on board the yacht and do it for us, will you? Of course we were delighted, and they asked could we go the next day. We had to explain we could not manage that, as all our things were packed ready to leave, as that was our last night there, and we were to go to Southampton. But we said we could go on the Monday, and it was arranged. They told us they had been on ‘the yacht’; it was the Cowes Regatta week, you know; but had run short of matches, so had landed at Ryde to get some, and seen our posters, and Lord Abercrombie remembered us and said we must see this—they are good. After telling them how we had come near to throwing them out, we parted.

    “We went to the yacht on the Monday, and found one deck all arranged with a nice little stage all fixed up with red at one end. My brother and I were on this fixing things and having a bit of an argument, because he wanted the piano at one side and I thought it ought to be more up the stage, and he was telling me not to be a blithering idiot, and that kind of thing, when I caught a whiff of a cigar and turned to find King Edward standing just inside the curtain watching us. Goodness knows how long he had been there.

    “When we started the performance before the King and Queen and Prince and Princess of Wales, and the German Emperor, by the way, who was there on his yacht, the ‘Hohenzollern,’ for the regatta week, we were deadly nervous, you can guess, and feeling pretty anxious as we opened, as we always did, with an instrumental quartette, for they were all good performers. My instrument was the banjo, because I was always the unmusical one. The King—King Edward—was sitting just a yard or two away from us, and when we were about half-way through he settled himself back contentedly and said ‘Delightful, delightful.’  So, you can guess that bucked us up a bit and things went better after that. We had supper with them before we left and found them all charming—so unaffected and natural. Why, another time when we were appearing at Sandringham, the present King came along the passage to the stage himself and said to me: ‘I want you to do that little thing of yours—about the Frenchman attempting an after-dinner speech—because the French Envoy is here and I want to watch his face.’ I did not much like doing it under the circumstances, because I did not know how the Envoy would take it in the absurd broken English. But it was a Royal command, and I had to. I gave it, and they all watched him and laughed delightedly at his expression. They are absolutely unaffected and natural in this way.

    “In fact, we appeared at many country houses for the leading people, and always found them most considerate and charming. Only on two occasions were people not nice to us. Once was in Hertfordshire. We were engaged to appear at a country house there. We were driven to the servants' entrance, and given our dinner by the butler in a kind of pantry. Afterwards I said I would like to see the hostess, Mrs.—eh, well, I forget her name for the moment—I have a dreadful memory for names—but say Jones. He told me ‘Mrs. Jones will send for you when she is ready.’ You see, the butler was putting on airs with us, too. 

    “We were sent for, and I saw the hostess, and went towards her, saying 'Good evening,’ when she put her hands behind her back as though she was afraid I was going to shake hands with her.

    “They had rented the place, and were giving this big affair, had sent out invitations everywhere. And Hertfordshire is probably the greatest county for country houses; there are ever so many well-known people [who] have homes there. By this time we had come to know most people who were anybody, for we had appeared so frequently at house parties. The guests had arrived and we found we knew nearly everyone. Suddenly the people of the neighbourhood—the Gowers—came rustling in; they are conservative people, keep up great style at their home, drive about with a coach and four- etc. Well, they came straight up to us, shook hands, said how pleased they were to meet us again, and chatted to my sisters. When the hostess saw this she nearly fell upon our necks—wanted us to stay all night, in fact, would have kept us a week or two if we would have stayed.

    “We had our little company for eight years. Then one sister married, and later the other. My brother and I tried to fix things up and engaged two girls who had had musical comedy experience and were clever, but somehow we could not make things go the same. We had always worked very hard, we were up at nine every morning practising and trying things over. But with the other girls it was not the same. They did not take the same interest and would not work. When we were on tour they used to go off and have a good time. People began to say the Field Fisher quartette was not the same—had gone off. So we disbanded. My brother gave up the profession, and is now a barrister, and I am the only vagabond left.

    “Since then I have been on the stage. I had some experience before—I had appeared with the [Henry] Irving company as a boy.”

    Mr. Fisher talks of his work and how he enjoys it when he has a congenial part to play. Asked about his pastimes he says:

    "Well I still keep up drawing, though not for publication. It is confined mostly to albums now. I am fond of tennis, but otherwise do not go in for any sport.”

    One thing very pleasant for Australians to hear is Mr. Fisher's admiration for the all-round cleverness of the Australian girl and the chorus girl in particular. He generously implies that the grade of cleverness and versatility among the ladies of an Australian company compare favorably, not with English choristers, but English principals.

    Mr. Fisher in manner and speech is very English, and has a slight suggestion in his way of speaking of what we deem the dude, but his travels have made him cosmopolitan, so that there is not the English reserve with it, which is often so difficult to pierce.

    Table Talk (Melbourne), 22 April 1915, p.26,

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    1. Former London Gaiety Theatre actor and singer, Lionel Mackinder was killed in action while serving as a Lance Corporal with the Royal Berkshire Regiment in France on 9 January 1915 at age 46.
    1. On the homeward bound voyage following a tour of North America in 1913–14, British actor, Laurence Irving (the youngest son of Sir Henry Irving and brother to H.B. Irving) and his actress wife, Mabel Hackney, perished aboard the RMS Empress of Ireland when it founded off the Canadian coast following a collision with the Norwegian collier Storstad in the early hours of 29 May 1914, with the subsequent loss of 1,012 lives.
    1. A typical evening’s entertainment given by the Field-Fisher Quartette (and the regard in which they were held) is provided by the following review of one of their performances:


    The opening entertainment of the season at the Athenæum in Bury St. Edmund’s, on Thursday evening, was extremely successful, considering that the weather was unfavourable, and that the season is early, and for this result the fame of the Field-Fisher Quartette is responsible. The local associations of the talented visitors doubtless had something to do with the satisfactory attendance, but apart from this fact, their reputation as first-class artistes would have been sufficient to attract an audience. The quartette comprises the Misses Marjorie and Evelyn Field-Fisher, and Masters Alfred and Eric Field-Fisher. The first-named young lady has an excellent voice, and is a clever performer on the guitar, while her sister is a remarkably graceful dancer, and also manipulates with skill the mandoline. Master Alfred Field-Fisher is a banjoist and recites with wonderful expression, and his charming little brother dances and plays the mandoline with the grace and feeling of a born artiste. Indeed, to attempt to define the capabilities of any one of the quartette would be futile, and the qualifications which we have mentioned are simply those in which they excel. For variety the program could not have been improved upon, its items ranging from selections from the latest comic operas to plantation melodies, and from a pathetic ballad to Spanish and other dances. But the entertainment was something more than merely clever and pleasing. It was essentially refined. Nothing was lacking to make it popular, and yet upon no single item could the finger of a reproving censor be laid. The performance was of an undeniably high-class order, and its originality, and the cleverness of the artistes, were all the more appreciated by the select and large audience assembled. This was the first visit of the quartette to Bury, and the cordiality of their reception clearly demonstrated that they had more than fulfilled the favourable anticipations formed of them. At no time did the performance fall flat. The program scintillated with items at once tuneful and artistic, several of which were enthusiastically encored. The mandoline, guitar, and banjo quartettes were highly appreciated, the variety of the selections meeting all tastes. “The Mountebanks,” and “La Cigale,” were drawn upon in this respect, and a “selection of popular airs,” in which was introduced “Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay,” was loudly re-demanded. Miss Marjorie’s songs met with marked favour, notably the Spanish and Italian songs, “Sara Zetta” and “Nuna Palona,” and “One day Margot." The graceful dancing of Miss Evelyn was a feature of the entertainment, emphatic marks of approval rewarding her execution of the “Pas seul.” “How Grandmama danced,” was admirably recited and acted, and was followed by a minuet and tableaux by Miss Evelyn and her younger brother. She also went prettily through a Spanish dance; Master Eric, an exceedingly clever child, played the mandoline with considerable expression and wonderful correctness, and he was loudly re-called for the solo “Cavalleria Rusticana.” The recitations of Master Alfred Field-Fisher were commendable expositions of the recitative art, and he gives much promise in this respect. For each recitation he was loudly encored, and responded with humorous little selections. The dumb show recitation, “The Village Blacksmith,” which was clearly given, met with an especially enthusiastic reception. The same performer, as a banjoist, and with the bones, also lent considerable assistance to the musical portion of the program. The performance was an excellent one throughout, and the Council of the Athenæum are to be congratulated upon their first entertainment of the season.

    The following was the program:

    Quartette, “La Cigale,” mandolines, guitar, and banjo (introducing the songs “Doubt not” and “Our dear old home.”) The Quartette; quartette, “Sweet Innisfail,” mandolines, guitar, and banjo. The Quartette; dance (Spanish), “Toreador,” piano and castanets, Evelyn and Eric Field-Fisher: quartette, “Hock Hamburg March,” mandolines, guitar, and banjo, The Quartette; song (Spanish), a “Sara Yetta,” and (Italian) b “Nuna Palona,” guitar. Miss Field-Fisher; recitation, “Man with one hair,” Alfred Field-Fisher; song, “Rory Darling” (Hope Temple), Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher; duet, “Little Johnny Jones,” piano, Evelyn and Alfred; solo, “Cavalleria Rusticana,” mandoline, Eric Field-Fisher; dance, “Scarf dance,” piano, Evelyn; song, “Aloha” (Sandwich Island National Song), mandolines, &c., Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher; quartette, selection from “The Mountebanks,” mandolines, &c., The Quartette; quartette, “Selections of Popular Airs,” mandolines, &c. The Quartette; recitation, a “How Grandmama Danced,” Evelyn; dance, b “Minuet, with Tableaux,” piano, Evelyn and Eric; song, “One Day Margot,” piano. Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher; trio, “Cup of Tea,” piano, Evelyn, Alfred, and Eric; trio, a “Daffodil,” b “Christmas” (Lindsay Kearne) Mandolines, &c., Marjorie, Evelyn, and Eric; recitation (silent), “The Village Blacksmith,” piano, Alfred Field-Fisher; dance, “Pas Seul,” piano, Evelyn; quartette, “Plantation Melody,” mandolines, &c., The Quartette; quartette, “Good night,” mandolines, &c., The Quartette.

    During the interval the performers were introduced to the Mayor and Mayoress, by whom they were warmly congratulated on their success. Mr. Field-Fisher was so much gratified by the enthusiastic reception given to his family at the Athenæum, and so pleased to renew his own acquaintancewith the good old town of Bury after a lapse of many years, that he has kindly concerned to arrange for a return visit by the quartette at the earliest possible opportunity.

    The Bury and Norwich Post and Suffolk Standard (Bury St. Edmunds, England), 27 September 1892, p.7

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    British character comedian and singer, Alfred Field Fisher was born Thomas Alfred A. Fisher in Cambridge in the county of Cambridgeshire, England in 1876, the eldest son of brewer, Thomas Field Fisher and his wife, Louisa Fanny Fisher (nee Hanson). His siblings included an older sister, Margaret (Marjorie) Lowther Fisher (b. 1873), younger sister, Evelyn Isabel Fisher (b. 1878) and two younger brothers, Thomas Eric Field Fisher (b. 1881) and Caryl Hillyard Barclay Fisher (b. 1887). The four older children began performing together as a quartette in the late-1880s in aid of local charities at their local theatre in the London suburb of Bedford Park and their act proved to be so successful that they were urged by the press; actor, Harry Nicholls; playwright, Alfred Calmour, and others to join the ranks of professional entertainers. Impresario Sir Augustus Harris subsequently engaged them to play leading parts in a juvenile fairy play, which was produced at Covent Garden in 1889. In addition to public and private performances of their family act, the talented siblings were also individually cast in a variety of juvenile roles in plays in London and the provinces, with older sister, Marjorie also venturing into comic opera in the early 1890s. Amongst the early stage roles enacted by Alfred was doubling as both The Prince and the Pauper for Mrs. Oscar Beringer’s 1890 stage adaptation of the Mark Twain tale at London’s Gaiety Theatre, when both characters (principally played by the playwright’s daughter, Miss Vera Beringer) were required to share the same scene, and playing a prince in Sir Henry Irving’s production of Charles I at the Lyceum.

    Alfred Field Fisher arrived in Australia in May 1914 to reprise the role of the Romanian nobleman ‘Dragotin’ (which he had played for over a year in the British provinces) in J.C. Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company production of the Franz Lehár operetta, Gipsy Love which premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 13 June. He then transferred to JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company for The Girl in the Taxi in July 1914 and remained a stalwart of the latter company throughout the 1910s and early ‘20s. In 1926 he joined Frank Neil’s Comedy Company to tour in such farces as Are You a Mason?, Charley’s Aunt, The Nervous Wreck and Getting Gertie’s Garter, and performed in the pantomimes Mother Goose and Little Red Riding Hood. A fellow member of Neil’s Company, Vera Fisher (nee Wallace) had married Alfred in the West London district of Kensington in April 1905. In 1930 they toured South Africa with Frank Neil’s Comedy Company, which was so well received that the visit, originally planned to last three months, was extended to ten months and made three complete tours of the South African theatre circuit. Returning to Australia (following a return visit to England at the conclusion of the tour) Fisher rejoined Frank Neil’s Company for Almost a Honeymoon at the Bijou Theatre in Melbourne in April 1931 and other productions. In 1932 he made his feature film debut in Melbourne in the George Wallace comedy His Royal Highness for F.W. Thring’s Efftee Film Productions, followed by Diggers in Blighty and Waltzing Matilda for Pat Hanna Productions in 1933. (Further film roles ensued in Charles Chauvel’s Heritagein 1935 and the Cinesound productions Mr. Chedworth Steps Out, starring Cecil Kellaway, in 1939 and Dad Rudd, M.P., starring Bert Bailey and Fred MacDonald, in 1940, both directed by Ken G. Hall.) Fisher also performed in the Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott revivals of The Quaker Girl and Our Miss Gibbs for JCW in 1933 and reprised his original role of ‘Dr. Robert Thorne’ for their revival of High Jinks in 1935. After a brief sojourn for F.W. Thring in the stage production Mother of Pearl starring Alice Delysia in 1934, Fisher returned to the JCW fold to appear in a succession of musical comedies, plays and pantomimes throughout the remainder of the 1930s, including Yes, Madam, Anything Goes and Under Your Hatand played the title role in Sinbad

    Concurrent with Fisher’s stage appearances, were his performances on radio in comedy sketches and plays (including those that he had written himself) and musical comedies (starring Gladys Moncrieff) for the ABC. He was first heard over the airwaves as a cast member of the JCW production of the musical Kid Boots (starring George Gee and Josie Melville) which was broadcast from the stage of His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne by 3LO during the Gala performance given on the evening of Saturday, 25 July 1925 in honour of the visiting American Fleet (followed by a further broadcast from the theatre of Act 2 on Saturday, 15 August 1925) however his first studio performances of his self-penned comedy sketches and duologues with his wife, Vera, were broadcast from 2BL in Sydney in January 1930. In June 1933 Fisher reprised the role of ‘Dr. Thorne’ in two separate studio broadcasts of High Jinks relayed by the ABC National network from 3LO and he also performed in two radio serials that he had scripted: The Adder from 2BL in 1933 and The Old Folks Abroad (with Vera) in 1937, broadcast from 3AR, Melbourne. At the time of his death in Sydney on 8 September 1940 (at age 63) he had been due to rehearse for a radio production of the musical comedy Good News for the ABC national network, for which his role was subsequently recast.

    Fisher’s last stage appearance was as the valet ‘Brassett’ in Charley’s Aunt at the Minerva Theatre, Sydney in July 1940—a play in which he had performed a variety of roles since its original London premiere in 1892. An acknowledged master in the art of stage make-up, which was often commented upon in reviews, Fisher boasted in a 1926 newspaper interview that he had a collection of over 100 wigs with which he could transform himself at a moment’s notice into the many and varied character roles that he portrayed on stage. A comprehensive list of Field Fisher’s Australian stage credits is given on the AusStage website at

    Additional Sources

    • “A Guitariste—Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher”, Hearth and Home (London), vol. 1, no. 23, 22 October 1891, p.128
    • J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1890–1899: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, 2nd ed.; Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, Maryland, 2014
    • “About People”, The Age (Melbourne), Tuesday, 19 May 1914, p.7
    • Program listings for 3LO (Melbourne), Wireless Weekly, 24 July 1925, p.39
    • Program listings for 3LO (Melbourne), Wireless Weekly, 14 August 1925, p.39
    • “Field Fisher Over the Air”, Sunday Times (Sydney), 2 January 1930, p.13
    • Program listings for 2BL (Sydney), Wireless Weekly, 10 January 1930, p.30
    • Program listings for 3LO (Melbourne), Wireless Weekly, 22 June 1933, p.47
    • “13 Musical Comedies”, Wireless Weekly, 31 July 1936, p.7
    • “Appearing with Gladys Moncrieff in the ABC Musical Comedy Broadcasts from Melbourne”, Wireless Weekly, 28 August 1936, p.12
  • Collits' Inn Revisited

    We celebrate another milestone with the republication of PETER PINNE’s 2007 On Stage article looking at the history of Varney Monk’s musical COLLITS’ INN, which was given its first professional production at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre in 1933 under the management of F.W. Thring. We are delighted to be able to include some evocative play scenes courtesy of the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

    When Collits’ Inn opened at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre two days before Christmas on 23 December 1933, it became the first home-grown hit musical theatre success running for a record-breaking 15 weeks. Billed as Australia’s first musical romance, it was produced by Frank Thring Snr, under his Efftee Players production company, and starred Australia’s reigning Queen of Operetta, Gladys Moncrieff. In those days 15 weeks was an incredible run for any musical let alone one of local origin. So how did that happen? Let’s go back to the beginning.

    Composer Varney Monk and her husband Cyril had spent part of their honeymoon in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, at an Inn near Mt. Victoria, dating back to 1837. On a subsequent visit they met a German-born naturalized Australian, named W.J. Berghofer who related the colourful story of Collits’ Inn, and Irishman and convict, Pierce Collits and his daughter Amelia. The Inn had originally been built in 1823 by Colitts, after he had earned his ticket-of-leave. It became a stop where coach horses were changed, when the road was being pushed through from Penrith to the Western Plains by convicts, who worked under military supervision.

    “Amelia Collits had fallen in love with a young Ensign in charge of a road gang building a new road through the mountains. Pierce, hating the Redcoats with all the vengeance of an ex-convict, forbids their marriage and drives the Ensign away. Amelia is so distraught she vows to marry the first man who enters the Inn and she does. Skene, a foreman on the new road, is the first man to enter and Amelia fulfils her vow. Later the Ensign, now a widower, returned to the valley and asks Amelia to redeem their love of the past in marriage, but she refuses, claiming it is too late for change.” This became the story on which Collits’ Inn was based.

    In 1932 Nathalie Rosenwax, a well-known Sydney singing teacher, announced a Light Opera and Revue Competition, for the Opportune Club. Monk wanted to enter and approached her journalist neighbour, Tom Stuart Gurr to write the book which he agreed to do.

    Although Collits’ Inn came second in the competition, it was the show picked up for production by Rosenwax. The wining entry The Island of Palms, by Arnold R. Mote and Margery Browne, appears to have remained on the shelf never seeing the light of day.

    Rosenwax later in the year organized a five-night pro-am season at the Savoy Theatre, Sydney, (5/12/32), with her star pupil, professional, Rene Maxwell as Mary Collits, Donald McNiven as Robert Keane, Ambrose Bourke as John Lake, Ann Stuart Gurr as Mistress Dale, and radio personality Jack Win as Dandy Dick. It was produced by E. Elliott Lloyd. Choreography was by Evelyn Parrett.

    The Sydney Morning Herald carried a review on 6 December 1932, which called it, “An Australian Opera”, and said that the show had “beautiful music” which “lifted the story to a height of romantic interest”. Maxwell was praised for her voice, and they liked her harmonized love duets with Ambrose Bourke, who played Captain John Lake. Monk’s husband, Cyril, a violinist, was the Leader of the Conservatorium Orchestra, which was conducted by Howard Carr who had also written the orchestrations.

    Gurr had adapted Monk’s story which now told the tale of Mary, torn between the love of Captain John Lake and a notorious bushranger, Robert Keene, who had helped her father change the route of the road to pass his Inn. Mary declares her love for Lake, but after a fight between him and Keane, in which Keane is killed, Lake is posted back to England. Mary suffers a memory loss but recovers in time for a happy ending when Lake returns.

    Songs to make an impression were, “This Year”, (reprised as “Last Year”), sung by Mary and Lake, and Keane’s “Some Distant Day”. The latter was a trunk song by Monk and had been published by Palings in 1929. “Aboriginal Chant” was written in the time signature of 7/8 and had been notated by Monk as it was sung and danced to her by Queen Rosie, one of the last remaining full-blooded Aboriginal members of the Illawarra Tribe, in a tea-shop in Kiama.

    The score at this time included: “Collits’ Inn”, “The Road”, “Drinking Song”, “Some Distant Day”, “Making Memories”, “Stay While the Stars Are Shining”, “Aboriginal Dance”, Outlaw’s Song”, “Duddawarra River”, “See What Love’s Done To Me”. “Sally at the Sliprails”, “My Desire”, “Sweet William”, “The Chaperone”, and “This Year”.

    The following year ABC radio decided to produce a radio version of the musical which went to air on 2FC, 2NC, 3LO, 2CO, 4QG and 4BK, on Wednesday 21 June 1933. It featured many performers who were in the Savoy Theatre premiere production, headed by Rene Maxwell (Mary), Norman Barnes (John Lake), Ann Stuart Gurr (Mistress Dale), with Eric Masters playing Robert Keane, and Dan Agar as Dandy Dick. Musical Direction was again by Howard Carr, with Production by George D. Parker.

    On 2 July 1933, ABC radio broadcast the musical again with one major cast change, Carlton Stuart played the bushranger, Robert Keene. All other credits remained the same.

    During this time Monk tried to interest J.C. Williamson’s, in mounting a production of the work but they declined, saying it was “no good”. Undaunted Monk travelled to Melbourne and did a backers audition with soprano, Phyllis Baker, baritone Alan Eddy, and orchestra for film producer, F.W. Thring, who had stated he was interested in theatrical production. Thring liked what he heard and agreed to produce the show and set about engaging a top flight cast for a premiere that would take place at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 23 December 1933.

    He immediately signed Australia’s top box-office draw, Gladys Moncrieff to a twelve-month contract, brought her frequent leading man, Robert Chisholm, back from London, and also signed audience favorite Claude Flemming, and comic George Wallace. It was to be Moncrieff’s first performance in an Australian Musical, and Wallace’s first legitimate theatre role after appearing in vaudeville and movies for Thring’s Efftee Productions (including His Royal Highness, Harmony Rowand A Ticket In Tatts). The production also featured a revolving stage (unique for its time), and the “Aboriginal Chant” was expanded and became a Corroboree.

    The show underwent numerous changes between the Savoy Theatre tryout season and the version that appeared on the Princess stage. Some songs had been repositioned, “My Desire”, and “See What Love’s Done To Me”, had been dropped, and three new songs had been added, but only one composed by Monk titled, “Australia”. Charles Zwar, who the following year would see his own musical Blue Mountain Melody, produced by J.C. Williamson’s, composed the music and lyrics to “They’re In Love”, and George Wallace did likewise with his comedy number “Dangerous Dandy Dick”. Additional music was provided by Harry Jacobs, who also did the orchestrations, and additional lyric credits went to book writer Tom Stuart Gurr and Jock McLeod. Monk was not happy with the changes and thought “the order of the songs as used in the tryout worked better”.

    As well as Moncrieff, Chisholm, Flemming and Wallace, the original cast included: Marshall Crosby, Phyllis Baker, Frank Bradley, Campbell Copelin, Edward O. Davis, John Dobbie, Ashton Jarry, D’Arcy Kelway, Garthe Meade, Phillip Peake, Ron Riley, Russell Scott, Norman Shepherd, Jock Thompson, and Byrl Walkley.

    Collits’ Inn opened with a fanfare of publicity and became an instant success. 3KZ gave a descriptive broadcast, (relayed to other states) of the audience and dignitaries arriving at the theatre, which was followed by a complete broadcast of Act One of the musical.

    The critics’ reviews were glowing. The Age (26/12/33) called it a “a splendid success” and said it should “enjoy a long run”. They liked Moncrieff and Chisholm, called “Stay While then Stars Are Shining”, the theme song, and thought “Australia” could be adopted as a national anthem.

    After playing for 15 weeks the show transferred to the Tivoli Theatre, Sydney (22/6/34) where it ran for a further nine. The Sydney Morning Herald (23/6/34) was equally as laudatory, calling it a “splendid production”. George Wallace in his first outing in legit on a Sydney stage, came in for his share of plaudits when they said he was an “extremely diverting and original comedian”, although qualified it with the thought that “he overstayed his welcome as times”. It’s also interesting to note they commented on the difference in the dramatic material between the tryout season and the commercial production, and “how important it is for Australian authors and composers to have their works produced on a professional stage if they are to develop and learn”.

    Following the Sydney run, the show returned to Melbourne where it played a further four weeks at the Princess (13/10/34). The Age this time said the show was a “musical romance of power and excellent atmosphere”, and that the audience “will carry away many lilting and tuneful refrains”. The Argus (26/10/34) called it a “success” and said it “satisfies as no ‘Rose Marie’ or ‘Lilac Time’ can”. They said one of the best songs was the rollicking “A Laugh and a Kiss”, and thought “Stay While the Stars are Shining” would be a hit. But the praise was qualified with, “The words of the song, “Australia”, which, unfortunately closes the show, are commonplace to the point of banality”. The same cast played in both seasons in Melbourne and Sydney, but on the return Melbourne engagement Robert Chisholm left after 26 October to fulfil commitments abroad.

    The following year F.W. Thring under his Efftee Attractions umbrella produced another Varney Monk historical romance musical, The Cedar Tree. Gladys Moncrieff was back to star, and this time her co-stars were Alfred Frith, Russell Scott, and Claude Flemming, who also handled direction. The behind-the-scenes team, were the same as Collits’ Inn, Jennie Brenan was choreographer, helped by Mollie Radcliffe, with Fred Quintrell as musical director.

    collits inn 21(left) The Cedar Tree broadcast - 29 December 1934. From Wireless Weekly, 28 December 1934. (right) Alfred Frith in The Cedar Tree - as seen by cartoonist Stanley Parker. From Table Talk, 31 January 1935, p.16

    This time Monk worked with Helen Barclay who wrote the lyrics, and Barclay’s husband, Edmund, a well-known ABC scriptwriter, who worked on the book. The story was set in Colonial days in the timber country around Parramatta and the Hawkesbury river. Once again the heroine, Daniella Weston (Moncrieff), is loved by two men, Lieutenant Verners (Russell Scott), a Captain of the Queen’s Regiments, and Roger Carstairs (Claude Flemming), a rich Sydney merchant. Drama was provided by Weston’s dissolute brother and comedy by the Flying Pieman (Frith), a role based on a real-life character at the time in the Hawskbury district.

    The Age (24/12/34) called it “delightful”, and The Argus (24/12/34), “pleasant entertainment” with praise for the score going to “Coo-ee” an echo song, “How I Love You”, a ballad, and the title tune. Although critical reaction was good, audiences were not. The show played a seven-week season at the Princess Theatre, before transferring to the Criterion Theatre, Sydney, where it opened at a matinee. Even with The Sydney Morning Herald (17/3/35) claiming it was a “fine Australian play” with “beautiful music and singing”, it could only manage a dismal two-week run.

    A “live” performance of The Cedar Tree was broadcast by the ABC direct from the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, seven days after the opening.

    In February 1936 Thring announced plans to film Collits’ Inn with production supposed to start in Sydney in early April 1936. Thring by that stage had become disillusioned with film production in Melbourne and was moving his headquarters to Sydney, joining forces with Mastercraft Film Corporation. He left Sydney on 4 March for Hollywood to engage a director and actors. He returned on 19 June and was immediately hospitalized in Melbourne where he died two weeks later on 1 July 1936.

    Thring’s death was a big blow for the Australian stage industry and film production. Although Varney Monk continued to compose and was published, she never again had a professional staging of either of these musicals.

    On Saturday 16 October 1943, ABC Radio, Sydney, produced Collits’ Inn with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by J. Farnsworth Hall, in a production by Lawrence H. Cecil, and on 29 April 1948, ABC Radio, Adelaide, produced a truncated version of the musical with the Adelaide Light Orchestra and Adelaide Singers conducted by William Cade. Mary Collitts was played by soprano, Kathleen Glasonbury, Captain Lake by Fred Williamson, Pierce Collits by bass-baritone, Boyd Dawkins, Robert Keane by baritone Ian McMutrie, and Dandy Dick was Alec Reagan. Norman Shephard , who was in the original Princess Theatre cast playing one of Keane’s followers, was the director.

    In 1951 there was a flurry of activity again for the Commonwealth Jubilee Celebration. ABC Radio produced Collits’ Inn as one of a series of musical comedies played by the ABC Melbourne Augmented Dance Band and Wireless Singers, conducted by MacDuff Williams. Grace Penman was Mary Collits, Eric Michelson was Captain Lake, John [AKA Jon] Weaving was Robert Keane, Syd Hollister was Dandy Dick, with Margaret Mouchemore as Mistress Dale. Others in the cast included; William Laird, Douglas Kelly, Lorna Forbes, Herbert Browne, Cyril Gardiner, George Randall, and Stewart Ginn.

    This production generated many Letters to the Editor in The ABC Weekly, regarding Australian composition on radio, (the Government had recently decreed all Australian stations were compelled to broadcast Australian compositions amounting to 2 ½ per cent of their programming time. The ABC broadcasts about 3 ½ per cent), and Monk’s authorship of Collits’ Inn. Tom Stuart Gurr came to his co-author’s defence: “Only Pierce Collits was historical. Every other character in the play lived only in my imagination, although there are people in the Valley who still point to the cave where outlaw Robert Keane had his hideout.”

    Later on 20 July 1951, the Mosman Musical Society presented the show for 10 performances, with Rhonnda Baker, John Young, Lenn Leslie, Cec Mackensie and Gaynor Mitchell. Len Gotting was the producer, musical director was Herbert Wyall, and Desmonde Downey did the sets. The Sydney Morning Herald said it was “a remarkable lively and elaborate revival of Varney Monk’s Australian musical play… John Young, using his strong baritone to advantage is the best of the singers…Rhondda Baker is an attractive heroine…Cec. Mackenzie and Gaynor Mitchell handle the comedy with plenty of verve”.

    Monk added a new song to the score for Dandy Dick and Sally, “The Man With the Cabbage Tree Hat”, which replaced the George Wallace written “Dangerous Dandy Dick”, and “How I Love You”, the hit song from The Cedar Tree, replaced Charles Zwar’s “They’re In Love”. The production generated a radio commercial which contained a vocal version of “How I Love You”.

    There was another amateur production in 1951 at Sydney Boys’ High School, two in 1963 at St. Mary’s Memorial Hall, Epping, NSW, and two in 1970, one at Canowinda Community Centre, and Campbelltown High School.

    On 23 March 1957, the musical was produced at the original Collits’ Inn, at Hartley Vale, near Lithgow, NSW.

    The most recent production of the musical was on 25 March 2007, at the Army Drill Hall, Melbourne, Victoria, when Jonathan Harvey produced “Scenes from Collits’ Inn in a Concert Performance”. Jane O’Toole, stepped into the shoes of Gladys Moncrieff as Mary Collits, Matthew Davine became Captain John Lake, Ian Cousins was Robert Keane, and Sue Braatveldt was Mistress Dale. A selection of nine scenes skillfully told the story with linking material handled by veteran actor, Charles “Bud” Tingwell. Script was by Peter Wyllie Johnston, accompaniment by the Victorian Concert Orchestra, conducted by Joannes Roose.

    Collits’ Inn wasn’t the first Australian book musical, that honor goes to Ella Airlie’s, The Bunyip which was originally written in 1908 but not performed as a musical until 1916, but it was the first bonafide hit. It paved the way for a flurry of Australian musical theatre activity in the thirties, (Blue Mountain Melody, The Cedar Tree, The Beloved Vagabondand Flame of Desire), not matched until the end of the century when The Boy From Oz, Priscilla Queen of the Desertand Muriel’s Wedding, started the ball rolling again.

    Chappell & Co Ltd became publishers of both shows and published two songs from each, “Last Year” (1943) and “Australia” (1946), from Collits’ Inn, “Coo-ee” (1946) and the title song from The Cedar Tree (1946). W.H. Paling & Co. Ltd, had published Varney Monk’s original version of “Some Distant Day” in 1929.

    The first commercial recording from Collits’ Inn was a version of “Last Year” by The Melody Men with piano, (78rpm) recorded 14 May 1943 (RZ G-24752) and then later in 1988,a 2-LP record compilation set called, “Gladys Moncrieff Sings Musical Comedy and Operetta” (EMI EMC430062), was released with Moncrieff and Chisholm singing their duet, “Stay While the Stars Are Shining”. This was taken from an optical film recording of songs from the show made with the original cast. For years it was thought this recording was made for the film version, but as it contains the song, “My Desire” which never made it into the professional production, it was most likely recorded during rehearsals for the original professional production before the song was cut.

    The complete optical film recording included:

    1. “Collits’ Inn” – Claude Fleming & Gladys Moncrieff

    2. “Road Song” – Claude Flemming & Gladys Moncreiff & Unknown Bass

    3. “Drinking Song” – Unknown Bass

    4. “Making Memories” – Gladys Moncreiff

    5. “Next Year” – Gladys Moncrieff & Robert Chisholm

    6. “Outlaw’s Song” – Claude Flemming

    7. “Duddawarra River” – Gladys Moncrieff

    8. “Stay While the Stars Are Shining” – Gladys Moncrieff & Robert Chisholm

    9. “Sweet William” – Bryl Walkley

    10. “Australia” – Robert Chisholm & Gladys Moncreff

    11. “Some Distant Day”– Robert Chisholm (a song reassigned to Mary Collits – Gladys Moncrieff – in Act 3)

    12. “Last Year” – Gladys Moncrieff

    13. “Stay While the Stars Are Shining” (Reprise) – Robert Chisholm & Gladys Monfrieff

    14. “Collits’ Inn Orchestral Finale” (final cymbal crash)

    15. “Collits’ Inn Orchestra Finale” (final drum beat)

    Dance music

    My Desire - Robert Chisholm


    “Some Distant Day” (78rpm) Columbia DO 2946 (1929)

    “Scenes from Collits’ Inn” DVD Concert Cast (2007)


    In 1990 Currency Press published the playscript of the show with leadlines of all of the music that had been located at the time. Missing were the songs, “A Laugh and a Kiss”, “Dangerous Dandy Dick”, and “They’re In Love”, which have since been found in Monk’s papers at the National Library, Canberra. No music has been found for, “Some Distant Day.”

    In the 1970s Peter Burgis NFSA, conducted an oral history interview with Rene Maxwell, who played Mary Collits in Natalie Rosenwax’s 1932 production. The interview is held in the National Library in Canberra. No commercial recordings are known of this artist, but she was a guest artist on the radio program, The Show of Shows, Episode 11, recorded November 1941, published by AWA (16 inch disc). She sings “Lilac Domino” and Make Believe”. She starred in Australia in the original production of The Lilac Domino.

    “Last Year” was sung by Monda Lenz, in The Australia Show No. 4 (a Humphrey Bishop production, 16-inch AWA disc). Monda was a singer with an army entertainment unit. An oral history with her is held by the Australian War Memorial. It is available on the internet.

    Also available on the internet is a radio program called “Four Australian Musicals” produced in Perth in 1966, narrated by Glen Menzies. It discusses Collits’ Inn and includes the voice and piano playing of Varney Monk.



    Collits’ Inn: a romantic Australian operetta by T. Stuart Gurr; with lyrics and music by Varney Monk; edited with an intoduction by John West, Currency Press in association with Australasian Drama Studies, 1990

    Jean Devanny, Bird of Paradise, Frank Johnson, 1945

    Philip Parsons, Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press/Cambridge University Press, 1995

    Peter Pinne & Peter Whyllie Johnston, The Australian Musical from the Beginning, Allen & Unwin, 2019

    Peter Pinne, Australian Performers, Australian Performances, Performing Arts Museum, Victorian Arts Centre, 1987

    Eric Read, History and Heartburn, Harper & Row, 1979

    John Thomson, “It’s Australian – and It’s Good”, National Library Australia Magazine, December 2003


    John West, Theatre In Australia, Cassell Australia Limited, 1978

    Original Theatre Programs, The Age, The Argus, The Sydney Morning Herald



    Special thanks to Peter Burgis and Rob Morrison for their help in this revision


    Further resources

    View programs on the THA Digital website


  • The Memoirs of J. Alan Kenyon or Behind the Velvet Curtain (Part 14)

    Velvet Curtain

    In this, the last instalment of J. ALAN KENYON’s memoirs, he shares more anecdotes and pays tribute to some of the men and women of the theatre and films.

    George Rings Down the Curtain 

    The manwith whom I was most in contact during my association with J.C. Williamson’s theatres was Frank Tait, later to become Sir Frank. As I remember him, he was a very fine type of person to whom one could apply the rather out-moded title of gentleman, in all sincerity. He was always friendly and sympathetic and ready to help in every possible way.  If you were foolish and overstepped your responsibility, he told you in a kindly manner that it was not your prerogative to act in that particular way.

    On one occasion I overheard the mechanist speaking in a very offensive manner of a certain artist’s work. Frank Tait was quick to tell him that he himself was in total disagreement with the mechanist’s views. He backed me up on numerous occasions against what I considered unreasonable opposition from producers. When I asked for an increase in salary, and remarked in parenthesis, that I only had ‘a few hundred in the bank’, he said, “You are lucky to have that,” but I got the raise. At yet another time when I was working on a grand opera season until 10 p.m. and sometimes later, I was overjoyed to find my salary had been increased by ten pounds, without my mentioning it.

    I have heard many unkind and unfair things said about the Taits, chiefly of course by disgruntled actors. However, when all had been sorted out, it was always the actors themselves who were at fault. The Taits were business people, and as such insisted on sticking to the letter of the contract. Trouble usually arose when an actor did something which violated his contract and when faced with this, he would be most put out, and could take refuge in derogatory statements about the management.

    The man behind Frank Tait, as his general manager, was Claude Kingston. This was undoubtedly a very smoothly operating partnership and the qualities which could be said to belong to one belonged equally to the other. We older members of the staff were all part of an organization, and had a very real responsibility to get the job in hand done. It was up to us to give the same loyalty to the Firm, as was extended to us. No enquiry was ever made as to what, when or how—provided the show was ready for rehearsals.

    There are a number of people with whom I have come in contact who are still, along with myself, with the Firm and Harry Strachan, a director and general manager is one. He grew up in the Firm, and if anyone knows the answers in management, it is certainly Harry. Up to date he has booked some very successful shows, and he has always been a very sincere man and very easy to get along with; in other words, a thoroughly nice bloke.

    Charles Dorning, another director, came out originally to play the male lead in Song of Norway (1950). Sidney Irving holds the reins in Sydney and it is always a pleasurable occasion when I meet him there. Bill Gordon, the publicity man has, in my opinion, done a marvellous job. He has managed to get publicity for shows in hitherto unexplored areas. Betty Pounder does the casting and produces the ballets for the shows—she is an extremely clever person, and a tremendous acquisition to the theatre.

    One of the years Anna Pavlova had a season here (1926) we were in the throes of a drought. I remember talking to her before a matinee and whilst we were talking the rain suddenly began to batter on the roof. We both rejoiced that the drought had ended!

    Beppie de Vries, starring in The Student Prince with James Liddy, gave such a magnificent performance it might still be remembered by many. A contretemps occurred concerning the production of Show Boat: the import who was supposed to be a bass baritone turned out to be a light tenor. It was impossible for him to sing “Old Man River” so he was eventually packed off back again to the USA. Colin Crane got his chance and thus began his journey to stardom. [Listen to Colin Crane singing “Old Man River” on YouTube.]

    This following incident happened before my time in the theatre but I include it here as having historic value. It was a Shakespeare season and George Rignold’s company were the players. Rignold played the king who was slain on the battlefield and it was done by an actor in the top echelon. Even the blasé stagehands had a look at it—the boys on the fly-floor used to go out on the grid (the structure right up above the stage) and from this vantage point they had a good view of the death scene. One night they took a new hand along with them to watch the action. It was the practice to tie a piece of sash-line around a man’s waist in order to hold a hammer or three. During the edging and shuffling for a better viewing position up on the grid, this particular night one of the boy’s hammers became dislodged and plummeted down from the grid. It landed right in the middle of the dead king’s breastplate. The astonished and furiously enraged monarch struggled back to life and swinging his sword vengefully, rushed off the stage , swearing to have the blood of the unlucky individual who had perpetrated such a ghastly indignity on His Majesty’s person.

    Another piece of idiocy which brought forth very untimely roars of laughter from the audience took place during a performance involving the storming, by invaders, of a castle. They were firing huge rocks from a catapult and there were two men straining to haul a large and extremely heavy-looking rock onto the catapult mechanism, when it slipped over the footlights into the orchestra pit. One of the violinists placidly put down his violin and handed back the rock—papier mâché—to the staggered troupes.

    Amongst many famous people I recall Emelie Polini who scored a success with charm and ability in My Lady’s Dress. Lawrence Grossmith topped box-office records with his performance in Ambrose Applejohn’s Adventure. These were some of the big names in the 1930s. There are other names of the past to conjure with—lovely Harriet Bennet in Rose Marie, Stephanie Deste in Desert Song, Lance Fairfax and Colin Crane, and Leon Gordon with Helen Strausky playing Tondeleo, who thrilled audiences in White Cargo.

    There has been some doubt expressed about the authenticity of the Flinders statue outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne. A writer to the Press mentioned the—I think he did call it ‘famous’—mural at Flinders Naval Base showing the landing of Captain Cook, in which he is shown in the identical stance of the Flinders statue. My reason for writing about this is that the mural, in several parts, was painted by William R. Coleman, the J.C. Williamson’s head scenic artist. The panels were transported by lorry from the theatre, already framed, ready to be installed in position in the Ward Room at Flinders. The boys who were assigned to the job were first entertained by the Petty Officers and as a result got rather ‘full’. Two ladders, one at each end of the wall, were used by the carpenters to hoist each painting up into position to be fixed.

    Great care had been taken with measurements, the frames being an exact fit to neatly fill the apertures, but one refused to go into place.  There was a lot of pushing and shoving until the mechanist, who had gone down to supervise the job, saw the trouble, and called, in a slightly slurred voice “Freddie, you bloody fool, take your fingers out from behind the frame!”

    During the Second World War I was busy constructing a model map (for the State Theatre) of Europe, showing the countries taken over by Herr Hitler. As the commentary told of each country being invaded it caught fire—a coating of match-head composition having been ignited by a fuse wire. As I was preparing that part of Northern Europe, Estonia, with mountains, rivers, etc., a voice behind me said, “There is a small lake just about there….” Turning round I said, “It must be very small—as it is not marked on the map!” “I know,” replied Eric Reiman, “It is small—but I know it’s there—I used to wee in it when I was a small boy.”

    The same Eric played a German officer in the film Forty Thousand Horsemen. In one shot he was hiding in a cave built within the studio. Eric swears it was so atmospherically real that he came down with a cold.

    I  suppose one of the most spectacular shows was My Fair Lady (1959), with the best box-office ever. Before the director—Sam Liff—arrived, I had quite a lot of the scenery already painted and exactly the opposite to the designs used in New York and London. I was quite definite—I was going to paint the show in my style, not in the easy impressionistic way it had been treated. In any case, all I had were 35mm slides of the original sketches (Oliver Smith’s) which were completely useless.

    When Sam Liff arrived we showed him the scenery which we had so far painted. He looked at it, then said to me, “I have strict instructions that the scenery must be exactly as in America and London—but you paint it how you want it. I will take the responsibility.”

    Our brickwork was like bricks, the stone and woodwork painted as such—I filled the flower-market stalls with baskets and flowers, marbled the ballroom with silver and bronze and painted the Ascot Racecourse scene as it should have been painted. The Covent Garden Market roof was in the original, without a mezzanine, which at the date of the original play was in existence—it was drawn that way.

    It was 110 degrees in the Theatre—Her Majesty’s, Melbourne—on the Friday night final rehearsal, and the same on the opening night. But one forgot the heat—it was a magnificently produced show and worth all the long hours we had put in with the painting of it. I even received a letter from Mr. Liff, saying, “it is a wonderful production, thanks to you!” Patsy Hemingway understudied Bunty Turner as Eliza and during the run she developed appendicitis and had surgery. She went on a world tour convalescing, attending the various productions of My Fair Lady in different countries. On her return to Australia, she was interviewed in Sydney and asked her opinion of these other productions. She was quite definite that the Australian one, scenically, was infinitely better than in any other country!

    I have inadvertently left until now, some of the well-known names of theatre comedians, names such as Alfred Frith, Gus Bluett, Don Nicol, Arthur Stigant and the Kellaways, Cecil and Alec. These people were tops in their profession, but often circumstances cut their lives short. In the case of ‘Frithy’ it was too much Bacchanalian revelry—many a time he would be missing and come seven thirty—zero hour in the theatre for the evening performance—no Alfred Frith. Search parties were unable to find him on the premises or in the vicinity. George Jennings was his understudy and would ready himself for the part.

    The show would start and the audience had settled down and then just as George made his entrance there would be loud cheering and clapping from the back of the gallery, holding up the show. On investigation—there was ‘Frithy’, happy in his cups, causing the interruption. What a character—but what a damned good comedian!  The same with Gus Bluett—a first-rate comedian, but over-indulgence spoilt everything. Don Nicol died early—he was excellent in his job and a very good caricature artist. Then there were Jack and Silvia Kellaway, two wonderful dancers—sadly Jack died of T.B. when quite young.

    In a sketch Frith and Bluett are doing a drink scene in a bar—they introduce themselves and find they have the same name. What’s more, they live in the same house in the same street—and so on. The tag-line—they say goodnight to each other because it is time to head home.  They do—separately. And then there was the sketch involving Gus Bluett and Charles Norman, as two elderly spinsters making their way to bed. They undress with all the antics imaginable—the climax being when they disentangle themselves from their corsets, fumbling and scratching as they shed the garments. They get into bed and afterwards, in a semi-blackout, one is seen crawling over the other to get out of bed; then fumbling under the bed with inaudible mutterings. Blackout. With the times, how comedy has changed ….!

    There are very pleasant memories of Mother’s Day when Lady Tait (Sir Frank’s wife, and formerly Viola Wilson) would produce a concert in the Melbourne Town Hall for funds for the Women’s Hospital. The stars of the current show at the theatre would perform within a big cast of entertainers. Lady Tait and I would get together on the production and I would design suitable décor for the occasion.

    When Dame Margot Fonteyn was here, she danced at one of these Mother’s Day shows, held in the mid-1950s. I had painted large cutouts of Dresden china ornaments and figurines, with Dame Margot as a figurine coming to life and dancing. The most spectacular was one which we did in the theatre, at the time of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, when South Pacific was one month off the end of its run. I painted the interior of Westminster Abbey and the ceremony was re-enacted. During the casting of the company much fun was caused by suggestions of various people to play the different parts in the presentation. Such as—casting the most inept character to play the Archbishop of Canterbury. And in the same vein—I suggested that Bloody Mary, the Negress mother in South Pacific, should play a part. When the impact of this was given more thought, the potential was felt to be dramatic. Bloody Mary was dressed as a duchess—she sang “Home Sweet Home” and most of the audience had tears in their eyes as the great wave of applause nearly brought the roof down! Incongruous as it may have been, it still is a beautiful memory for me.

    That same night, the papers’ headlines splashed the wonderful news that Mount Everest had been conquered.

    Some of the old shows which still have such joyful memories are The Merry Widow, Lilac Time, The Student Prince with James Liddy and that superb actress Beppie de Vries. The wonderful male chorus in this last show—with ‘Scottie’ Allan who sometimes took the top note for Liddy. Madame Pompadour, Silver King, If I were King, Sybil with Gladys Moncrieff, Potash and Perlmutter, The Broken Wing...

    And then there were the people who gave a huge amount of their talent and industry to the film industry of the 30s and 40s and to which a value could not be set. Stuart Doyle, for one, was instrumental in launching Cinesound Productions. Ken G. Hall was another—he was the director of every production, with the exception of one, made by Cinesound. Others I feel compelled to mention were Captain Frank Hurley, George Heath as cameraman, sound engineers Arthur Smith and Clive Cross, and the tutors of expression and acting Frank Harvey and George Cross. Jack Soutar and Harry Strachan were production managers, and Jack Kingsford Smith was a wizard on the optical printer, something he had designed and constructed himself. Other skilled people included Bert Cross, lab manager, and Bill Shepard the film editor and cutter. There were highly experienced make-up men, there were carpenters, property men and electricians. 

    All these dedicated people had given all their time and energy into the melting pot, only to find their skills were lost to the community when the Motion Picture Industry, which had been thriving in Australia, stopped, in the 60s, with the surety and finality of a beheading. No one has advanced any reason why it was suddenly discontinued. At the time I am writing we have neither a film industry nor many suburban picture theatres—they have all practically closed down since the advent of television. Just for the sake of ‘making a faster buck’, a worthwhile industry which would have had untold value, as it created a fine national image, was utterly destroyed. It was an instance of a tremendous opportunity cast to the winds for lack of vision, and for greed.

    But returning to the world of theatre, as I look back, little instances—entertaining, good and/or bad, come to mind. The beautiful production of Aida with the Nile scenes and the massive Tomb scene. This tomb was built to take the big ballet number after the two characters had been interred. Because of the number of people involved above, the construction was of heavy timber. Two frames supported four-by-three joists and over these were laid the platform tops. These consisted of 20 feet by 4 feet of flooring and were unwieldy and extremely difficult to handle. Experienced stagehands could manage the juggling, but the Mechanist was breaking in some new stagehands to manipulate these troublesome rostrum tops. The first, second and third attempts were very unsuccessful, the tops all but toppling over and crashing onto the stage—only to be saved by others rushing to the rescue. At last the Mechanist, with a lovely flow of indecent swear words, broke his silence. “Cripes, you stupid bastards—you’ll never learn!”

    The reply he got from one of the newly initiated was “Who the hell wants to...” And this bloke walked out of the theatre.

    A little bit of history of a different kind: during the period I was Art Director to the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales I had designed a circular entrance vestibule to the big hall at the Show Ground. I wanted to use all Australian timbers, varying from the darkest to the lightest in colouring. Being war time, I had to approach the Timber Conservation Board for approval to obtain the three-ply. They were interested enough to have the sheets made for me—the partition was a fifty-foot semi-circle, and three six-foot high sheets of ply, the lightest coloured timber in the centre, gradually going through to darker and to the darkest at the edges. It was quite a feature.

    Many months afterwards, I was having lunch in Sydney when I was approached by a man who enquired if I remembered him. I did, but had forgotten where we had met. He mentioned that he had dealt with my request for the timber for the RAS—so we got talking. He remarked that knowing at the time that I was with Cinesound and that they, of course, watched the Cinesound News Reels, he was dying to tell me of a job he had been given to do, top secret, and of the highest priority.

    He told me of his travels and the eventual finding of a great number of Coachwood trees, found growing in warm, temperate rainforests along the coast of NSW.  With every available man and piece of machinery they were felled, sawn up and transported to the small arms factory in Penrith, where, with round-the-clock effort they were manufactured into rifle butts—since Australia hadn’t a rifle left in the country!

    What a scoop for the news it would have been if it had been broadcast!


  • Varney Monk—Ours for Us

    varney monk 01

    The following profile and interview with Varney Monk was first published in Jean Devanny’s book Bird of Paradise in 1945.

    “I COULD have such a pleasant happy life with my husband and family if I did not possess this urge to fight for justice for Australian compositions.”

    varney monk 02Varney Monk in 1951. Photo by Eric Francis. National Library of Australia, Canberra.So spoke Varney Monk as she threw open a window encasement at her delightful home at Mosman, and gestured towards the dusky harbour view. I, however, found the interiors behind me much more interesting than the conventional forested slopes of the low foreground, the steel shield of the bay, the jewel-studded bow of Sydney’s Eastern suburbs beyond it. So, with a perfunctory glance downwards over the red-tipped gums climbing down to Little Sirius Cove, I turned back into the lounge rooms behind me.

    The house seemed to be nearly all lounge. And indubitably Varney Monk’s home. The home of a composer, with its soft richness of colour, its dimness, and quiet in which the vibrations of the music she had been playing when I interrupted her, still lingered.

    The red wood panelling of the walls was hung with paintings and etchings and old prints, framed in mahogany and bird’s-eye maple. Nothing anywhere was new. The long, fabric-covered sofa, with its sinuous, flowery, curved supports, cried shame on modern “divans.” The chairs, the occasional tables, the built-in and cupboard-like bookcases, all were old-Australia farmhouse or were brought out to Australia by the first pioneering families. 

    One corner was filled with a long, lovely, red mahogany harpsichord. “I’ve always had an instinct for real Australian things about me,” said Varney, as she lifted the lid of the instrument to show me its dusty inside. “This came from the South Coast, from Jamberoo. It was brought out from Scotland by the Waugh family, Scottish pioneers, who were among the first settlers. I’ve got old Miss Waugh's bed, too.

    “The harpsichord must be at least 150 years old. I dug up some old documents about the Waugh family in Edinburgh and the time of their departure for the colony.”

    The soul of the instrument had departed. It had died of old age, its tinkling treble gone to join the spirits of the frail old ladies whose fingers had danced modestly upon its keys. Varney’s piano was old, too. A Lipp. She would like a Bechstein, now. A piano was something a pianist and composer could not afford to be sentimental about.

    “For years I have been collecting,” she continued. “See. This is a gentleman's piece, as they call it.” She pulled out a drop table and opened it out. “But most of the things are old farmhouse. If Cyril had been as interested as I we could have got a fine collection together. He calls it junk.” She laughed.

    Yes, she was part of it herself. Part of the Australian tradition; homely, practical, unspectacular and persistent. Quietly building around herself a frame-work of Australia-made, Australia-worn, as a background for the music of Australia she spun from the mystery of her mind.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    I was not surprised to hear that Varney Monk was born in Victoria, at Bacchus Marsh, near Melbourne.1 She looks much more “Melbourne” than “Sydney” even now, though most of her life has been spent in the N.S.W. metropolis.2 Her heritage of talent for music she got from both her parents.

    At twelve years of age she composed her first song. A dreadful bit of work, she confided. Paling’s published it under the name When Roses Fall.A glorified little girl took home a bundle of the printed sheets clasped to her breast, her mind filled with ecstatic dreams of a future apotheosised. Varney clasped her hands.

    “I seem to have spent all my life bounding along to Paling’s in the hope of achieving fame, but nothing ever happened. From time to time I had things published with the publishers hoping for success, but not until I did Collits’ Innand The Cedar Treewas I well known to the ordinary public.

    “Twenty years ago I won a competition prize of a hundred pounds with The Old Bush Track.But in the end I had to publish it myself. It was recorded only the other day.3 I won the Broken Hill Jubilee song competition with the song Broken Hill,which is not printed yet. I won the first radio Eisteddfod song competition, also writing my own lyric.

    “My volume called Songs of the Southwas rejected by the publishers on the ground that Australia lacked romance. No one would buy it, they thought. My book of Baby Ballads,however, is used in the State schools.”

    In her teens she had been filled with radiant enthusiasm and did a lot of work. One or two things she did then just missed out on being a real success. After her marriage, at twenty-one years of age, to Cyril Monk, the violinist,4 she set music to some of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s poems. These were first sung in public as an accompaniment to a lecture on Gordon delivered by the late A.G. Stephens.

    “I first heard the name of Adam Lindsay Gordon,” she told me, “when as a child of eight I was taken by my godfather, Dr. Wisewold, and my mother to the spot where Gordon shot himself. My elders were quite unaware of the deep impression that visit made upon me.5 My mother’s wedding gift to my father was a copy of Gordon’s poems. I treasure it most of all my first edition copies of the Australian poets. ‘To my beloved’ is inscribed upon the flyleaf.”

    Later, Varney set music to many Kendall and Lawson lyrics, among them being Kendall’s Rose Lorraine, Bell Birds, September in Australia, The Muse of Australia, Names Upon a Stoneand The Song of the Cattle Hunters.

    From Lawson's lyrics she selected The Sliprails and the Spur, On the Night Train, Kiss in the Ringand When the World is Wide.In 1943, the first-named of the Lawson group was broadcast by the B.B.C.6

    “Lawson,” said Varney, “was a great admirer of Henry Kendall. Once, when visiting Kendall’s Rock, he told a friend not to mention him in the same breath as Kendall for he was not fitted to tie his shoelaces. Lawson also expressed a wish to be buried near Kendall.”

    Varney lists her Kendall songs among her best work. “I feel that no one could have under-lined Kendall better than I did,” she said simply. “I made no attempt to gild the lily. The melodies I wrote to his lyrics but widened the poet’s horizons. My favourite Kendall song is Names Upon a Stone.On the sixtieth anniversary of the death of the poet when a pilgrimage was made to his grave and the children laid wattle upon it, Roderick Quinn read that lyric to the company. He also considers it to be Kendall’s finest poem.

    “I don’t suppose many Australians are aware of the impulse that stirred Kendall to write it. It was the outcome of an excursion with George Fagan, one of the family that befriended him so conspicuously.

    varney monk 05George Fagan’s home “Cooranbeen” where Kendall stayed, now known as Henry Kendall Cottage. National Trust.

    “In 1870, Kendall walked from Sydney to Newcastle, arriving there destitute and ill. George Fagan met him in an hotel and took him to his home and cared for him. For many years thereafter Kendall lived with the Fagans. On Christmas Day, 1874, George Fagan and Kendall walked out from Gosford and upon the rock now known as Kendall’s Rock, the poet carved their initials. There followed the poem, which was dedicated to George Fagan.

    “It was George Fagan that Kendall sent for when he was dying. George brought him in from the country to Sydney and arranged to have him admitted to the St. Vincent’s Hospital. Kendall was unhappy there, however, so George took him to Redfern, where the Fagan family then resided. Kendall died there on August 1st, 1882.

    “When I heard that John Joseph Fagan, the last of the family, was on his death-bed at Gosford I went up to see him. On the Pacific Highway I passed the Rock and the obelisk that was subsequently erected nearby and saw that the verses carved upon the latter were the very ones from the poem Names Upon a Stonewhich I had selected for my song.

    “When I introduced myself to Joseph Fagan and told him I had come to take the hand of a man who had known Kendall he was terribly pleased. He told me he had loved Kendall like a brother and spoke at length about his fine character and sweet disposition.”

    In that period Varney conceived the idea of writing an operetta around the life of Kendall and to that end she visited the Mitchell Library to gather any available material about him. Maybe, she thought, some of his contemporaries were still living. She found two books on Kendall, both written by Mrs. Hamilton-Grey.7 One was inscribed with the author’s address. Circumstances decided her to relinquish the idea of the play, but there remained with her an indeterminate desire to contact Mrs. Hamilton-Grey, should she be still alive. Then it happened that she received a letter from a former acquaintance, a Miss Black, and the address upon the letter was that written in the biography of Kendall, care of Mrs. Hamilton-Grey.

    Varney immediately called upon Mrs. Hamilton-Grey and made herself known to her. The old lady received her with pleasure, told her a great deal about herself and her interest in Kendall and gave her copies of her books. Varney placed the books beside her bed and at intervals, before going to sleep, would dip into them.

    One night she read Mrs. Hamilton-Grey's account of how Sir Henry Parkes had followed “the remains” of Kendall's mother to the grave. “One of the few.” The following morning, while breakfasting, she read in the paper the notice of Mrs. Hamilton-Grey’s death and of her interment that very morning, within an hour or two.8

    It was a dreadful day. The rain poured down. Varney hurriedly slipped into a mackintosh, pulled an armful of purple flowers from the garden, hurried to the mortuary and asked to see a relative. Mrs. Hamilton-Grey’s agent came forward and informed her that there were no relatives present. He himself and the clergyman were the only people in attendance. Varney followed the hearse with them in their car, one solitary car. It drew up close beside the grave. The agent held an umbrella over the clergyman's head while he read the burial service. Varney’s were the only flowers and she dropped them upon the coffin as it was lowered, a tribute to the lonely forgotten woman who had given such loving service to the recording of Kendall’s life.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    Most of Varney Monk’s Kendall, Lawson and Gordon songs remain unpublished.

    “We Australian composers and musicians cannot be entirely absolved from responsibility for the general indifference on the part of the public to our compositions,” she stated.

    “We have lacked the dynamic to organise competition with overseas productions.

    “At the same time we have received little encouragement from the theatrical producers and broadcasting stations. And this despite that there has never been a failure with an Australia-written production! Possum Paddock, On Our Selection,and others, have all been successful, yet the producers will not put on our shows. I know there are several good musicals in existence to-day, written by Australians, and they cannot get the chance to make good.

    “The whole outlook of our commercial producers has been wrong in the past. They have under-rated Australia, they have under-estimated the patriotism of the people, they have failed to understand the needs of the great mass of the common people, who in the long run are the life-blood of the theatre. They complain of having lost money on their shows and so long as they persist in thrusting upon us entertainment that appeals only to a section they should expect to continue to lose money. They catered for the small minority whose roots are not embedded in the land and the fundamental life of the people, and then grumbled because they were let down. Taken as a whole, I think the judgement of the mass of our people is very good. Australians have always been ready to acclaim anything really good.

    “The Australian audience are descendants of the old pioneers. They are interested in the life of their ancestors and the present events that sprung from it. If they are not consciously interested they are potentially so. We need entrepreneurs and producers out of the people, men who will combine education with national pride and culture with entertainment. And they in their turn should have Government support.

    “Our present playwrights of importance are awake to the needs of our people; just as our present novelists are. They are producing plays with their roots in the soil. All that is required is a chance of good presentation in well-equipped theatres, the kind of production that would bring in an income to the playwrights and composers and enable them to devote their full time to their art.

    “And if ever there was an opportunity to boost our productions it is now! The theatres are over-crowded. The towns are full of Americans anxious to realise Australia. I say it is a crime to neglect such a chance.

    “The Labor Government gave our producers a lead when they decreed, in 1941, that two and a half per cent of all music that goes over the air must be written by Australians. My musical plays Collits’ Innand The Cedar Treewere broadcast at the time of their production but nothing more of mine was accepted by the broadcasting stations till after that measure was passed. The result of the Government’s action proved that all we need is a chance, for immediately there came a steady outflow of work from our composers. The music that had lain by for so long is now being played. I find now a continuous demand for my songs from our singers. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has recently performed my Kendall, Lawson and Gordon songs. They have also done Collits’ Innagain.9

    * * * * * * * * * *

    Both Varney and Cyril Monk spoke feelingly and appreciatively of their country’s most distinguished composer, Alfred Hill. “Hill is not only high-brow,” said Cyril. “His chamber music gives him a distinction far beyond and above all other Australian composers, but in addition his output includes work that makes him one with the people.”

    Carefully and thoughtfully Cyril essayed an estimate of his wife's distinctive place in the register of Australia-created music.

    “No other composer,” he said, "expressed so clearly and so long ago, the crying need for a peculiarly national musical expression. Varney’s music has been unswervingly and successfully Australian. She may claim to be the most Australian composer, though others may be more gifted. Just as Moussorgsky is more truly Russian than Tschaikowsky, whose appeal is more universal. Varney may define herself as an amateur, perhaps, but she is an amateur with something to say of significance and importance in the life of the people. She has given wholesale attention to our poets, as against the slightness of her colleagues’ contribution in that field.... At any rate, in the past.”

    * * * * * * * * * *

    Varney Monk believes that she was inspired to the production of Collits’ Innby some subtle spiritual imperative. She regards it, as one might say, as her star of the southern cross. The seeds of the idea were dropped into her mind during her honeymoon days, though years went by before they broke ground, flourished and bore fruit. The seeds were the play of her mind around a story she heard from the lips of a venerable old man, a story that links with old colonial days.

    varney monk 10J.W. Berghofer (1843–1927)—Mt. York obelisk. Blue Mountains Library.

    The old man, a unique, a wonderful old man, to Varney’s way of it, was a German-born, naturalised Australian named J.W. Berghofer, featured in early twentieth-century literature as the Father of the Centenary Movement. Berghofer organised the centenary of the first crossing of the Blue Mountains by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth. His was the initiative in raising the obelisk at Mt. York, commemorating the work of the explorers. His own spirited contributions to community-welfare are perpetuated in the giving of his name to the pass running from Mt. Victoria to Little Hartley.

    To allow pioneers like Berghofer to fade into oblivion would be, in Varney’s opinion, unforgivable. She feels terribly ashamed to think that during World War I, the old man, who had arrived in Australia at the age of sixteen, was persecuted for the accident of his birth. Few native-born Australians are as interested in Australian history as he was. He came to love the land of his adoption.

    Berghofer was for fifty years manager of the Kinimbla Station in the Hartley Valley. In 1905 he retired from that position and established himself and his wife in an inn near Mt Victoria, an inn dating back to 1837. Its name, Vittoria Inn, he changed to Rosenthal, in later years to be modified to Rosedale.

    To that inn went Varney and Cyril Monk to spend a part of their honeymoon, which was concluded at Norfolk Island. And so enamoured did they become of the splendid old couple who kept it and the gracious and lovely surroundings that they returned there to holiday again and again. It was during one of those trips, seated one night round the fire, that Berghofer told them the story of Collits’ Inn. 

    “He was full of tales of early Australian history,” Varney told me. “He had a wealth of local colour stories. He made Hartley Valley come alive before one.”

    On this particular night he led up to the Collits from reminiscing about the original road made over the mountains, the road made by William Cox with convict labour in six months. That road ran past Collits’ Inn. But its steepness had decided Sir William Thomas Mitchell, in 1832, to build another road, one that deviated from Collits’. Pierce Collits had been a convict. Varney believes that probably he was one of the four convicts who accompanied Blaxland and his companions on their original Crossing. The names of those four were never recorded. But a Mrs. George Nash, at the time of writing still living with her husband at the back of Collits’ Inn, told Varney that during the Centenary of the Crossing she had seen a bracelet inscribed with a legend linking the name Collits with Blaxland.

    However that may be, Collits was assigned to his wife on her farm on the Nepean River. Later he received a grant of land west of the mountains, at the foot of Mt. York, and there he built his inn.

    In a shack on the Kinimbla property, Berghofer’s story ran, a widowed, aged woman named Mrs. Skene had lived. One day she had visited the Berghofer home and asked for the loan of some foodstuffs to make provision for an unexpected visitor. Knowing her for a recluse Berghofer had expressed surprise and in explanation the old lady had told him her story.

    She was Amelia, daughter of Pierce Collits, and had grown from childhood to womanhood at Collits’ Inn. She had fallen in love with a young Ensign in charge of a road gang and Pierce, hating the Redcoats with all the vehemence of an ex-convict, had forbidden their marriage and driven the Ensign away. In the fury of frustration Amelia had sworn to marry the first man who entered the inn after that. One Skene, a foreman on Mitchell’s new road, had been the first man to enter and Amelia had fulfilled her vow.

    Her visitor was the one-time Ensign, now a widower. He had returned to the valley to ask Amelia to redeem their love of the past by marriage in their old age. She refused to marry him, however. She told Berghofer that she felt it was now too late for her to change her mode of living.

    That story stuck in Varney Monk’s mind.

    varney monk 11Vittoria Inn, Hartley (1887) later known as Rosenthal and then Rosedale. Blue Mountains Library.

    Berghofer eventually disposed of Rosedale and went to live at Mt. Victoria, so the Monks had to seek some other place in which to holiday. And the place they decided upon was the old Collits’ Inn, for many years past known as Mt. York Farm, but still a guesthouse and wayside teashop.

    There in the old inn, Varney’s mind was filled anew with the young Amelia’s tragedy. She felt as though a wind blew up from the valley to stir the strings of the harp of her talent. Roaming about the valley she got the feel of it. She felt as though she were linked with the pines, beneath which, in a tiny graveyard, lay the crumbling headstone of Amelia Collits’ grave. She became hyper-sensitive to the pathos of the sighing and the rustling of the pines, to the drifting down of their needles. She felt herself part of the symbolism of the place, of the hush of the valley, the pathos and the sighing and the drifting. The valley became for her like a voice from the past urging her to do something about it, to bring the past before the present, the love and the sorrow and the beauty of her country’s colonial days.

    * * * * * * * * * * 

    Some years later, Nathalie Rosenwax, a teacher of singing who conducted a Music Club at Post Office Chambers, George St., Sydney, instituted a competition for an Australian musical play and Varney saw in it the invitation to bring her dream to life. Stuart Gurr, her neighbour, agreed to write the play. Varney herself wrote most of the lyrics. Howard Carr, judge of the competition, awarded it second prize. He saw its possibilities and offered himself to orchestrate the music and conduct it when presented. A cast and orchestra were assembled from volunteers who gave their services freely. It was performed in the Savoy Theatre in Bligh Street and so deep was the impression made on the public that Carr went down to Melbourne for the purpose of interesting the entrepreneur, F.W. Thring, in the possibilities of professional production. Thring, a wealthy man who was devoting himself to furthering Australian talent, gave the music an audition and decided to produce the play.

    “My friend Phillipa Alston sang the numbers,” said Varney. “She sang them gloriously. She really sold the play to Thring. When she had finished he walked over to me with his face all smiles, took both my hands and said he would do the show at all costs.

    “I felt absolutely sure of success, but the cast themselves were at first pessimistic. Then one day I interviewed a certain paper and revealed that the play was based on Australian history. It was something right out of the manure heap at home.

    “That changed the whole outlook, stimulated the interest of players, press and public. Stuart Gurr had written an original play but he had been as interested as I was in the historical colour, and that could not help but orientate it.

    Collits’ Innplayed to packed houses for seven months, the longest run of any musical show in Australia since the advent of the Talkies. With White Horse Innit holds the record. Gladys Moncrieff, George Wallace and the rest of the cast gave it their best. One of the numbers, Australia,sung by Robert Chisholm, was put forward by the press as fitting for a national anthem.10

    “As a tribute to the success of the operetta the name of the inn, Mt. York Farm, was discarded in favour of the old name, Collits’.

    “If things had gone well from that time on, the play’s success would have meant the beginning of a new era in Australian theatrical enterprise,” continued Varney.

    “Our musical composers were roused to an immediate response. But Thring died and after that nothing was done to help Australian composers and playwrights till the Labor Government moved in the matter.

    “We went through ten years in the doldrums.

    “Thring’s loss to Australian music was inestimable. He recognised that we Australians only need encouragement and opportunity to produce original plays and operas equal to the best the world has to offer. He believed in the national integrity of our people.

    “He spared no expense in the presentation of Collits’ Inn....A revolving stage was used, especially constructed for the operetta. He intended to film the play but his death disposed of that project. And also of the dreams of the Australian composers who had seen in his enterprise the fulfilment of their theatrical aspirations.”

    However, as I write, a request has come from Howard Carr, now in England, for a copy of the script to be forwarded to him with a view to presentation there.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    A whole chain of coincidences has linked Varney Monk’s life with Collits’ Inn. As a girl, en route to Kelso, near Bathurst, her grandmother stayed at Rosedale, then Vittoria Inn. She sang in the choir of the little church at Kelso, the church in which Amelia Collits was married to Skene, the first marriage to be solemnised there.

    Governor Darling once stayed at Collits’. The Darlings were friends of Varney’s great-great aunt, Mrs. Richard Jones, who named her home at the top of William Street, Sydney, “Darlinghurst,” after them. Later the name was bestowed upon that whole area.

    Varney’s life-long friend, Mrs. Henderson, on whose advice she and Cyril Monk had first chosen to visit Rosedale, when residing at Manly found that she had as neighbour a man named Skene, who proved to be one of Amelia Collits’ ten children.

    Again, Nathalie Rosenwax’s Music Club, in which she had made her decision to hold the competition, had been part of the old Sydney Barracks, from which the young Ensign must have gone to take charge of the road gang and thus meet Amelia Collits.

    Nathalie told Varney that she pondered long on the advisability of running that competition. Again and again she thrust it out of her mind, to have it continually recur. She said the idea was like a gong note struck here, then another struck there, till finally one note sounded so loudly that she felt impelled to take the plunge, though at the time she had no idea where the prize money would come from.

    Even yet Varney feels that she has not seen the last of her work for Collits’ Inn.The late George Reeve sent her a sheaf of letters bearing upon the history of the Collits. She envisages a book around the family, a book that would follow the links in the chain connecting them with Blaxland and his fellow explorers.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    varney monk 18“Stay While the Stars Are Shining”—Robert Chisholm and Gladys Moncrieff in mid-song—John Frith caricature for The Bulletin,4 July 1934, p.18.

    Collits’ Inndid well for everybody concerned with its production. It gave Varney new I hope and enthusiasm. She felt full of ideas, her mind was prolific. But then came a setback. 

    In collaboration with Edmund Barclay and Helene Barclay she got to work on another operetta, The Cedar Tree.F.W. Thring produced it. It did not go so well as Collits’ Innin Melbourne, but in Sydney it was even more popular and was playing to crowded houses when some personal circumstance compelled Thring to disband his company.11

    The Cedar Tree,” said Varney, “has yet to come into its own.”

    Both Collits’ Innand The Cedar Treeremained unpublished. In 1943 Chapell and Co. printed some of the numbers of the first-named. In 1942 Columbia recorded a song from Collits’. 12 The songs Varney wrote during the year succeeding the production of the plays also lie unpublished.

    Then came the war! Her strong patriotic desire to link her work with her country inspired her to write When the War is Over,both words and music. It was published on completion and did very well.13 When the enemy were coming very close to Australian shores and people were looking anxious and “blue,” Varney wrote music to the words: There's Going to be Good News,which was also a success, and collaborated in We’re So Glad to be Homeand Homeward. 

    * * * * * * * * * *

    “Of course I can only speak authoritatively from the angle of good light music,” she told me finally. “I am only competent to speak about that. But, no matter how it came about, or whether it should be, good light music is closest of all music to the heart of my people; it is woven most closely into our traditions.

    “In the post-war period I think it should be the duty of our leaders to educate the people in the appreciation of ever better music. Particularly by means of the radio. Not to dodge their responsibilities behind the shibboleth: ‘the people get what they want.’ The task of leadership is to guide the people ever upwards, in all spheres.

    “I think a lot of fine poetry will come out of this war, which will doubtless inspire our song-writers and composers to do better work. Most music is invoked by the stirring of the emotions by great deeds, by sorrows and tribulations. The horrors and sorrows of this war should stimulate all our creative work, to their weaving into music and song.

    “In relation to music we should not argue from the angle: Is Australian music as good or better than the music we get from overseas? The point is: Our country must produce its own fair and just proportion of the world's music. The value of our music lies in its difference to that of other countries.

    “I frankly admit that I desire personal success. Why not? Personal success is a weapon that gives one authority to further one's ideals for the good of humanity. 

    “I was born a fighter. I have never laid down my arms. I never will lay them down. I will fight for Australian compositions till I die and I look to the post-war era to give them a break in a national way.

    “Collective effort is what we composers and musicians have neglected in the past. That is the dynamic we have lacked. It is the group that gives power and strength to advance, that is able to compel recognition of just claims. I feel that the new era for which our boys are dying in this war will enable collective effort in music as in every other sphere. Not ‘me for mine’ but ‘ours for us!’ That is the slogan, I feel sure, that we musicians and composers must inscribe upon our banners.”

    Published in BIRD OF PARADISEby Jean Devanny [Frank Johnson; Sydney & Melbourne: 1945] as Chapter XXVIII(pp.256-267)



    Compiled by Robert Morrison

    1. The Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages notes that Isabel Varney Desmond Peterson was born to parents Miriam Jane and Ernest Jonathon Peterson in 1892, and that her place of birth was recorded as the inner-city Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. (Registration no. 373/1892)

    However Varney Monk’s belief that she had been born in Bacchus Marsh is evident from the following letter giving details of her life published in the Bacchus Marsh Expresson Saturday, 10 March 1934, p.3:


    Writing to “The Express” from her home, 37 Raglan street, Mosman, Sydney, Mrs. Varney Monk, composer of the musical score for the successful all-Australian play, “Collits’ Inn,” states:

    varney monk 19Varney Monk in 1934. Photo by Broothorn.“My name was Peterson before my marriage, and my father was a solicitor in Bacchus Marsh. The doctor who attended my mother at my birth was Dr. Wisewold, who was my Godfather. We left in 1892 when I was 10 days old and went to Tasmania. My mother died when I was 11 years old; and my father, five years ago. My mother was a woman of character and sweet disposition. What I remember of her and all my childhood memories are ones of her being very unhappy. I have not thought much about her (as children forget so quickly) until the past few years, and, strangely, she has been constantly in my thoughts. If I have accomplished anything it is to her I owe most, as she left me (under great sacrifice) sufficient money, for my musical education, and if I have justified in part all she went through, that is the greatest happiness that the success of ‘Collit's Inn’ has brought to me.”

    “If there is anyone in Bacchus Marsh who remembers my mother I should love to get in touch with them. When I was in Melbourne I was so busy, and then when my family arrived they always seemed to have some outing planned, and although many times we intended going to Bacchus Marsh, it never eventuated.”

    “The poem by ‘Den’ in ‘The Express’ has made me long to see it all for myself. As I expect to be in Melbourne again before long I shall never leave without a visit to Bacchus Marsh.”

    “My husband Is Mr, Cyril Monk, violinist, of the N.S.W. Conservatorium. We have a son 18 years old, and a daughter, 16 years. The former commences his medical course this month. He has a strong literary and musical gift, and has written several plays.”

    “I hope I may accomplish next time something better than what I’ve done, and the interest Bacchus Marsh people have taken is most stimulating and creates the desire to do something in gratitude for ‘Bacchus Marsh Concentrated Milk’—for saving my life, I’m told. I am sure Bacchus Marsh has the spirit and atmosphere to produce much talent and ability.”

    “I am asked for details of my career. I won the £100 competition some years ago for an Australian song, ‘Down The Old Bush Track;’ and later the best song in the Australian Radio Competition; and last year the Broken Hill Jubilee Song Competition. With Lady Bavin I collaborated in a book of children’s songs, ‘Baby Ballads,’ now used in New South Wales schools.  ‘Collits’ Inn’ was also a prize-winner in a competition.

    2. A profile of Varney Monk published in Smith’s Weekly on Saturday, 22 December 1945 (p.13) noted that: Owing to the death of her mother while she was still only a girl. she lived with Mrs. Violet Henderson, of Manly, becoming in fact a member of the Henderson family, an association of pleasant memories and musical result, since it was Mrs. Henderson who first introduced her to the beautiful valley of Hartley, on the Western side of the Blue Mountains. (Ref.:

    3.Having performed the song in his concert repertoire for a number of years, the Australian bass-baritone Raymond Beatty recorded Varney Monk’s The Old Bush Track for Columbia at the Sydney studios at Homebush on 3 June 1943, with piano accompaniment by Idwal Jenkins. It was issued with catalogue number: Columbia DO-2591

    4.Isabel Varney Peterson (who had been a piano-accompanist to her husband-to-be on the concert platform for a number of years previously) married Cyril Monk at St. Phillip’s Anglican Church, Sydney on Monday, 22 December 1913. (Ref: )

    5.Poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon (who was born in the small English village of Charlton Kings near Cheltenham in 1833) committed suicide with a rifle shot to the head on Brighton Beach, Victoria on 24 June 1870 at age 38; an action motivated by his depression resulting from mounting debts. He was buried in Brighton General Cemetery (see

    6.Australian baritone, Harold Williams sang Varney Monk’s musical settings of The Sliprails and the Spur, On the Night Trainand Kiss in the Ringas part of a program marking the 75th anniversary of Henry Lawson’s birth broadcast by the ABC on Wednesday, 17 June 1942 from 8 p.m.

    7.Mrs. A.M. Hamilton-Grey’s books on the life of Kendall included: Facts and fancies about our “son of the woods” Henry Clarence Kendall and his poetry[John Sands, Sydney:1920], Poet Kendall, his romantic history (from the cradle to the Hymeneal altar) [John Sands, Sydney:1926], and Kendall, our “God-made chief”, “a singer of the dawn”: a continuation of Poet Kendall, making a complete history from cradle to grave[John Sands, Sydney:1929].

    These became the subject of a court case in March of 1938 wherein the Chief Judge in Equity was asked to determine whether a direction contained in the will of Mrs. Hamilton-Grey, in which she left the sum of £2,490 for the republication and distribution of her books on Henry Kendall following her death, constituted a valid charitable trust. Various parties (including the poet’s surviving son, librarians and a biographer) testified that her books were full of inaccuracies, both biographical and topographical, and in parts gave purely inferential narratives of Kendall’s life and work. It was further claimed that errors and unwarranted assertions were numerous and, from a purely literary point of view, the books were practically negligible, and as criticism were of no value. The judge, during argument, said that he was inclined to think that Mrs. Hamilton-Grey’s will was intended to gratify her own vanity rather than to do service to literature. (Ref: In the event, only her first book was republished by the Sydney firm of Publicity Press in 1940.

    8.The Funeral Notices on page 9 of the Sydney Morning Herald for Friday, 12 February 1937 noted that:HAMILTON-GREY.—The Remains of the late Mrs. AGNES MARIA HAMILTON-GREY will leave our Funeral Home, corner Miller and Falcon streets, North Sydney. THIS (Friday) MORNING. at 10 o'clock for the Presbyterian Cemetery. Northern Suburbs. WOOD COFFILL LIMITED.”

    9.The ABC broadcast a 45 minute radio adaptation of Collits’ Inn on Saturday, 16 October 1943 via the National Network on relay from 2FC Sydney with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by J. Farnsworth Hall, in a production by Lawrence H. Cecil. No cast details for the performance were listed in radio guides and newspaper program listings of the period.

    10. The professional premiere of Collits’ Innwas staged at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne on 23 December 1933, where it played for a 15 week season, concluding on Saturday, 7 April 1934. Its subsequent Sydney season opened at the Tivoli Theatre on 22 June 1934, where it ran for a further 9 weeks (see Collits’ Inn Revisited by Peter Pinne at )

    11.The Australian premiere of The Cedar Tree was given at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne on Saturday, 22 December 1934, where it had a run of 8 weeks concluding on Saturday, 16 February 1935. F.W. Thring then leased the Criterion Theatre in Sydney from J.C. Williamson Ltd. for six weeks and opened his season of productions there with the English comic opera Jolly Roger (by V.C. Clinton-Baddeley, with music by Walter Leigh) on 23 February 1935, starring Gladys Moncrieff, Scott Russell, Alan Priora, Alfred Frith, Bryl Walkley and Claude Flemming (who also directed the show). This was followed by The Cedar Tree with the same principal cast (and director), which opened at the Criterion with the matinee on Saturday, 16 March for a two week season concluding on Saturday, 30 March 1935. Despite a favourable reception by the newspaper critics and “crowded houses” during its run, its brief season was attributed in newspaper adverts at the time to Gladys Moncrieff’s “early departure for London.”

    12. “Last Year” from the score of Collits’ Inn was recorded by The Melody Men at the Homebush, Sydney studios of Columbia on 14 May 1943 and was issued on the Regal-Zonophone label with catalogue number: G24752.

    13. “When the War is Over” was recorded by Harold Williams (with piano accompaniment by Horace Keats) at the Homebush studios of Columbia on 20 April 1942 and was issued with catalogue number: Columbia DO-2414. It may be heard on YouTube at 



    varney monk 20a

    The Cedar Tree

     Forthcoming Australian Musical Romance

    MR. F.W. THRING’S forthcoming production 'The Cedar Tree' (an Australian musical romance by Edmund Barclay, for which Helene Barclay has written the lyrics and Varney Monk has composed the music), takes one back to the Windsor of 1840. This setting was chosen for the play as being richer in early historical association than almost any other part of the colony.

    In 1789 Governor Phillip sailed up the Hawkesbury as far as Green Hills (Windsor), and the first settlers in the district arrived in 1794. As the ‘Granary of Young Australia’ the Hawkesbury furnished for years the raw material needed for the main settlement, and on the banks of the river shipbuilding was extensively carried out, and trading done with places as far away as New Zealand and Tasmania. In those days the cedar forests flourished and the sawyers felled and floated the timber down the numerous creeks. The onslaughts made on the cedar may be gauged by the fact that Macquarie in 1814 issued a proclamation forbidding its destruction without permission.

    Now only a few isolated trees are to be found, and the accompanying photograph was taken in the grounds of Claremont when the writer had the pleasure of calling there. Claremont is the oldest house in Windsor, and is now the home of J.M. Macnally, the well-known artist. Beneath these trees many famous personages of early history may have had confidential chats, for among the occupiers of Claremont one finds such well known personages as Andrew Thompson (the so-called ‘Founder of Windsor’), Governor Bligh, and William Cox. Governor Macquarie (who had a partiality for Windsor) often visited his friend Cox to discuss his great project, the building of the road to the west.

    varney monk 21

    IN ‘The Cedar Tree’ the character of ‘the Flying Pieman’ has been drawn from life. He was a well-known figure in and around Sydney, and was famous for his remarkable pedestrian feats, Carrying a boy. sheep, or goat on his back he would undertake to beat the coach from Windsor to Sydney—and win his wager! This eccentric of the eccentrics came of a respectable family, his father being Francis King, paymaster at the Treasury, Whitehall. As a youth his absorbing love of field sports unfitted him for any sedate occupation. In 1839 King sailed for New South Wales, bringing excellent testimonials which obtained for him a schoolmastership at Sutton Forest, and afterwards a tutorship in a private family; but his restless spirit finding this monotonous, he hired himself as a barman at the Hope and Anchor, at the corner of Pitt and King streets. Finally he threw up this job, too, to follow the ‘profession’ of a hot pieman. With his tall hat decorated with ribbons, streamers, and business signs, and wheeling his bright tin cans and glowing furnace of charcoal, he was a well-known sight on the streets of Sydney, Parramatta, and Windsor. He died in the Liverpool asylum for the destitute in 1874.

    IT was Archibald Bell of Windsor who found an alternative route over the Blue Mountains, known as Bell’s Line. The first two Australian-born poets came from Windsor, and Barrington, the famous pick-pocket, died at his farm here. Another link with the play is the Royal Hotel of to-day, once the home of the Fitzgeralds and later used as mess-rooms for the military officers. Windsor, as a garrison town, must have presented a lively and a very social air in those days.

    —Varney Monk.

    The Sydney Mail (NSW), Wednesday 13 March 1935, p.28,

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    varney monk 22

    He Wrote the Cedar Tree

    A New Australian Music-Comedy

    CEDAR TREE, the new Australian musical comedy, began at the Melbourne Princess Theatre on Saturday, December 22, and is to be broadcast next Saturday, December 29. The stars are Gladys Moncrieff, Alan Priora, Claude Flemming, and Alfred Frith. The comedy part was written for George Wallace, but he is making films, so they got Mr. Frith to make a come-back.

    The author of the book-of-words is Mr. Edmund Barclay, well known to all listeners for his innumerable radio sketches and revues broadcast from the Sydney stations and Mr. Barclay said: “Following the success of ‘Colitts’ Inn,’ Mrs. Varney Monk asked if I would collaborate with her in writing a second show. Mrs. Monk had a melody which for some inexplicable reason suggested to her an old and friendly cedar tree.  From this melody, now the theme of the production, we conceived the idea of a cedar tree playing a benevolent part in the lives of a family of pioneers. The first step was to change this melody into a song. My wife and Varney Monk got at the piano together, and while Varney Monk played Mrs. Barclay took down the melody on the typewriter in a musical shorthand of her own invention. Once the musical balance had been attained the actual lyric was written. Then we looked around for a background. I considered the bare outlines, and finally decided on Windsor, because it had been the centre of the cedar-cutting industry in the old days.

    “So up we went to Windsor. We saw the oldest inhabitant, Mr. J. Masters, aged 92; a son of Sir William Cox’s butler. We found him sitting on the back verandah of his son’s house, and went boldly forward to question him. At the first word of greeting we discovered he was practically stone deaf.

    “I retired to the background, and Mrs. Monk did the shouting.


    “He told us that the only voice he had heard distinctly for some years was Charles Moses describing the Test cricket. Then he gave us very many amusing stories of the early days at Windsor. Most were about convicts. Also he told some very good anecdotes concerning ‘The Flying Pieman,’ whom he remembered only dimly, but whose reputation for eccentricity lingered in the district for many years.

    “Having by this time got the feel of the thing, we set to work. My task was comparatively simple. I went right ahead with the play, and when a certain situation called for a certain type of song the composer and lyric writer went to work and got them written. I found the experience I had gained in pulling about ten musical comedies to pieces and reassembling them for the [Australian Broadcasting] Commission to broadcast very useful when it came to writing a book of my own.

    “As to the story: It is set in Windsor, about 1830, and deals with the cedar and shipbuilding industry. Gladys Moncrieff’s part is of a woman carrying on her deceased father’s belief in ships built of Australian cedar. The story is not historical, but original, and worked out against a historical background. The ‘Australian atmosphere’ is not thrust at the audience in large chunks, and there are no kangaroos hopping across the stage, and, unless the producer decides otherwise, there will not be one single solitary pair of whiskers. The comedy part is of ‘The Flying Pieman’, a well-known identity of the Hawkesbury Road, who caused a great deal of comment. He used to think nothing of carrying a live goat on his shoulders frorn Parramatta to Windsor for a trifling wager. We have endeavored to make the comedy an integral part of the plot, and not just put in as an afterthought. The ‘Flying Pieman’ is woven into the general pattern of the play, and Mr. Frith should do very well with it.

    “The action concerns two men and a girl. The only novelty is that there is no villain. The young brother of the heroine is spoiled and dissipated. He bails up one of his sister’s lovers on the highway to get money to pay debts. The young lover seeks to save him from prison, and returns the money while disguised as a notorious bushranger. But just at the wrong moment the ‘Flying Pieman’ arrives, thinks him a real bushranger, and there is a scuffle, during which he is unmasked. He has to get out of the district in a hurry to avoid being drummed out of his regiment and executed. The young brother, in a fit of remorse, writes a confession of his part in the business, and puts it in a hole in the old cedar tree, where he and his sister used to play when they were children. But the confession remains there undiscovered, and the discovery, years later, forms the climax of the piece.”

    Wireless Weekly (Sydney), 28 December 1934, p.11

    * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Helene and Edmund Barclay with their son, Peter and dog, Dah

    Varney Monk Discography

    (10”, 78 rpm)

    Night ‘Neath The Stars—Gil Dech and His Syncopators (5 June 1930)

    Columbia DO-110

    Bridge Of Our Dreams Come True—Len Maurice (25 August 1930)

    Columbia DO-166

    The Old Bush Track—Newton Goodson (Late 1937)

    Macquarie 588

    When The War Is Over—Harold Williams (20 April 1942)

    Columbia DO-2414

    There’s Going To Be Good News—Eileen Boyd (21 May 1942)

    Regal Zonophone—G-24598

    Last Year—The Melody Men (from Collits’ Inn) (14 May 1943)

    Regal Zonophone—G-24752

    The Old Bush Track—Raymond Beatty (3 June 1943)

    Columbia – DO-2591

    Some Distant Day—Clement Q. Williams (8 November 1946)

    Columbia DO-2946    

    Homeward—Barbara & Reg: (Barbara James, vocal; Reg Lewis, piano) (25 September 1945)

    Regal Zonophone—G24975

    Macquarie Place / The Man In The Cabbage Tree Hat—Norman Barnes, with Varney Monk at the piano (1952)

    Columbia Process Recording PR-1570 [custom pressing by EMI (Australia) Pty. Ltd.]

    Stay While The Stars Are Shining (from Collits’ Inn)

    Gladys Moncrieff—Sings Musical Comedy and Operetta

    (2×LP, Compilation, Mono, Gatefold)—issued 1987

    EMI—EME 430062


    Radio discs

    During the second world war (and into the 1950s) Humphrey Bishop produced many musical shows for radio. These were recorded in the Sydney studios of AWA on 16-inch transcription discs. The following Varney Monk compositions were included in these musical broadcasts:

    There’s Going To Be Good News—Walter Kingsley

    We Are Glad To Be Home—Joyce West & Varney Monk

    Last Year (from Collits’ Inn)—Monda Lenz

    I’d Like To Be A Statue In The Park (from The Cedar Tree)—George Brown

    The Cedar Cutter (from The Cedar Tree)—Male chorus

    There’s Going To Be Good News—Noel Easton

    When The World Was Wide—Walter Kingsley

    The ABC also recorded a number of Varney Monk’s compositions on 78 rpm discs for use in its broadcasts of Australian composers. These included:

    In Martin Place—Rosina Raisbeck (1946)

    “Australian Composition” record reference number: AC 6

    The Sliprails And The Spur—Frank Lisle (1952)

    AC 148

    When The World Was Wide—Frank Lisle (1953)

    Kiss In The Ring – Frank Lisle (1953)

    AC 160

    What Look Hath She—Clement Q. Williams (1955)

    AC 231

    12-inch LP disc, ABC catalogue number PRX-4197, described as “An Australian Song Cycle” includes three songs by Varney Monk:

    Coo-Ee; Names Upon A Stone; and The Cedar Tree. The singers are Stewart Harvey, Joyce Simmons, and Noel Melvin

    The National Film and Sound Archive collection also includes the following Varney Monk recordings:

    Prestophone (16-inch acetate) Australian Singers At Home With Australian Composers—3 November 1944

    Side 1 Varney Monk Compositions interpreted by Eric and Marion Gormley, with the composer at the piano.

    one track, Cedar Tree. Drinking

    Side 2  No 2  Henry Lawson’s Lyrics, Set to music by Varney Monk.

    Blank label (7-inch 78rpm acetate) All I Ask (both sides)  written and composed by Varney Monk. No artist credit.

    Prestophone (12-inch 78rpm acetate) I Had A Dream  (words & music Varney Monk) — Newton Goodson, with Strings (dubbed from disc made in 1938)

    Prestophone (12-inch 78rpm acetate) Coo-Ee (Varney Monk) from The Cedar Tree / Australia  (How I Love You) (Varney Monk) No artist credit either side.  Both sides  “Dub from 16-inch disc”.

    Prestophone (7-inch  33rpm  acetate) He’s Here  / The Bells of Bathurst (words & music by Varney Monk )—Eric Gormley, with piano

    (Additional Discographical information provided by Peter Burgis)


    Picture Sources

    • Les Dixon caricature from Smith's Weekly, Saturday, 22 December 1945, p.13 
    • Cyril Monk and Alfred Hill photos by Harold Cazneaux included in a 1920s advertisement for the Beale “Maestro” Player Piano digitised by the State Library of New South Wales 
    • Nathalie Rosenwax photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday, 7 June 1934, p.9 
    • Stuart Gurr photo from the Melbourne Princess Theatre Collits’ Inn souvenir theatre program. 
    • Gladys Moncrieff, George Wallace, Claude Flemming and Robert Chisholm portraits from the Princess Theatre Collits’ Inn 100th Performance souvenir folder (presented to “every lady in the audience” on Tuesday, 20 March 1934), courtesy of Marriner Theatre Archive. 
    • Robert Chisholm and Gladys Moncrieff performance photo reproduced in Collits’ Inn playscript [Currency Press in association with Australasian Drama Studies, Sydney: 1990] 
    • Varney Monk 1934 portrait by Broothorn published in The Bulletin for 10 January 1934, p.37 
    •  TheCedar Tree photos (by Dickinson-Monteath) published in The Australasian on 19 January 1935 p. iii from State Library Victoria, Melbourne