Gladys Moncrieff

  • A Child Among You (Part 3)

    1 banner 3The site of the Australian Federal Parliament from 1901 to 1927

    Arriving in Melbourne in late October 1923, English comedian, Charles Heslop gave his impressions of the then temporary Federal capital of Australia, its competing theatrical attractions, and the success of the opening night of Tons of Money at the Palace Theatre, in the third instalment of his articles originally written for the London theatrical journal The Stage.

    MELBOURNE, December, 1923–24

    Melbourne is a contradiction of a town. Here are magnificent Commonwealth, State, and Municipal buildings, broadly planned streets, Americanesque soda-fountains, kinemas de luxe, stores, labour problems1—all the modern conveniences. And yet, just below the surface, there seems to be a mid-Victorianism, deep and abiding. In our property-room are some bound volumes of the Illustrated London Newsof 1860-something. Quaint wood-cuts of the building of Charing Cross Station and dramatic performances on H.M.S. —— in the China Station; studies of statuary at the Great International Exhibition; advertisements of some professor’s educated fish performing at a West-End theatre—somebody else’s eiderdown petticoats for ladies—a new patent crinoline attachment enabling its fair wearer to pass to her seat at the opera or omnibus with ease, grace, and elegance. There's the spirit of Melbourne in all this, somehow; although I cannot personally even begin to explain why, there it is—the Prince Consort jostling (he never did, I’m sure) with Charles B. Cochran. Perhaps it is not so incongruous after all; very possibly they had a Singing Duck at the Panopticon?

    2 PalaceThe remodelled façade of the “New” Palace Theatre in Bourke Street (pictured in 1944 after its acquisition by MGM for use as cinema as the St. James). Photo by Adrian Crother.

    It's a great time for Melbourne when I arrive, I mean, when I happen to arrive Melbourne is having a great time. In any case, as it were. There's the Vanbrugh-Boucicault company about to play Mrs. Tanqueray at the King’s2 ; Sally is going strong at the Royal3 ; Lorna and Toots and Charlie Austin are at the Princess’s4 ; The Beggar’s Opera at Her Majesty’s5 ; Shakespeare at the Playhouse6 ; and Long Tack Sam at the Tivoli7 —and the Melbourne Cup in the offing! But the star turn is the police strike, and “riots and looting” bottomed the bill, with disastrous results to the anticipated harvest.8 Well, you know all about that. Theatrically speaking, the best week of the year was, quite easily I imagine, the worst. It quite took me back to the old days . . . when we habitually arrived in a town for the most unfortunate week of the season. “Now, if you'd have been here lastweek.... or next week now.”  Well, at present you're having a general election at home, I see.

    3 caricaturesTom Glover caricatures for The Bulletin (1923)

    House packed [for Tons of Money]9—Governors and Governors-General complete with entourages—glittering orders across distinguished boiled shirts (no, perhaps not; I’ve read that bit somewhere)—seething excitement—roars of laughter—tornadoes of applause—speeches—floral tributes by the yard—"praise, praise, praise”—your name in electric lights—your bill-matter in extravagant superlatives—your opinion telephoned for by the leading papers, and coupled in print with the Premier's and the Archbishop’s— well, this is all heady stuff, you'll agree. Especially coming so soon after your twice-nightly stock season at the Gasworker’s Recreation Hut (Goole), where the flow of enthusiasm ran dry as soon as the exchequer (and that never started.) Heady stuff, but you won’t find any red carpets waiting for you at Mister Blackmore’s when you return. “Hello, been away?”

    Yes, thirteen thousand miles away from criticism. If you don’t like hotels and abominate boarding houses you can compromise in Melbourne with a service flat—excellent institutions and fairly plentiful. Not much more expensive than good rooms in England—and so much less trouble! No need to hasten forth with the catering purse and stagger back beneath half an ox and a hundredweight of cabbage, that’s all done for you. The cost of living seems contradictory, like the weather. Necessities seem cheaper (e.g., whisky); luxuries more expensive (videlicet, clothes). The weather is hot, cold, dry, and wet all in one day. You go out with a parasol and a fly-whisk, and come back blue with cold and soaked to the skin. For a stay of any length in Melbourne I should recommend you to bring a complete suit of reinforced furs, as worn in the Arctic, a bathing costume, several sheets of fly-paper, and a watertosh or two. You will also want some money; if you have any predilection for riding in taxis, you will want some more money.

    I remember them remarking—some days out from Australia we were then—on the joy of picking your own fruit from the trees and bushes. . . . What a picture it conjured up in my mind! Kicking together a few strawberries, I would reach carelessly for a bunch of bananas with one hand, an orange with the other, whilst a hot roll would drop into my mouth from the bread fruit tree. . . . They must have been talking about some other part of Australia. Anyway, in Melbourne you've got to put down good money first—and then the shopman has the joy of picking ’em for you.

    Moreover, whilst on the subject of cost of living, note, please, that you put down about the same quantity of good money for fruit in Melbourne as in England. 

    An actor pays his own dresser, and pays him 7s. 9d. per performance.10 A non-musical play runs for about eight weeks in any of the big cities. For a musical play one hundred performances in one town approaches the record. To accomplish this, it means that the same audience must be attracted several times. They tell me that one young woman visited The O'Brien Girl seventy-eight times in Melbourne. I believe nobody actually saw this phenomenon of Nature, which is a pity, as now we can have no knowledge of what such a thing can look like. When a play has run its course in, say, Melbourne there is Sydney waiting (600 miles away) to receive it; also, in a lesser degree, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, possibly Newcastle and certainly New Zealand. The Maid of the Mountains thus ran for two years in Australasia.11

    5 caricatures 2More Tom Glover caricatures for The Bulletin (1923)

    “First nights” here usually take place on Saturdays. This is an obvious disadvantage when the same company finishes a play’s run on the preceding night, as Charlie Austin pointed out to me (he had the experience with Rockets and Pretty Peggy). The same audience assembles on the two occasions, and the new production will almost certainly suffer by comparison with its long-played and smoothly running predecessor. By the way, Charlie tells the story of how, on his voyage out, he initiated the captain of the ship (no less) into the mysteries of taking the nap.12 This happened shortly after leaving Toulon, and so pleased was the gallant sailor with his new trick, and so assiduous in his practice and exploitation thereof—on all and sundry, lawful and unlawful occasions—that Charlie bitterly regretted his rashness long ere the trip was over! Rockets is going Sydneywards now, and the Princess is occupied by Allen Doone and his company for a few weeks, playing a repertory of Irish pieces—The Wearin' of the Green, The Rebel, Tom Moore, etc. including a strange piece, which embraces in its cast Raffles and Sherlock Holmes.13 Doone is an Irish-American with a big following, I gather; the front of the house is strange museum of presentations from various bodies, public and private. A rifle with which he won the pigeon killing championship of Europe three years in succession—the front wheel of the bicycle which he rode to victory in another championship—pennons and flags from Irish societies, tennis racquets—all sorts of strange objects. I want to do the same thing next door at the Palace—I could spare my trousers press and my mortar-board as a nucleus—but I am not encouraged, alas!

    Well, you might excuse me for a few minutes—I have to write a pantomime.

    For it is Christmas time. And the eyes of the kiddies—the dinkum little Aussies—grow bright as they light upon the posters of dear old Santa Claus climbing in his furs over the snowcapped roofs (the jolly little reindeer champing their antlers in the frost behind), and sticky little fingers grasp spades and pails and bathing costumes the tighter—for they are scorching in their seats in the open tram to St. KiIda’s sun-kissed beach, and the witching waves, so tempting to parched little skins—as they sense the dear, unseasonable joys in store.

    Oh, yes, there’s that pantomime, isn’t there? (Curse the flies.) Yes, now for two and a half hours of wholesome fun for the little ones.


    Compiled by Robert Morrison

    [1]The most immediate of Melbourne’s labour problems, which coincided with Charles Heslop’s arrival in the city, was the stage hands’ strike, as reported in the local press:

     Actors Shift Scenes
    By “G.K.M.”

    Following a dispute with the theatrical managements, stage hands at all the Melbourne theatres ceased work on Monday evening. Only one production—“Sally,” at the Theatre Royal—had to be abandoned. At the other theatres actors and other volunteers managed to shift the scenes and enable the performances to proceed. 

    Scenic effects being an important feature of the musical comedy “Sally,” it was found impossible to carry on without the regular stage hands. Consequently, the management was obliged to return the money paid for admission. At the King’s Theatre, Mr. Dion Boucicault gave patrons the option of having their money returned or seeing the play without the proper scenery. The unanimous response was “Carry on!” “Those are my sentiments,” declared Mr. Boucicault, who had previously said that, being an Irishman he was in no mood to take things lying down. He mentioned that while playing in London during the war he and his company had carried on their performance while an aerial bombardment was in progress. “Belinda,” the action of which opens in a Devonshire garden, had to be played in the library scene, that had been set for “The Will,” a one-act play, staged as a curtain-raiser to Milne’s comedy. The garden effect had to be obtained by placing a vase of flowers on the floor! Nevertheless, the artistry of Miss Irene Vanbrugh, Mr. Boucicault and other members of the company made the play a success, without the scenery.

    At the Princess’s, where “Pretty Peggy” is the attraction, the work of scene-shifting was performed by the governing director (Mr. Hugh J. Ward), general manager (Mr. Douglas), Mr. Walter Fuller, Mr. John Kirby, and several members of the company. The performance went off without a hitch, and at the final curtain the company cheered Mr. Ward and his assistants.

    The trouble is stated to have arisen through the refusal of the men to adhere to a new regulation, making them all work in together. This, it is alleged, would mean that scene-shifters would probably be called upon to work the spot-lights, a job which, they say, needs a skilled electrician. Representatives of the Theatrical Employees’ Union and the management met in conference on Monday afternoon, but the result did not satisfy the men.

    Men Resume Work

    An agreement was reached on Tuesday between the employees and the representatives of J.C. Williamson Ltd. and work was resumed in the evening at Her Majesty’s, the Royal and King’s Theatres. Volunteers, however, continued to perform the scene-shifting duties at the Princess.

    The Weekly Times (Melbourne), Saturday, 27 October 1923, p.8,

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

    All the Men Resume Work.

    To the satisfaction of all parties concerned, including the general public, the strike of stage hands at Melbourne theatres was settled completely yesterday afternoon, and the men resumed work behind the scenes at the Princess Theatre last night. As reported yesterday, the trouble at the J.C. Williamson theatres had been settled on the previous day, and the only theatres affected by the dispute on Tuesday night were those of the Hugh J. Ward circuit— the Princess, where Pretty Peggy is being staged, and the Palace, where preparations are being made for the comedy farce Tons of Money, which is to open on Saturday night. At a conference with the industrial disputes committee of the Trades Hall on Tuesday afternoon Mr. W.J. Douglas, general manager of Hugh J. Ward Theatres Pty, Ltd., undertook to place before his directors a suggestion made by the committee for a settlement of the dispute, and to give the committee a reply on Wednesday morning. Subsequently members of the Theatrical Employees’ Association were discussing the possibility of calling on members of the Musicians’, Actors' and other unions employed at the Ward theatres to cease work in the event of the firm’s reply being unsatisfactory from their point of view. As it happened, there was no need for them to take this drastic course.

    Yesterday, morning the executive of the Theatrical Employees’ Federation met the industrial disputes committee at the Trades Hall, and discussed the general outlook. While the meeting was in progress, the reply from Hugh J. Ward Theatres Pty. Ltd. arrived. It was as follows:—

    To the Disputes Committee, Trades Hall, Melbourne.

    Gentlemen,— Further to our conference of yesterday, this management, after considering the position carefully, have decided to agree to the suggestions put forward to us by Messrs Foster and Hannah on behalf of your committee, that is to say, that the men, whose jobs have always been open to them, resume the duties under the terms of the award upon which they were engaged prior to them walking out. As Mr. Hannah suggested, it is to be clearly understood that by so doing the rights of this management are not to be prejudiced in any manner. At the same time, we desire to emphasise the wrong done to our theatres because of the fact that the dispute, if any existed, was not caused in any manner by anything done by this management; but we feel that, in deference to the wishes of your committee and the manner in which your committee has approached us in the matter, we should fall in with your suggestions.—yours faithfully,


    (Sgd.) W.J. Douglas, General Manager.

    Taking this as an assurance that the men could resume work on the conditions which prevailed before the dispute, and that there should be no call for intermingling between the different sections of workmen in the work behind the scenes, the employees’ executive decided to recommend the men to return to work. Messrs. J. Hannah and H. Foster, of the disputes committee, attended a meeting of the employees in the afternoon, and explained the terms of the letter. It is understood that some of the men demanded that before they returned to their jobs some head men of certain departments, who had continued to work at the Princess Theatre, should be expelled from the association, but more moderate counsel prevailed, and after a brief address by the secretary of the association, Mr. A.E. Huckerby, the men unanimously agreed to resume work. Mr. Huckerby then notified Mr. Douglas that the scene shifters, light manipulators and other night hands would return to work in the evening, and that the day hands—carpenters, electricians and, property men—would resume on the following morning.

    So ended the first serious strike in the theatrical business in Melbourne.

    A New Log for Theatrical Employees.

    The present award under which the stage hands are working, and which contains the “intermingling” clause to which they object, will expire on the 29th of this month, but its provisions will automatically remain in force till a new award is made by the Arbitration Court. It is reported that the executive of the Theatrical Employees’ Association intends to prepare a new log of wages and conditions, and serve it on the theatre managers within the next few days.

    The Age (Melbourne), Thursday, 25 October 1923, p.10,

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

    [2] English actress, Irene Vanbrugh and her husband, Dion “Dot” Boucicault commenced their 1923–25 Australian tour for J.C. Williamson Ltd. with a 19 week season at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne, which opened on 4 August with Arthur Wing Pinero’s His House in Order (for 5 weeks), followed by a double bill of J.M. Barrie’s one-act The Twelve Pound Look and A.A. Milne’s Mr. Pim Passes By (3 weeks); Laurence Eyre’s Mis’ Nell o’ New Orleans (4 weeks); a second double bill of Barrie’s The Will and Milne’s Belinda (3 weeks) and concluded with Pinero’s The Second Mrs. Tanqueryfrom 17 November for 4 weeks.

    [3]The Broadway musical comedy Sally(with music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Clifford Grey, additional lyrics by B.G. DeSylva and P.G. Wodehouse, and a book by Guy Bolton) was given its Australian premiere by JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 6 January 1923, where it ran for 210 performances closing on 6 July. Following a season in Brisbane, where it played at His Majesty’s Theatre from 21 July to 3 August, the Melbourne season commenced at the Theatre Royal on 15 September for an eventual run of 26 weeks, closing on 7 March 1924 after 202 performances. The musical then toured New Zealand, followed by seasons in Adelaide and Perth, and subsequently enjoyed return seasons and revivals in the succeeding years due to its popularity. The show brought stardom to Adelaide-born dancer, Josie Melville playing the title role in her first major production. Josie became so identified with Sally that she briefly came out of retirement as a house-wife and mother in her hometown to recreate the lead for a radio version of the musical broadcast on the ABC National Network relayed from 5AN (Adelaide) on 4 July 1940, with a repeat broadcast on 10 August (minus the dancing!)

    [4]English comedian, Charlie Austin and the Melbourne-born comedienne sisters, Lorna and Toots Pounds had originally starred in the musical revue Rockets at the London Palladium, where it commenced on 25 February 1922 and played two performances daily for a total run of 491 performances. The revue, with music by J.A. Tunbridge and Herman Darewski, lyrics by Ernest Melvin and scenes and sketches by Charles Henry, Frank Leo and Gilbert Brown, was given its Australian premiere by Hugh J. Ward’s New London Revue Company at the “New” Palace Theatre on Saturday, 7 July 1923 for a 13 week season closing on Friday, 5 October.

    The company then transferred to the Princess Theatre for the Australian premiere of the musical comedy Pretty Peggy on Saturday, 6 October, which failed to repeat the success of the earlier show and closed on Friday, 26 October, followed by a short 2 week revival of Rockets, which played at the Princess from 27 October to 9 November. The company then proceeded to New South Wales to play a season at the Victoria Theatre, Newcastle, commencing with Rockets on 17 November followed by Pretty Peggy for the last 3 nights, closing on 30 November. Rockets subsequently opened at the Grand Opera House in Sydney on 22 December and played through to 16 February 1924, but given the disappointing reception in Melbourne to Pretty Peggy, it was not included in the company’s final season in the NSW capital.

    Pretty Peggy(with music by A. Emmett Adams and lyrics by Douglas Furber, plus additional numbers by Fred Malcolm and a libretto by Clarkson Rose and Charles Austin) had premiered in London at the Princes Theatre on 3 February 1920, with a cast that included Charlie Austin and Lorna and Toots Pounds, and had a moderately successful run of 168 performances.

    [5] Nigel Playfair’s long-running revival of John Gay’s 1728 opus The Beggar’s Opera, which opened in London at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith on 5 June 1920 for a run of 1,463 performances (closing on 17 December 1923), was the impetus for JCW Ltd’s Australian revival, which also utilised Frederic Austin’s revisions and arrangement of the score and Claud Lovat Fraser’s scenic and costume designs for the Hammersmith production. It commenced at the Palace Theatre, Sydney on 4 August 1923 for a run of 7 weeks closing on 21 September. An Adelaide season followed at the Theatre Royal from 29 September to 10 October, after which the production moved onto Melbourne. Victorian audiences, however, weren’t in tune with its 18th C. airs and it played for a mere three weeks at Her Majesty’s Theatre following its opening there on 20 October 1923. The ballad opera’s bawdy language also upset the sensibilities of at least two members of the city’s “wowser” element, as reported by The Argus on Wednesday, 24 October (p.8):

    “Nothing Objectionable” Heard.

    Complaints were made on Monday to the police department of the indelicacy of certain passages in the “Beggar's Opera,” which is being staked at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and the police were asked to take action. Two officers of the plain-clothes branch attended the performance on Monday night. In a report to the chief commissioner of police (Mr. A.N. Nicholson) yesterday Sergeant Campbell, head of the plain-clothes branch, said that there was nothing in the play to which the police could take objection.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    A Herald report on the same day elaborated:

    16 Beggars Opera programPOLICE DRAMATIC CRITIC
    The Sergeant and “The Beggar's Opera”

    Sergeant Mathew Campbell has become the dramatic critic of the police force. He was sent to see “The Beggar's Opera” at Her Majesty’s Theatre to see if complaints that had reached the Police Commissioner were justified.

    What does the sergeant say?

    “’The Beggar's Opera,’ you understand, was laid in a setting some hundred or two hundred years ago in London. Of course the language and dresses used then were not what they are now, you know.” The sergeant lowered his glasses. He was exacting. He was cautious,

    “No official action,” he continued, “can be taken against the language. There is nothing to justify this step. We hear the same words in Shakespeare. But some of the language is objectionable, and isn’t nice for girls just growing up. And even some well-to-do sort of people do not find the language good either. We know this from two letters we received.

    “Language like that is no help to a community, but there is no official objection. Some people just can’t understand, that's all.”

    The Sergeant, bowed his head over some work on his desk. Clothes? “No, the clothes were alright. Appropriate to those times, you see—appropriate to those times. Just the language, just the language. For Instance, such words as, well — and — —"

    The Sergeant named the words, right out and out—two of them. No good dramatic critic can afford to be timid.

    The Herald (Melbourne), Wednesday, 24 October 1923, p.10,

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    Gay’s original libretto contains such choice 18th Century epithets as “slut” and “whore”. (Ref.: )

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    The lead role of the highwayman, Captain Macheath was played by the English baritone, Alexander Howett-Worster, who had commenced his career in Britain in the early 1900s as principal baritone in touring productions of the George Edwardes’ musical comedies, but had latterly been engaged as a singing teacher at Melbourne’s Albert Street Conservatorium, where he had also produced and performed in amateur operatic productions, until lured back to the professional stage by J.C. Williamson’s for its premiere of Merrie England in 1921 and subsequent musical productions. These included The Merry Widow in which he played ‘Prince Danilo’ opposite Gladys Moncrieff at Her Majesty’s, Melbourne in the week prior to The Beggar’s Operaopening there. (Howett-Worster returned to Britain in 1926 and starred as the male lead in the London premieres of Show Boat and The New Moonat the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1928 and 1929 respectively.)   

    17 Beggars OperaCaptain Macheath (A. Howett-Worster) and his doxies. SB&W Foundation, Sydney.

    [6]The Alan Wilkie Shakespearean Company (formed in Australia in 1920) commenced an 8 week repertory season of the bard’s plays at the Melbourne Playhouse (located over Princes’ Bridge on the South bank of the Yarra), with a production of King Lear on Saturday, 15 September 1923 followed by Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King John, Julius Caesar, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew, which concluded the season on 10 November.

    [7]The Chinese illusionist, Long Tack Sam and his troupe of Chinese acrobats, musicians and jugglers commenced a season at the Melbourne Tivoli theatre, as part of a variety bill, on 27 October 1923, with final performances given on 7 December, before opening at the Geelong Theatre the following week.

    [8]Of far greater consequence than the stage hands strike was that of the Melbourne police force, as, with dramatic suddenness, Melbourne was left completely without police protection for several days in November 1923. For some time previously there had been discontent in the police force over the activities of police “supervisors,” who had been moving from district to district in plain clothes to see that constables were doing their duties properly. The police maintained that these supervisors were nothing more than spies. The discontent came to a head almost without warning on the night of 31 October. Twenty-nine uniformed men, who were due to parade at, Russell Street for night duty, refused to fall in for the roll-call, and when the hastily summoned Chief Commissioner, Alexander Nicholson tried to reason with the men he was noisily received.

    At this time Melbourne was crowded with visitors to the Spring racing carnival, and the Commissioner knew that the sudden withdrawal of police would be an enormous temptation to trouble makers. Finding himself unable to placate the men, he promised to remove the special supervisors for the night and to consult with the Premier, Harry Lawson during the next day. This satisfied the men, and they returned to duty . . .but not for long! On the night of 1 November the men were told that the Premier had refused to consider their grievances while the threat of a strike was held over his head, and once again the night police refused to report for duty. Police from outlying stations were at once ordered to report to the barracks, but when they arrived in the city they immediately joined the strikers.

    For the next two nights the city was protected only by plain-clothes police and a few detectives. The first day passed quietly enough, with just a few isolated brawls and a lot of traffic problems; but the following day was Derby Day, and as the afternoon wore on great crowds began to congregate in town. The Australasian newspaper gave a detailed account of the anarchy that followed:  


    Scenes of unprecedented lawlessness, a sequel to the mutiny of police, were witnessed in Melbourne on November 3, the windows of 78 business premises being smashed and looted. Disgraceful brawls occurred before the looting commenced. These and subsequent charges by the loyal regular police and special constables were the cause of nearly 200 casualties. Following the looting, the police regained control of the city, and arrested 62 persons on various charges, mainly of being in unlawful possession of property. An excellent response was made to a call for the co-operation of the citizens to quell lawlessness; more than 2,000 were enrolled as special constables. An influential citizens’ committee was formed and plans were made for the inauguration of a volunteer force of men with military experience to be used if required. The Federal authorities decided to employ naval, military, and airforces for the protection of Commonwealth property. Light horse recruits were called for, and a number of Light Horse men patrolled the streets. All tram and train traffic was suspended on November 4 and following nights.

    Taking advantage of the unprotected state of the streets in the interregnum which elapsed between the withdrawal of a large number of the regular police owing to their mutiny, and the training of the volunteer special constables in their duties, the worst elements in the metropolis gained temporary control of the city, and for several hours anarchy reigned. The trouble began at the intersection of Swanston and Bourke streets. Loyal policemen yielded to the clamour of the crowd and ultimately there was not a policeman to be seen at the intersection. Then the mob gave itself over to unrestrained lawlessness. A few minutes after the police had left the corner was a surging mass of humanity. Innumerable fights took place. Men were seen to take full bottles of beer from their pockets and break them over the heads of whoever happened to be nearest to them. Bottles and jagged pieces of glass were thrown among the mob indiscriminately, and in a few moments scores of people were bleeding from cuts. Pools of blood bespattered the roadway. Men were felled and brutally kicked and trampled on while they were on the ground.


    All traffic was completely blocked. Rushing a stationary cable tram, the mob forced it off the rails on to the roadway, and, for a time, it appeared as if an effort was to be made to push it into the plate-glass windows of the Leviathan. This, however, was not attempted. By throwing burning rags and paper inside the trailer, several youths tried to set fire to the tram, but without success. Shortly afterwards it was replaced on the rails, and driven away. 

    The larrikins turned their attention from fighting among themselves to attacking shops. Standing in the centre of the roadway, a party of youths and men deliberately threw bottles at the windows of the Leviathan Clothing Company. Flying over the heads of the crowd, the bottles crashed against the windows, shattering them. Immediately there was a rush towards the footpath, the mob being intent on looting. Within a few minutes every window of the establishment had been shattered and the window exhibits removed. The footpath was littered with window fittings and broken glass. Discarding the hats which they had been wearing, many men and youths seized new ones and rushed away wearing them. Some of them hastily collected as much loot as possible, only to have it taken from them by others when they reached the roadway. This led to much fighting.

    Attention was diverted to the jewellery establishment of F.H. Kermode, 157 Swanston street, and the cry went up, “Smash it in!” A steel grating, which was protecting the window, was quickly pulled down. A semi-intoxicated man advanced from the kerbstone, and, taking a bottle of beer from his hip pocket, struck the window with it twice. Within a few seconds the entire stock of the window had disappeared. In some instances, the rioters wrapped their loot in newspapers, but others walked away with their pockets bulging with spoil, and carrying expensive mirrors and large nickel-plate articles in their hands or under their arms. One man ran away with six shaving mirrors. From the Leviathan, the crowd moved slowly towards the corner of Little Collins street, smashing the windows of practically every shop on the way, and stealing the contents. From the windows of Messrs. Charles Jeffries and Sons valuable footwear was stolen, and the footpath was strewn with boots and shoes.


    By half-past 6 o'clock the mob was in absolute control of the block surrounded by Bourke, Swanston, Elizabeth, and Collins streets. The situation was grave in the extreme. Above the yells of the crowd could be heard at frequent intervals the crash of breaking glass as window after window was shattered. Having been warned of the temper of the mob, several shopkeepers not in the immediate vicinity of the intersection of Bourke and Swanston streets cleared the stock from their windows, and it was noticeable that the crowd refrained from breaking windows behind which there were no exhibits.

    At 7 o'clock—after the city had been at the mercy of the lawless element for more than an hour—a party of about 40 police, headed by three officers, marched down Bourke street with batons drawn. They charged the mob, which scattered in all directions. By a quarter past 7 o'clock the “storm centre” had been moved from the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets to other parts of the block, particularly to the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke streets. The policemen sought to make arrests, but, in many instances, they had not proceeded far with their captives before they were compelled to release them. Early in the evening an elderly man, who, flourishing a Bible, attempted to address the mob, was set upon and felled.

    With the coming of darkness there was a surging return and reinforcement of the raucous and stunted larrikin element. The enormously outnumbered posses of uniformed men and arm-banded special constabulary marched gamely back and forth from the corner of Swanston and Little Collins streets to the London Stores. In a flash, when the Bourke street block was left unguarded, there was heard again the splintering and crashing of plate glass. The south side of Bourke street, from Swanston street to Elizabeth street, was delivered into the almost unhindered hands of mob rule. At about 20 minutes past 8 o’clock there were two premises in the Bourke street area (south side) upon which the looters concentrated. They had kicked in the windowpanes sometime earlier, but had not swept away all the contents when they were interrupted. Moreover, at Salamy’s, there was a tempting row of clocks, high up, upon a shelf, still protected by jagged remains of plate glass. In a moment one or two rioters had leaped to the shoulders of team-mates, and in another moment Mr. Salamy’s remaining window property was openly carried off. At Edments’s store one or two windows had been kicked in, and a yelling gang had snatched everything within reach. Meanwhile, a few assistants—as at dozens of other places—were now feverishly removing everything to safely within the shop. Yet the blazing lights and the glittering display of ware lured the lawless element. Only for the timely return of a score of police and newly-sworn comrades, Edments’s windows must have been stripped clean, and the store itself, perhaps, raided.


    Next, with the passing of the protecting posse, came a diversion in front of Dumbrell’s jewellery establishment. Much of the display goods had gone—literally west—but much valuable booty remained. The glitter of diamond rings caught the greedy eyes of the crowd. With lowered heads, a mass of looters forged in from the roadway. Some got their hands on the spoil, but there was a snarling recoil. From the black recesses of the shop a tall man leaped into the battered window, gleaming revolver in hand. With agile feet and a flailing left arm he routed the scum. And, leaping after them, with pistol out-thrust this way and that—yet, with wonderfully fortunate restraint, never firing—he cleared and held the footpath clear. Twice he was rushed by groups armed with bottles, but he retreated to his window and, behind its jagged edges, held off his foes.

    Wertheim’s window and Holder’s had already gone. Hitherto the brightly illumined phalanx of plate glass from Buckley and Nunn’s to the Post-office had remained untouched. Willing hands from within the establishments had stripped the windows of the smaller and more glittering articles. Chiefly, dressed figures, in exquisite array of Cup frocking, remained. A volley of stones ruined one of Buckley’s full-size windows and one of Myer’s, and still others towards the post-office. At the London Stores, the array of brilliantly lit and laden windows had been already “sampled,” but there remained dozens of unbroken panes.

    Masses debouched from the Bourke street centre and dashed for the Mont de Piete. Racing to outstrip one another, men flung themselves upon the darkened windows. Rings, watches, brooches—jewellery of every description—were greedily seized by the rioters, who were able to continue their depredations without interruption. The siege was raised, barely soon enough to prevent the demolition of the doorway and the complete wrecking of the premises. The mob, as soon as the last item of value had been snatched from the window fronts, stormed the iron gateway which protected the entrance. They tore it from its hinges, and had battered the glass panels of the doors. But they could not withstand the vigorous batons of the constables, and hundreds were hunted up the Bourke street hill, and hundreds north and south along Elizabeth street. They wantonly kicked or burst in more windows as they fled. Running past the large sheets of glass fronting Thos. Evans and John Danks they left a destructive trail. In Elizabeth street north only one or two shops suffered. But between Bourke street and Flinders street, in Elizabeth street, the amount of damage was disgracefully large.


    With the arrival at last of the motor patrols of “specials” panic set in. Part of the crowd, after hurling glass and metal in showers, turned east along Little Collins street, where a score and more of windows had been smashed at earlier stages. Droves swerved along the same thoroughfare westward, and were driven helter-skelter by the charging motor parties. At the corner of Queen street they crashed through remnants of display materials hurled from the wrecked windows of a tailoring establishment which had been entered and “cleaned out.” By far the greater proportion, however, ran in the direction of the Flinders street railway station. On their fleeting way the mob battered a hat shop south of Collins street, and then made for a department of firearms, bats, and sticks in the windows of the Melbourne Sports Depot. Few things were looted, however, as the persons concerned were in a hurry. It was a remarkable fact that only one window in the Collins street heart of the city—that of the hat establishment of David Waring Ltd.—should have been destroyed. After half-past 10 o'clock comparative quiet developed.

    Crowds gathered in the city on November 4, largely out of curiosity. Special constables in front of Scots’ Church, in Collins street, were attacked in the afternoon, but they soon dispersed their assailants. The appearance of a couple of mounted troopers sent the youths flying in all directions. A shower of rain completed the work which the horsemen had begun, and thereafter there was order. 

    “Business as Usual” was the sign displayed on November 5 outside practically every shop which had been raided on November 3. Many windows had been totally covered by wooden planking, and only the doorways showed apertures.

    A large crowd which was watching a fire in Messrs. Keep Bros, and Wood’s timber-yards, in Spencer street, West Melbourne, on the evening of November 5, got out of hand, and for some minutes there was hand-to-hand fighting between special police and the mob. Large pieces of brick and wood were hurled at the “specials,” who were assailed as “scabs.” One “special” was, felled with a picket and struck on the chest and stomach while he lay unconscious. Another “special” fired his revolver in the air, and this induced the crowd to retire. A “special” who attempted to telephone for aid for his injured comrade, and a plain-clothes constable who went to his help, were surrounded and attacked. When the constable drew his revolver the crowd wavered. Reinforcements of specials ultimately scattered the crowd by baton sallies. Damage estimated at between £400 and £500 was done to Leeming’s footwear establishment at North Melbourne on the same night. The shattering of one of the plate-glass windows was the signal for a fusillade from a large crowd. An appeal by Messrs. Leeming Bros. to the mob to cease their attack, produced a further shower of metal, whereupon the two men drew their revolvers and fired in the air. One man was taken into custody as the crowd retreated. Special constables dispersed the mob by baton charges and the firing of blank cartridges.

    Eighty persons were charged with various offences at the City Court, Melbourne, on November 6, chiefly the possession of stolen property. Sentences of three and four months’ imprisonment were imposed on a large number of youths and men arrested in the crowds of looters on November 3. Mr. Knight, P.M., said that the sentences were not vindictive, but, in any event, they could be reviewed by the Attorney-General. A woman who had assaulted a constable, who said she “fought like a man,” was fined £5.

    More than 10.000 men had been enrolled as special constables up to November 7, and others were accepted in the country. More than 1,000 private motor-cars have been offered for the use of the police. All hotels within five miles of the General Post-office, Melbourne, were closed at 2 o'clock on Cup Day (November 6). Licensing police refused to continue duty on November 5. Of more than 100 plain-clothes constables only seven have refused duty. A fund opened by “The Argus” for the loyal police amounts to £2,777.

    The Australasian (Melbourne), Saturday, 10 November 1923, p.36 (extract),

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    The total damage to business premises in the city of Melbourne was estimated at £75,000 [= $6,400,893]. Melbourne newspapers of the period attributed the rioting and looting to Melbourne’s criminal element, but subsequent court records showed that most of the offenders who were apprehended were young men and boys without prior criminal records. After the strike, its origins and effects were investigated by a Royal Commission. The Victorian State Government subsequently improved pay and conditions for police, and legislated to establish a police pension scheme before the end of 1923. However none of the 636 striking police constables were allowed to return to duty. All were discharged and an entirely new force recruited.

    [9] Tons of Money by Will Evans and “Arthur Valentine” (pseud. of Archibald Thomas Pechey) premiered at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London on 13 April 1922, before transferring to the Aldwych Theatre on 10 October later that year for an overall run of 743 performances.  Its success helped to institute the popular series of Aldwych farces staged at the theatre between 1923 to 1933, scripted by Ben Travers and featuring a stock company of farceurs that included Ralph Lynn, Tom Walls, J. Robertson Hare, Mary Brough and Winifred Shotter.  In addition to Lynn, Walls, Hare and Brough, Tons of Money also starred the French actress, Yvonne Arnaud in the role of ‘Louise Allington’, which became the basis for actresses who succeeded to the role to play it as a French woman (even though it was not originally written as such.)

    The Australian premiere was staged at the Palace Theatre, Melbourne on Saturday, 27 October 1923 by Hugh J. Ward Theatres Pty. Ltd. starring Charles Heslop and Dorothy Brunton (who also adopted a French accent) and a cast that included Maidie Field (Mrs. Charles Heslop), one-time matinee idol, Andrew Higginson (Australia’s first ‘Prince Danilo’ in The Merry Widow for JCW in 1908), and the veteran Emma Temple, whose performances with JCW’s Royal Comic Opera Company dated back to the 1880s. Following a run of 7 weeks, the comedy closed on Saturday, 15 December to make way for preparations for the Christmas–New Year’s pantomime Mother Goose. (See first-night reviews below.)

    [10]7s. 9d. (7 shillings and 9 pence) per performance paid to a theatrical dresser in 1923 is equivalent to $33.07 in today’s currency, thus $264.56 per week for a standard 8 performances (6 evenings and 2 matinees.)

     [11] The Maid of the Mountains(with music by Harold Fraser-Simpson, lyrics by Harry Graham; Additional lyrics by F. Clifford Harris and “Valentine” (Archibald Thomas Pechey); additional music by James W. Tate and book by Frederick Lonsdale) received its London premiere at Daly’s Theatre on 10 February 1917 for a run of 1,352 performances; terminating only because its leading lady, José Collins, wished to move on to other shows. In Australia the musical brought stardom to Gladys Moncrieff in the title role of ‘Teresa’ following its premiere by JCW Ltd. at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 22 January 1921 for an initial run of 188 performances over 23 weeks closing on 1 July. The show then went on to achieve equal success around the rest of Australia and New Zealand touring for 2½ years, and its enduring popularity and that of its leading lady, made it the most revived musical in Australia in the 20th Century with ‘Our Glad’ having given over 2,300 performances as ‘Teresa’ before her retirement from the role following a final season in Perth in 1949.

    [12]Nap (short for Napoleon) was a once popular card game dating from the late 19th Century (the rules of which may be read here). Each players bids on the number of “tricks” that they intend to win (from 3 to 5) and the player who bids to undertake to win all 5 “tricks”, and then succeeds to do so, wins 10 chips (or pennies, etc.) from each player, and thus “takes the nap”. High stakes betting on the game was classified as an illegal activity and newspapers would carry reports of police raids on nap “schools”.

    [13]Allen Doone’s weekly-change repertory season of Irish plays commenced at the Princess Theatre on 10 November with The Wearing of the Green (until 16 November), followed by Sweet County Kerry (17 to 23 November), Tom Moore (24 to 30 November), The Burglar and the Lady (1 to 7 December) and concluded with The Rebel from 8 to 15 December 1923. 

    As noted by Charles Heslop, the play The Burglar and the Lady(by Landon McCormick) featured the eponymous character of ‘Raffles’ (E.W. Hornung’s gentleman thief), plus Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ as the detective who pursues the burglar (played by Allen Doone) but loses him in the end, as he makes good his escape with the lady of the title. (Although it is unclear how the playwright was able to perpetrate such an obvious breach of literary copyright without the permission of the respective authors.) Doone had first played the role in Australia in 1914, and the play was revived the following year as a star vehicle for ex-heavyweight champion, James J. Corbett (then visiting Australia) when the title character was re-christened ‘Gentleman Jim’ to trade on Corbett’s well-known sobriquet.

    A regular visitor to Australia (where he had first made a name for himself as an actor–manager in Melbourne in 1909 due to the generous sponsorship of well-known sporting and theatrical entrepreneur, John Wren to the tune of £2,000; or almost $288,000 in today’s currency) Doone made a point of singing in each of his plays (a fact mentioned in his daily press adverts) and The Age review of the play observed that:

    Mr. Allen Doone makes a very much better Irish lover than a burglar. Obviously, he was out of his element on Saturday night as Raffles, the “scientific crook,” in the melodrama The Burglar and the Lady, which was presented at the Princess Theatre. To be sure, Raffles, true to history, is a very kind hearted burglar, yet it is hard to imagine Mr. Doone as a common or garden type of bank robber. His happiest moments on Saturday night were when, in response to a plaintive cry from the gallery, “You have not sung to us to-night,” he discarded the jemmy and revolver and sang with gusto, “Here's a Toast to Erin.”

    The Age (Melbourne), Monday, 3 December 1923, p. 11 (extract),

    Clearly Doone was an actor who believed in keeping his loyal public satisfied!

    Tons of Money reviewed in the Melbourne Press 


    Heslop and Dot Make It


    As soon as Dorothy Brunton and Charles Heslop get the proper pitch of voice for the Palace Theatre, Tons of Money Is going to be one of the most popular comedies Melbourne has seen since [Fred] Niblo was here.

    Artists sometimes are accustomed to the smaller-sized London theatres, and for those there is always that little difficulty of remembering the greater size of our houses. Added to that, Miss Brunton's part entails the speaking of broken English, and Mr. Heslop's calls for whirlwind patter—always difficult things to get over clearly.

    A section of Saturday night’s audience felt rather like the old lady at the picture-show who has not time to read what the villain said to Mary, before it is flicked off again. But with such really clever artists as the two in the lead at the Palace, a grievance of that kind is sure to be remedied before others suffer it.

    The play is one of the funniest imaginable.


    The first curtain brings a roar of laughter that you tremble for fear the authors (Will Evans and Arthur Valentine) will let you down over the second and the final curtain. But they don’t! The second curtain is a scream, and the play ends on a high note of laughter.

    Ridiculous situation follows ridiculous situation without bringing the comedy down to the necessity for slapstick methods. The talk is good, and the plot develops with a rush.

    Charles Heslop, as a young man who suggests to his bride that his coat-of-arms should really he "a couple of bailiffs rampant," fools with the delicious inconsequence of a Wodehouse hero. If the Indiscretions of Archie is ever staged, Heslop is the man for the star part! Comic business with hands and feet, his slick and assured handling of the part, and his irrepressible, natural sense of humor help him to make the portrayal of Allington, the bogus George Maitland, and Rev. Ebenezer Brown memorably funny character sketches.


    Dot Brunton, beloved of Australian audiences, has grown up during her absence from Australia. She is still the charming little comedienne, but she has added a finish and assurance to her work that gives it a distinction it lacked before.

    The part of Louise Allington she handled with vivacious charm and a joyous abandon that added to the fun of the farce, without the actress's betraying that she was aware of it.

    Emma Temple made a welcome return to the stage as Benita Mullett, Alllngton’s deaf aunt.

    Sylvia Shaw's study of the girl who accepted three different impostors as her absentee husband was well done.

    Charles Road Night appeared as the solicitor; Frank Hawthorne in the small but amusing part of Giles the gardener; Compton Coutts as the butler; Maidie Field as the parlormaid; Andrew Higginson as Henry; and Douglas Calderwood as the real George Maitland.

    At the close of the performance repeated demands for speeches led Dorothy Brunt on to speak from a wilderness of floral gifts. She thanked the audience for their splendid loyalty.

    Charles Heslop and Hugh Ward also made speeches, Mr. Ward's being conveyed to the audience through Miss Brunton, as he was suffering from a cold that had robbed him of his voice.

    Sun News-Pictorial(Melbourne), Monday 29 October 1923, p.8,

     * * * * * * * * * * *



    Tons of Money, played by Mr. Hugh J. Ward’s company at the Palace Theatre on Saturday evening, is a farce of a fashion popular from last century to this. Impersonation, as the basis of a plot, is as familiar as any basis in the particular class of entertainment. It is employed, for instance, in What Happened to Jones, and in Tom, Dick and Harry, popular here twenty years or so back. Tons of Money, written by Will Evans and Arthur Valentine from old material, is not equal to Broadhurst’s work; it does not move swiftly and easily; it is not really funny; indeed, at times it takes all the work of the new company to prevent it from being extremely wearisome. The farce has enjoyed success in England. On the whole, it was well received by the crowded house on Saturday evening. Miss Dorothy Brunton was welcomed warmly. 

    Miss Brunton plays Louise, wife of Aubrey, Henry Maitland Allington, young and impecunious inventor. Allington has given his smart young wife everything that credit can buy. His breakfast table is burdened with bills. The arrival of the solicitor, James Chesterman, with the news that Allington has been left a fortune, delights the young couple; but they realise speedily that every penny will be swallowed up by debts. And how to escape payment of these debts? Under the will the estate passes after Allington’s death to his cousin, George Maitland. Maitland has gone to Mexico, and is reported to have been killed. So that if Allington die, and reappear as Maitland, he will come in for the estate without encumbrance. He has invented an explosive; what if an explosion occurs, and he disappear? The explosion occurs, though a little too soon for Allington's comfort. Three weeks inter Allington reappears as Maitland. Unhappily he is not alone in the field; there is another impersonator of Maitland, and there is the real Maitland. On the familiar lines, the farces develops in a series of the wildest entanglements, chiefly in close imitation of Tom, Dick and Harry. A further complication is Maitland’s wife, as Louise’s charming cousin, Jean, proves to be. A little of this farce is no poorer than its predecessors. It is far poorer, when the first impostor starts telling of his adventures abroad; this is pitiful rubbish, and even the briskest of acting could do very little with it. The acting of the new company is brisk.

    The energy which Miss Brunton and Mr. Charles Heslop, as Allington, put into their playing is commendable. They are seldom off the stage, and in this sense the parts are exacting. Yet the two do not succeed in carrying off the farce. For some reason Louise is French; the accent does not make the character any more amusing. Why Louise is not allowed to talk in straight-out English is puzzling. Miss Brunton deserves praise for her brightness and her desire to give the audience the best of her comedy; much of the folly does not allow her a fair chance. A little of it does—notably the passage-at-arms with Louise's cousin, Jean, who, as Mrs. Maitland, claims Allington impersonating Maitland, as her husband. Here Miss Brunton's success is furthered by Miss Sylvia Shaw, who, as Jean, is the most pleasing of the players of minor characters. The bitter-sweetness of the girl cousins to one another is bright comedy, and is very well played. Mr. Heslop is a young actor playing for the first time in Melbourne. He certainly does his utmost with the part of Allington, but the absurd exaggerations must prove rather too much for any actor. Broadhurst succeeded in providing really funny characters for his successes, and the writers of Tons of Money have failed to do so. Miss Emma Temple, who also was warmly welcomed by Saturday evening's audience, does all that can be done with the part of Benita Mullet, Allington's aunt. Mr. Compton Coutts plays well us Sprules, the butler; Mr. Charles Road Night does useful work as Chesterman; Miss Maidie Field appears as the parlor maid Simpson; Mr. Andrew Higginson as Henry, another impersonator of Maitland, and Mr. Douglas Calderwood as the real Maitland. Tons of Money is not even a reasonably lively farce; several of its scenes are very foolish.

    The Age (Melbourne), Monday, 29 October 1923, p.6,

    34 T of M sceneEmma Temple, Dorothy Brunton & Charles Heslop in a scene from Tons of Money. Stageland, Number Three, December 1923.




    Miss Brunton and Mr. Heslop.

    “Poor dear Aubrey he was so generous to me. He gave me everything that credit could buy.” Who would not sympathise with the seeming widow of Aubrey Henry Maitland Allington when she is left with no one to create debts on her behalf? But mourning is very becoming to Louise Allington when she is Miss Dorothy Brunton and Aubrey’s absence is for only a few hours. Twice he “dies” and twice comes to life with neatness and despatch; but when Louise wishes him to die again he firmly refuses for he begins to think that the third time proves it. The reason for the deaths is the wish to claim a large inheritance without allowing Allington’s debts to absorb it. Stage law has a good deal to do with the plot. There are three characters each claiming to be one man, George Maitland.

    The season of carnival is here and with it the season of farce, when material for unrestrained laughter is the first demand of many theatregoers. “Tons of Money” at the Palace, meets the demand. On Saturday the first night audience found a great deal to laugh at in the first and second acts; and in the third the laughter scarcely ceased, except when it turned into shrieks of amusement. A pleasant feature of “Tons of Money” is that it is clean and healthy from first to last. There is nothing about it of the French or American bedroom farce. It is hearty English fun making and make-believe. There are suggestions of resemblance to earlier plots (such as that of “Tom Dick and Harry”), but this is inevitable, especially in farce, and there is enough that is different. Even the veteran playgoer cannot quite say, as Allington says on conveniently regaining his memory, “How it all comes back to me—like a returned cheque!”

    The farce, which is by Will Evans, the noted comedian, and Arthur Valentine, was well staged and cleverly acted. Miss Dorothy Brunton, who had a great welcome, showed that she could be as skilful and dainty in farce without music as in musical comedy. Louise speaks with a French accent, apparently because an accent went with the name of the actress who took the part in London, Yvonne Arnaud. There was no need for this peculiarity in the Australian production, but Miss Brunton used it neatly in the cause of a s piquancy which in its absence she could have obtained by other means. No comedy point was overlooked by Miss Brunton, whose untiring and deft work did a great deal to ensure the cordial reception of the play.

    Mr. Charles Heslop, from England, was most amusing when he was most distant from reality, as the comic curate of the third act. His mannerisms when he was Allington undisguised tended to become rather monotonous and his comedy as the man from Wild America could have been more substantial; but in all cases he provided the audience with much to laugh at. Miss Emma Temple’s experience made the old aunt—a comparatively small part—one of the best characters in the play. Miss Sylvia Shaw contributed to the fun as the deserted wife who identifies each of the three George Maitlands as her husband. Mr. Compton Coutts was an able comedy butler, and Mr. Frank Hawthorne was well made up as the eccentric gardener. As played by Mr. Charles Road Night, the solicitor did not differ much from the leader of the gang in “Bulldog Drummond.” Miss Maidie Field aided the comedy as a parlourmaid, and Mr. Andrew Higginson and Mr. Douglas Calderwood took two of the Maitland parts suitably.

    The first matinee will be given on Wednesday.

    Additional interest was given to the first night by the presence of their Excellencies the Governor-General and Lady Forster, who were accompanied by the Hon. Mrs. Pitt Rivers and Lady Patricia Blackwood, and His Excellency the Governor and the Countess of Stradbroke, whose party included the Lady Helena Rous and Miss Hester Phillimore. In the box next the Governor-General were Mr. and Mrs. Hugh J. Ward, and Mrs. Brunton occupied the fourth box with a party of friends.

    The Argus (Melbourne), Monday, 29 October 1923, p.15 (extracts),

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    N.B. Charles Road Night had played the criminal mastermind and leader of the underworld gang in the drama Bulldog Drummond staged at the newly renovated Palace Theatre in April and May of that year, hence the critic’s inference at his lack of versatility.


    Miss Brunton’s Return

    “TONS OF MONEY,” a farce in three acts by Will Evans and Arthur Valentine (Palace Theatre)

    “Tons of Money” is built so exactly on the plan one expected that I for one got quite a surprise. This impoverished young couple, the rich relative dying abroad, the rival impostors, the unexpected wife, the scheming butler, the eccentric gardener, and the comic curate, all re-appear, and never fail to behave precisely as stage tradition suggests. One can picture the men who wrote “Ton of Money” patiently searching every farce of the last hundred years for ingredients that could be mixed once more in a farcical brew, and with equal care setting down every line said to have “got a hand” since the spring of ’98.

    But this, I suppose, does not greatly matter after all. No one expects originality in a farce. All that one can hope for is laughs, and, judged by this test, “Ton of Money” is likely to prove quite a success. A large audience was kept continuously amused on Saturday night, and it was clear that Mr. Hugh J. Ward, with his well-known acumen, had picked the right sort of piece to please holiday audiences. Had the writing been less slovenly, and the action more uniformly fast, it would have gone down even better; but then, really first-rate farces can be numbered on the fingers of your hands. The pity of it is that Will Evans and Arthur Valentine, with their deftness in evolving situations and poor literary equipment, should have gone so near the real thing without quite getting there. 

    Even If “Tons of Money” had no other attractions, the return of Miss Dorothy Brunton would be sufficient to lift it from the commonplace. As vivacious and attractive as ever, Miss Brunton gave an excellent performance as the wife of the impecunious Inventor, and, without any very obvious effort, made the utmost of the broad comedy. Her only fault was a tendency—probably due to a little nervousness—to talk too fast in the early scene with her husband. For the first few minutes hardly a word spoken by either was audible. Thereafter, she was charming, though precisely why the character should be played with a French accent is a secret which lies between her and her producer.

    Very successful also was Mr. Charles Heslop, a London comedian making his first appearance in Australia. In a modest estimate of Mr. Heslop that appears on the program, it is stated that he has a real genius for doing the funniest things in the most matter-of-fact way, and avoids the most obvious devices for getting laughs. His work is notable for clever unexpectedness, originality, and a skilful use of reticence that has delighted London critics as well as theatregoers.

    Mr. Heslop may have been noted for all these qualities in London, but it would take a very penetrating critic to observe the slightest sign of them in the methods he adopts in Australia. After watching him bustle and gesticulate and fumble and race around on one leg after the manner of an attenuated Chaplin, one could only conclude that he was another victim to the idea that the comic artist, to get laughs in Australia, must lay on his paint with a trowel. Mr. Heslop is undoubtedly a comedian, and I should think that at his best, he would be a very talented one. Certainly he had some very bright moments on Saturday, especially when he returned from the grave as the red-haired curate, but a friend ought to tell him that even Australians get the idea of slight excitement when a man fumbles ten times for his pocket and still misses. Anything over ten times is superfluous, and anything over twenty a little boring. And the same rule applies to attempts to cross the legs.

    The other parts were well played by Mr. Compton Coutts, who made a successful first appearance in Australia as Sprules, the butler; Miss Emma Temple, whose brilliant gifts had little scope; Miss Sylvia Shaw, Mr. Anndrew Higginson, Mr. Douglas Calderwood, Mr. Frank Hawthorne, Mr. Charles Road Night, and Miss Maidie Field.

    G.C. DIXON

    The Herald (Melbourne), Monday, 29 October 1923, p.4,



    “I ’ave an idea!” suddenly says Louise, the young French wife of Aubrey Alllngton, In “Tons of Money,” when they receive news of a big inheritance which will, however, be “almost all swallowed up” if they pay their creditors. So she persuades her husband to her plan, which is that he shall die, and later reappear as a cousin who is to inherit in the event of his death. Her husband reluctantly consents. Then comes discussion of the manner of his death, none of which appeal to him. Being an inventor, he has a workshop, and it is finally decided that it shall be blown up with a high explosive, while he is presumedly working therein.

    The plan is carried out, but not just exactly as planned. Subsequently, no fewer than three George Maitlands from Mexico appear, for someone else has a brain wave and a plan to secure the money. Naturally things become a bit mixed, and the plotters are kept on tenterhooks.

    This bright farce by Will Evans and Arthur Valentine caused the roof of the Palace Theatre to re-echo to shouts of laughter on Saturday night when it was staged for the first time. The authors have managed to contrive some rather novel situations out of materials that are not exactly new, while the business works up to a splendid “curtain” at the close of each act.

    There are a number of old favorites in the cast, who were warmly welcomed on their first entrance, chief of these being Dorothy Brunton as Louise, the young wife. She is bright and animated, and makes Louise an attractive, vivacious individual, whom one is compelled to like even though her principles appear sadly lax.

    Charles Heslop, as the inventor husband, proves himself decidedly versatile. He has a quick, volatile method, and a dashing manner. First as the husband, then as the cousin, with a rather crude idea of the manner in which a man from Mexico should dress, and less about life and manners of that far country. Later as an urbane curate in utter contrast, he contrives to give three clever character sketches.

    Compton Coutts makes a good impression as Sprules the butler, who plots a little on his own account. Maldie Field is excellent as Simpson, the parlormaid, and his accomplice. 

    Emma Temple contrives to introduce some effective comedy as Allington’s Aunt Benita, who Is deaf, but will not own to it. Andrew Higginson and Douglas Calderwood both appear with success in the guise of George Maltland, the first masquerading, the second being the genuine cousin.

    Sylvia Shaw does good work as Jean, who accepts each of the pretenders as her husband, declaring she would know him anywhere by his kiss. 

    Frank Hawthorne, as a deaf and eccentric old gardener, and Charles Road Night, as James Chesterman, solicitor, complete a first-rate cast.

    The staging is excellent and the mounting most carefully and artistically carried out to the smallest detail.

    “I ’ave an idea!” Louise says once more, but her husband flees from it, and the curtain falls upon her struggling with this new brain wave.

    Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 1 November 1923, p.13,

    39 Tons castCompton Coutts (as Sprules)—Frank Hawthorne (Giles)—Douglas Calderwood (George Maitland)


    Farce Comedy Pleases

    By "G. K. M."

    In staging “Tons of Money” at the Palace Theatre on the eve of the Cup carnival, Mr. Hugh J. Ward has shown sound judgment. This English farce comedy, which was successful when produced at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, is the sort of entertainment race visitors will enjoy. Full of ludicrous situations, it is as clean, as it is funny. Miss Dorothy Brunton’s return to the Australian stage is, in itself, an event of no little interest. Usually she has been associated with musical comedy, but in “Tons of Money” she shows a distinct flair for straight comedy. Miss Brunton is a much more finished actress than she was when she last appeared in Melbourne. Her representation of the French wife of Aubrey Henry Maitland Allington, who, to use her husband's words, “has been given everything that credit will buy,” is completely successful. With Mr. Charles Heslop, who plays the part of the debt-ridden Aubrey, she is on the stage practically all the time, and the fact that the audience is kept in roars of laughter proves the effectiveness of their work. Mr. Heslop is a comedian well suited to the requirements of a quick-moving farce. He should soon become a favorite with Melbourne playgoers.

    To tell the story of the play would be to deprive the many surprising developments of much of their humor. The plot, however, is the old one of deception and mistaken identity, the object of the deception being to prevent Aubrey's creditors from getting the money he has unexpectedly inherited. Of course all the carefully laid plans of Louise and her spouse go astray, but the play ends with reconciliations and kisses all round.

    The various minor roles are well sustained by Miss Emma Temple (Ailington’s Aunt Benita), Miss Sylvia Shaw (Louise's cousin), Mr. Charles Road Night (a solicitor), Mr. Compton Coutts (butler), Miss Maidie Field (parlor-maid), Mr. Frank Hawthorne (gardener), Mr. Andrew Higginson (an impostor), and Mr. Douglas Calderwood (Aubrey’s missing cousin).

    Weekly Times (Melbourne), Saturday, 3 November 1923, p.16


    Aubrey Henry Maitland Allington’s House at Marlow—scenery by Reg Robbins. (photo by CJ Frazer)
    Courtesy Marriner Theatre Archive, Melbourne.

    Meanwhile The Bulletin’s veteran Melbourne-based critic, Edmund Fisher also penned his impressions of the proceedings, while an anonymous contributor to the periodical’s weekly theatrical gossip column noted the debt owed by practitioners of the histrionic art to their predecessors, with a few pertinent examples; and The Sporting Globe published an interview with the farce’s pseudonymous co-writer.

    * * * * * * * * * * *


    “Tons of Money,” a fast and furious farce-comedy, imported from the London Shaftesbury, was paid out at the new Palace in Melbourne on Saturday night, under a running fire of chuckles from an overflowing audience. The three-decker, which was built up by Will Evans and Arthur Valentine, tears along at express speed, without once skidding off the rails of the neatly-constructed plot. The chief laughter-makers are a young inventor, Aubrey Allington, and his even more inventive little French wife. The pair are discovered facing the awful blue-writted consequences of a Rolls Royce life on a Ford income. But things proceed to ginger up with a fat legacy for Aubrey, which in the event of his demise passes to Cousin George in Mexico. The latter being conveniently listed as shot dead, the French daughter of Eve tempts her weaker half to diddle his creditors by bequeathing the wealth to her before vanishing in the smoke of an explosion in his laboratory, the idea being that he shall resurrect himself later in the likeness of the defunct George. The plot matures, but, the butler having readjusted the clock hands, Mrs. Aubrey fires the fuse before hubby has time to get away. A fine first curtain discloses the wretched inventor in a dreadful condition of wreckage after the blow-up. Disguised with a goatee and an American burr, he returns home—to be confounded by a second Yankee-tongued and goatee-chinned George. And so the complications proceed, until the story unwinds itself in a final curtain.

    “Tons of Money” brings Dorothy Brunton back to us; and the uproarious greetings on Saturday held the show up for some minutes. As Aubrey's giddy French wife, Dot showed her old form. Her endearing spontaneity has in no wise diminished: she still throws herself into her part in the old hoydenish way. Her Louise, who tearfully boasts that her husband gives her everything credit will buy, is a typical English girl, fresh, pleasing and natural, despite a superabundance of foreign accent and gesture. The lengthy farceur, Charles Heslop, who comes here with a big London reputation, is apt to be a shade too tireless. Slick of eye and tongue and limb, he is temperamentally and technically equipped for his job. But one tires a little of his incessant juggling—with words and limbs and everything else he has to use. As the real George’s devoted widow, who recognised her hubby in all three holders of the name by the way they kissed, Sylvia Shaw is always in the picture, although her work is rather academic. Andrew Higginson is the pretender, and Douglas Calderwood gave an excellent account of himself as the real cousin from Mexico. Charles Road Knight, Emma Temple and a newcomer, Maidie Field, completed the fine cast.

    The Bulletin (Sydney), 1 November 1923, p.34

    41 caricatures 3Further Tom Glover caricatures for The Bulletin (1923)


    It seems to be a rule in theatrical business that the first successful way of doing any particular thing on the dramatic stage is the way it should be always done. A tradition is established. When Hugh Ward brought Charles Heslop and Dorothy Brunton to play in “Tons of Money,” the young man affected a restless, jerky manner which came uneasily to him, and was plainly adapted from a London original, whilst Dorothy had to pretend to be French because a Frenchwoman—Yvonne Arnaud—had “created” the part, and some lines had been put into the farce on her account. Whilst retaining her breezy Australian personality Dorothy Brunton lapsed into a mock-French accent whenever she thought of it, instead of getting the interpolated lines cut out, and talking like her natural self.

    The Bulletin (Sydney), 13 December 1923, p.36 (extract)

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    Managers Would Not Look at “Tons of Money” Script

    The responsibility for “Tons of Money,” the successful English farce, at the New Palace, rests with Will Evans and Arthur Valentine. The former, who is a well-known London comedian, is now In Sydney, appearing at the Tivoli, and the latter is a writer who up till 10 years ago was a member of the Corn Exchange. The curious part about the success of the play is that the authors hawked the script from manager to manager for some years before it was finally accepted.

    In a recent interview Valentine was asked what it felt like to strike a sudden tremendous success with a first play written seven years ago, and turned down by every manager until last year. “Every day, and in every way more and more pleasant,” he said, “I am beginning to feel as I have Imagined so many of the heroes of my stories would feel. What a lot of them have come into some sort of surprisingly good fortune at my pen's command! Now it has actually happened to me. Strange—but truth is strange sometimes, isn't it?”

    “I suppose,” he went on, “that because I did the writing part of this ‘Tons of Money’ play people think I'm no end of a funny fellow. I assure you I am nothing of the sort.” He seemed to be anxious that there should be mistake on the subject. “I believe, that I have keen sense of humor,” he said, almost apologetically, “but I am not the sort of man who sets all his friends and acquaintances into constant roars of laughter. Nothing like that about me. I have never even tried to write a funny short story—and I wrote a quarter of a million words of fiction last year.”

    Fully six feet in height, forty-six years old, and with the wind-tanned skin of one who spends half his time on the Kentish sea coast, Arthur Valentine (his real name is Archibald Thomas Pechey), began to write only ten years ago. He likes writing above all else; even the mechanical part of it, the physical exercise of putting words on paper, which many find so tiring irksome, delights him.

    The Sporting Globe (Melbourne), Wednesday, 14 November 1923, p.13,



    The Tons of Money cast take their curtain call. (photo by CJ Frazer)
    Courtesy Marriner Theatre Archive, Melbourne.


  • 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 Big Broadcast of 1924

    big broadcast banner 01

    To mark 100 years since the first live stage broadcast in Australia, we revisit an article by PETER BURGIS published in On Stage back in 2006. With updates by Peter and new picture research and audio links by Rob Morrison.

    ‘Wirelessenthusiasm is on the wane in Britain and America, and quite a number of small manufacturers are closing down,’ announced Mr. G. Watson, electrical engineer, in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald on 10 November 1923, following his return to Australia on the good ship Mongolia, after an overseas business trip.

    A week earlier, a new Australian company called Broadcasters (Sydney) Ltd, advertised the start of the first local radio service from their studio in the Smith’s Weekly Building, Phillip Street, Sydney.

    Broadcasters boasted ‘bedtime stories for the children, talks on housekeeping hints and Parisian fashion for ladies, racing and business reports for men, jazz evenings for young folk.’ Best of all it promised that ‘listeners-in’ would hear the Dungowan Jazz Orchestra and live performances from the Tivoli Theatre.

    Radio 2SB (later 2BL) planned to be on air from 10am to 10pm, six days a week, available free to city, suburb and country. Set down for 15 November, this historic first Australian broadcast was delayed until 23 November 1923.

    big broadcast 01aGladys Moncrieff in A Southern Maid, with Mione Stewart (left) and Nellie Payne (right). Photographer unknown. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

    A bounder in the wings

    Broadcasters (Sydney) Ltd had competition in the form of Farmer & Company, major merchants occupying large premises fronting Pitt, Market and George Streets (now Myer), with studios in the Roof Garden atop their imposing building. A newspaper advertisement (The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 October 1923) heralded the arrival of Farmer’s Wireless Broadcasting Service, due to start radiating test transmissions from 5 December under the banner 2FC.

    Program highlights were to include weather predictions, race results, stockyard market reports, quotations from the Sydney Stock Exchange and updates on latest fashion decrees from Paris, London and New York (Farmer’s sold heaps of clothing and haberdashery).

    Most importantly, there would be entertainments from the theatre circuits of J.C.Williamson Ltd and J.& N.Tait.

    In the first week of 1924 it was reported that ‘experiments had been conducted from the stage of Sydney’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, involving the placement of microphones which collected the sound and conveyed it to an amplifying panel which “stepped-up” the volume before carrying the sound by landline to Farmer’s wireless studio in Pitt Street, whence it was conveyed by another special land line to the big station 2FC at Willoughby (inner North Shore), from whence it was radiated by wireless’ (The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January 1924).

    On Saturday afternoon (5 January 1924) a complete matinée of A Southern Maid was transmitted experimentally, with every word being heard quite clearly. Laughter followed each joke was also heard as was the shrill call of ‘Ice cream blocks and chocolates’ during the interval.
    Without speeches and formalities, Farmer’s 2FC officially opened on the evening of Wednesday, 9 January, when a complete evening performance of A Southern Maid was broadcast from the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre.

    big broadcast 02A tense moment at the Cafe del Santiago as Sebastian (Robert Chisholm) and Francesco Del Fuego (Claude Flemming) confront Sir Willoughby Rawdon (Howett Worster) with daggers drawn, while Doloes (Glady Moncrieff) looks on apprehensively. (Chisholm subsequently took over the role of Rawdon for the Sydney season.)

    The event was a great success, with listeners ‘enjoying the clear sound of voices and orchestra, often accompanied by the rustling of programs in the front stalls and the subdued hum of the audience during interval’.

    The presentation started with a general call from the 2FC announcer, followed by a peal of chimes rung on tubular bells, to allow listeners to tune their station reception accurately. After the chimes the announcer gave an introductory talk about A Southern Maid, timed to conclude as the theatre overture commenced. At the end of the show 2FC closed for the night, staff turned off the lights and went home—an exacting task well done.

    The Maid

    A Southern Maid (the local press often called it ‘The...’) was an English musical play, sometimes called a stage musical, or a musical comedy, or an operetta. The book was by Dion Clayton Calthrop, most of the music was composed by Harold Fraser-Simson, with lyrics by Harry Graham, Douglas Furber and Adrian Ross.

    The show first tried out in Manchester on Christmas Eve, 1917, and had its London début on 15 May 1920 at Daly’s Theatre, where it ran for 306 performances. The Daly’s cast included José Collins, Ernest Bertram, Gwendoline Brogden, Mark Lester, Dorothy Monkman, Lionel Victor, Bertram Wallis, William Spray and Australia’s Claude Flemming (playing Sir Willoughby Rawdon).

    In Australian Performers—Australian Performances (1987) Peter Pinne gives the following summary of the plot: ‘The story is set in South America, about a young Englishman who inherits a plantation and falls in love with a Spanish beauty, to the rage of the Vendetta chief, who has sworn to kill him for oppressive measures alleged to have been practised by his father’.

    A Manchester press critic wrote: ‘A Southern Maid is a better piece than The Maid of the Mountains. She is a gorgeous creature, but as full of contradictions as the most provoking of her sex. She lures one into the belief that her end is to be as dramatic as Carmen’s—and suddenly decides to live “happily ever after”; she revels in a wealth of music which is strangely reminiscent; she has scenes and situations which, if one did not see last week, one saw the week before, and will probably see the week after next. And yet, while one realises that all this has been done before, it is impossible to do else but succumb to the wonderful glamour of the maid herself.’

    He was talking of José Collins, whereas a few years later, Australian critics would be heaping accolades on our own Southern Maid, Gladys Moncrieff.

    big broadcast 07aCast list from Sydney season, 1923/24

    J.C.Williamson’s premiered A Southern Maid at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne on 27 January 1923. It opened at Her Majesty’s in Sydney on 27 October 1923, with a cast including Gladys Moncrieff, Robert Chisholm, Arthur Stigant, Fred Coape, William Perryman, Clarice Hardwicke, John Forde and Reginald Purdell. Andrew MacCunn was musical director and Oscar Asche was producer; he had also produced the original London production.


    There were no facilities in Australia in 1924 to allow the recording of a stage show. However, Gladys Moncrieff did record two songs from A Southern Maid for the Vocalion label around 4 September 1924, during her first visit to London.The titles were ‘Love’s Cigarette’ and ‘Dark Grows The Sky’. Many copies were sold in Australia.

    Claude Flemming, one of our most distinguished actor-singers, recorded only three song titles during a 50 year career, and they were all from A Southern Maid. They were ‘I Want The Sun And The Moon,’ ‘The Call Of The Sea’ and ‘Here’s To Those We Love’. The recording session took place at London’s Columbia studios on about 3 July 1920.

    These discs were deleted from Columbia’s catalogue in 1924 and remain hard to find. The good news is that these five acoustically recorded 78s allow us, with a little imagination, to re-create some of the atmosphere of the historic 2FC broadcast.

    big broadcast 08bCast of A Southern Maid, Melbourne, 1923. Photo by Talma, Melbourne. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

    Public reaction

    At the time the 2FC broadcast took place (9 January 1924) there were only a few hundred listeners with licences. By the end of June 1924 only 1400 licences had been taken out across Australia. It seemed likely that the listening audience on 9 January would not have filled Her Majesty’s Theatre.

    Despite the small audience, however, press reports from land and sea were complimentary. One ship’s captain advised that he sat glued to his seat listening to the Her Majesty’s show while operating a trading vessel some 2800 miles from Sydney.

    Equally enthused was the skipper of Karoola, moored at a Fremantle wharf. A glowing report also came from Mr. E.P.Simpson, owner of the racing yacht Mistral II, who listened to the broadcast in his ‘cosy cabin’, while anchored at La Perouse. He told The Sydney Morning Herald on 15 February that, ‘The clearness with which the voices are thrown into the cabin (by a speaker) is absolutely uncanny; it fires one’s imagination, and prompts one to be less sceptical with regard to problems that now seem to be ridiculous—just as ridiculous as the present feats accomplished by wireless would have appeared thirty years ago.’

    Warming to his subject, the yachtsman added, ‘Man is really a wonderful animal, constantly probing the secrets of the universe and of those that so far have been discovered, wireless results seem to me to be the most fascinating and astonishing.’

    Pass me the rum!

    Not everyone was happy with the arrival of radio, however. The Sydney Morning Herald for 19 December 1924 carried a piece headlined ‘Too Much Wireless—Teacher’s Warning… Speaking at the annual prize distribution of St Aloysius’ College, the Rev. L. Murphy (Prefect of Studies) said that he wished to warn parents against the abuse of the radio by their boys. We are not blind to its advantages,’ he said, ‘but we have noticed a serious deterioration in the work of the boys who have wireless installations. The tendency is for these boys to leave the classrooms at the earliest possible moment, and to give no thought to their studies while away from school.’

    The Rev. Murphy made no mention if any of these young hooligans had been found with photos of Gladys Moncrieff in their lockers.

    Happy ending

    How should we remember this unique occasion? In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of a city, bush and sea fold clustered around the new-fangled wireless, wide-eyed, bushy tailed and all ears.

    My dream includes the skipper of the schooner at La Perouse, the grazier from the Braidwood backblocks, the master mariner in Fremantle, a sundowner in remote Nyngan, and the ship’s captain ploughing through the Tasman Sea. Each tuned in to Our Glad and company, as musical history was made on the stage of Sydney’s Her Majesty’s Theatre on the evening of Wednesday, 9 January 1924.


    With its broadcast of A Southern MaidSydney’s 2FC scooped Melbourne’s new 3LO by nine months with a first live stage presentation. Live broadcasts of The Merry Widow and Sybil followed. 3LO came on air on 13 October 1924 with a blockbuster: Melba’s farewell performance of La Bohème, from the stage of His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne.

    2FC followed up this historic broadcast with another stage musical broadcast the following month when on 12 February 1924 they broadcast several acts of Sybil from Sydney’s Her Majesty’s Theatre. The cast included Gladys Moncrieff and Claude Flemming. Press reports of a clear transmission came in from afar as Gosford and New Zealand.

    Claude Flemming (1884-1952) had a long and distinguished stage career with success on Broadway and the West End. His personality and distinct voice are preserved on a number of film clips which are available on Youtube. Check Cross Roads from 1931. Claude can also be heard narrating on a 1931 colour educational movie short entitled Peasants Paradise(‘Romantic Journeys’) on Youtube, a venture into German history and culture.His Australian stage appearances include Collits’ Inn (1933-1934) with Gladys Moncrieff and Annie Get Your Gun (1947-1950) with Evie Hayes.

    It should be noted that A Southern Maid included additional music by Ivor Novello and George Clutsam. Clutsam was an Australian, having been born in Sydney in 1866. He was arguably the first Australian born composer to gain international recognition.

    For further information on the history of Australian broadcasting and its pioneer actors, actresses, musicians, writers and producers I recommend the Australian Old Time Radio website.

    Prepared with help from, and thanks to, Frank Van Straten.


    A Southern Maid

             (with Daly’s Theatre Orchestra conducted by Merlin Morgan)

    (The original 1920 London cast recordings released on Columbia records have been reissued on CD by Dominic Combe, who may be This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.)

             (with The Aeolian Orchestra)


             (with The Aeolian Orchestra)


    The opening scenes of this newsreel show Gladys Moncrieff and Claude Flemming in their costumes for A Southern Maid in various “Spanish” locations around Sydney.


    PETER BURGIS: born Parkes, NSW,  1936. Performing arts historian,  author, and sound archivist, concentrating on activities of Australians on record prior to 1960.  Employed at the Centre for Advancement of Teaching,  Macquarie University, 1972-1974; founder and director of the National Library of Australia’s sound archive, 1974-1984 and the National Film & Sound Archive, 1984-1989.  Recipient of inaugural ARIA Jack Davey Pater Award for professional  excellence in the broadcasting arts and science  (1984). Founding chairman of Australian Country Music Foundation & Museum, Tamworth, 1989-1993. Starting in 1970 has conducted over 150 oral history interviews with Australian musicians, entertainers and composers. Vice-president of the International Association of Sound Archives, 1981-1987 and chairman of the Australian branch, 1979-1984. Has produced or contributed to over 500 sound recordings of reissues of historic Australian sounds. Co-author of “Peter Dawson (The World’s Most Popular Baritone)”, Currency Press, 2001, and “Tex Morton: From Australian Yodeler to International Showman”, The University of Tennessee Press,  2023. Currently preparing a discography of Australians who recorded in the acoustic period.

    PREVIOUS ARTICLES published in On Stage: include:

    • “Thanks For The Memory” (2GB Musical Comedy Theatre,  8/1 & 8/2)
    • “Welcome ‘Mr. C’ ”  (Finlay Currie in Australia,  13/2)
    • “Voices of the Past: Kathleen Lafla” ,  9/4)
    • “The Fabulous Friedmans” (Jake Friedman)  9/3
    • “Bless ‘Em All” (Fred Godfrey)   9/3
    • “Starring John Barrymore, Gregory Peck, and Roland Hogue”   11/3
    • “Probing the Proboscis” (Nosey tunes)   7/3
    • “I’ve Been Everywhere (Or Have I)”    6/2
  • The Memoirs of J. Alan Kenyon or Behind the Velvet Curtain (Part 12)


    In Part 12 of his memoirs, J. ALAN KENYON recalls amusing episodes working on sets for Nellie Melba’s grand opera season in 1924 to Joan Sutherland’s in 1965, plus a few local and international stars of musicals and dramas in between.

    Ready, Set, Go!

    It was the Grand Opera Season of 1924 (I had been with JCW for just one year). The cast was headed by Nellie Melba and included quite a galaxy of talent: Toti dal Monte, Dion Borgioli, Apollo Granforte and Lina Scavizzi. It was tremendous fun watching, and trying, without understanding the language, to interpret the arguments, the actions and the antics which were constantly waged between the producer, the chorus master, the prompter, and the musical director. It was a battle which never seemed to end. In the ‘Nile scene’ in Aida with Franco Paolantonio, the chief maestro of the orchestra conducting, there were three notes on the timpani the drummer just could not get right.

    To you and me, ‘da-da-da’ just means ‘da-da-da’ and nothing else. To Paul Antonio’s super-sensitive ear, they were either off beat or out of tune—which, I never did discover. After three attempts and three failures to satisfy him, and after holding up the orchestra three times, Paul’s rage and frustration reached the point of explosion. With arms stretched above his head, he broke his baton in halves, tore at his hair, and burst into loud sobs. Astonishment kept everybody silent.

    It always came to my mind along with memories of Hamlet ‘It then draws the season—Wherein the spirit held his want to walk’ whenever I crossed the darkened stage of the Princess Theatre. It was necessary to put out all the lights before leaving the paint room, the switch being at the top of the stairs. In total darkness, with a loose board creaking eerily, one watched one’s step, particularly if one had once crashed over a chair in the line of travel. It is quite an experience crossing one hundred feet in total darkness, recalling the ghost of the Princess. During one Grand Opera performance of Faustat Melbourne’s Princess in 1888 Federici (Federick Baker) as Mephistopheles, in a puff of smoke, falls through a trap from the stage to the cellar. Nothing seemed amiss during the performance, everything had gone according to plan, except that when he reached the cellar he was later found to be dead.

    Again about Grand Opera, and now in 1965, the Joan Sutherland Season will always be memorable for the repercussions on my department. There was a terrific amount of unnecessary work and worry which were all the result of inexperience. A very charming girl (Tonina Dorati, daughter of the great Antal Dorati) did the designs for all that season’s operas and although her charm was undeniable, alas, so was her inexperience. The first batch of designs came from London and they were for the first opera to be presented, which was Lucia di Lammermoor. The heads of departments were all called up to the Director’s office and were shown the sketches. As inevitably happens with such drawings, they had not been done to scale. This in itself was a frightful mistake and caused no end of complications.

    The sketches showed sets of such gigantic dimensions that I remarked, somewhat sardonically I’m afraid, ‘If the curtain goes up at eight o’clock, the house will come out at two am.’ This sally received only a disdainful look. The design for the ‘mad scene’ was of such huge proportions that it swept from Opposite Prompt (OP) to Prompt Side (PS) and nearly touched the stage’s back wall. Everybody who knew the theatre (Her Majesty’s) and stage agreed that the set-up was completely and utterly impossible. However, some semblance had to be kept to the original in any of the alterations which we made.

    The only yardstick for measurement was the recognized height of a step, which was about six or seven inches. Then, by counting the number of steps at these increases, it was possible to arrive at the height of the rostrum where the steps finished. From memory, I think I made this height to be seventeen feet—utterly impossible at the distance at which the back of the set was placed. Only the first rows of stall seats would see any action up there. All these sketches had been passed by the powers that be, so we had to get out of it as tactfully and safely as was possible. It was quite out of the question to use the drawings for construction and after a bit of anxious consultation, we eventually agreed on a ten-foot-high platform. This set, along with the others, was then constructed.

    At one rehearsal, the Prima Donna made her entrance onto the platform from the OP side (left from the audience’s point of view). She was singing in full voice—the Mad Scene—and Joan Sutherland was at her truly magnificent best. The cast was standing gaping in amazed admiration. At the balcony, before descending the steps, Sutherland bent her knees and made the long descent in the same attitude. Arriving at the bottom, she waved her hand and asked ‘Can you see me at the back of the stalls?’

    Each scene was rehearsed for setting and striking. Then the day arrived for a full rehearsal of all scenes and with the entire company. After cutting down the wall surrounding the platform of the first scene three times, both it and the platform were scrapped. The platform in the second scene was also thrown out—there simply was not time to set and strike it. Following that, one whole scene was thrown onto the scrap heap. Two thousand pounds worth of work and material careered merrily down the drain.

    There was the incident concerning a designer, with an extremely lofty and quite unjustified idea of his own importance, being especially imported from England to do an opera. He came with his sketches prepared and announced importantly to the quite mystified carpenters that his style was ‘free’! In spite of this blithe explanation, they continued to regard his drawings of bent columns and falling-over walls—doubtfully. He would come up to the paint room, pick up his sketch and insist that every brush stroke and variation of colour be faithfully copied. Incidentally, while he was in the paint room one night, putting some artistic touches to a cloak which needed to look old and rain-sodden, he had practically flooded the floor. I’m afraid I told him a few home truths.

    It was inevitable that a man of his tyrannical type would wait his opportunity to catch me out. One day he decided that the time was right for getting his own back. Joyfully, he picked out a blob in the corner of a design, saying triumphantly, ‘This very nice piece of variation has been left out. Why?’ His triumph was short-lived. I explained to him very happily that that particular piece of decoration was simply a smear of colour we had put on ourselves when matching the hue. One hoped that his ego was at least a little dinted.

    Wildflower Acts 1 3 1Wildflower (1924),Acts 1 & 3 set. JCW Scene Books, Book 07-0016, Theatre Heritage Australia.

    We were taught never to try and get self-publicity by the design of our sets. If the sets are meant to produce atmosphere, they should take their place, do their job perfectly, and be forgotten. If they are so blatant that the audience is attracted to them, they are not serving their purpose. But sometimes the show opens with an empty scene, and it is then the scenic artist may let himself go, and maybe receive a round of applause. The opening scene of Wildflower(1924) with Marie Burke reproduced a village square at the foot of a range of mountains. As the lamplighter makes his rounds, putting out the lamps, the sun is rising. The effect achieved by Mr. Coleman was really spectacular. As the sun rose it hit the top of a mountain, then slowly illuminated the whole side of it, the lighting slowly fading in on the scene at the same time until the sun was fully up and the scene fully lit. Of course, in those days the scenic artist lit his scenery—today there are lighting experts who use, I think, dozens of spots in a less effective way than that of the old floods and light battens. Also, there is too much building of architraves, cornice moulds, etc. There are very few designers who have had paint room experience and served a theatre apprenticeship. The audience is of course aware that the background is only painted canvas on a wooden frame and accept it as such. This supposes always that the painting of the scenery is up to a standard. In my experience, not one person in a thousand cares two hoots about art in the theatre—they want entertainment, good acting and good music. (Editor’s note: I hate to think this is still true to this day!)

    One of the best sets I ever painted was the result of a disagreement between a team consisting of a husband and wife. The husband, John McCallum, was the producer, and he talked to me about the set for the show, its locale Scotland. It was decided that the timber interior should be painted a honey colour to represent Scotch Fir. This was done, and a lot of careful, very nice work went into the painting. When the scenery was set up on stage, the following dialogue took place:

    Googie Withers: It should be grey.

    John McCallum: But it’s a Scotch interior of pine wood.

    GW: (Very decidedly) It should be grey.

    JMcC: But it’s such a lovely set.

    GW: (More decidedly) It should be grey.

    JMcC: (Resignedly) Okay. But it will have to be repainted.

    So it was repainted although there was scarcely any time to have it back on the frame, as it was wanted for rehearsal. So, I had it laid out flat on the trestles, one piece at a time. We mixed a bucket of grey glazed colour and hurriedly slopped it over the flats. Before they were dry, they were taken off the trestles and stood up. The colour settled in puddles in some places, then it ran off here and there, occasionally missing some areas. By accident and without design, the set was wonderful. If we had spent weeks on the painting, the result would never have been half so effective.  Such lucky accidents do sometimes happen.

    Perhaps the most outstanding, and the best of all the producers, was Oscar Asche (1871-1936). As well as being a superb actor and producer, he was a master of lighting. He disliked giving what he considered to be ‘unnecessary explanations’. For example, he would say to an electrician, ‘Put a row of lamps up here on the fly rails, and don’t ask me if I need any on the other side. The sun only shines one way.’

    He was a big man in every way. His completely authentic thoroughness in production was evidenced at its best in The Skin Game (1925). In this play the script called for him to be drowned in a canal. The dour North Country man was drowned, and he stayed drowned—he never took a curtain call at the end of the show. This piece of realism added considerably to the play’s impact on the audience. He produced Chu Chin Chow (early 1920s) magnificently. Then there was Cairo (1922) and Julius Caesar (also 1920s) in which he was an unforgettable Marc Antony. Julius Caesar was presented in black drapery. I remember him coming up to the paint room to consult Mr. Coleman about the black velvet for the surround and he was shown three or four samples of velvet. Then he enquired, ‘Which is the most expensive?’ He was told and he said, ‘Well, that’s the one I want.’ He was indeed a perfectionist.

    nla.obj 148804720 1 2Gladys Moncrieff, centre, and full cast onstage in A Southern Maid, 1924. Photo by Talma, Melbourne. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

    When he produced Southern Maid (1923) starring Gladys Moncrieff the rehearsal was not up to his standard of perfection. It was a rehearsal of the orange-groves scene and had been painted by Coleman. Oscar Asche ordered all the cast into the stalls and when he had them all there, he pronounced, ‘Take a look at that scene. Now, go back and act up to it.’ He never asked—he ordered. He was even known to use his not-inconsiderable weight to emphasize his meaning. He stood no nonsense from anyone.

    Another producer who was a character in his own right was George A. Highland (1870-1954). He was another man who really knew his job, and how to get the best out of everyone. He himself was an arrant exhibitionist and invariably on a first night when he took his curtain call, he would partially undress and appear in a state of collapse. Though on one occasion his roughed-up appearance for his curtain call had been acquired the hard way. There was a platform which moved up and down the stage, pulled by a wire. In his haste to take his call, George forgot about the wire and tripped, falling headlong onto the stage. The boys rushed to pick him up and help him to take his call, but he was very shaken and had no need to simulate distress that night.

    The stage staff who see all the shows, watching with the closest attention a tremendous variety of performers and performances, get a real education in the theatre, and they are never at a loss for an answer. Their repartee is usually terse and very much to the point. They develop over the years a very particular sense of humour, typical of and peculiar to, the stage. With a sprinkling of profanity, their descriptions are usually both trenchant and apt—they pounce on the funny side of any development and are always quick to turn any situation into a joke.

    The Russian Osipov Balalaika Orchestra was rehearsing on stage for the first time (1937) and I stayed to listen for a few minutes. Going back to the paint room I was followed by one of the stage staff. He asked if I had heard the Russians playing, and was I there at the end of the number which happened to be the finale of the show...? I told him I had come away before the end. He grinned, then said that they had begun very softly, making only a faint sound and then worked up to a great crashing crescendo, only to stop abruptly. The conductor cut them off suddenly with a lightning fall of his baton. Then he turned around dramatically to the audience and roared ‘Ooos-a pop!’ A small voice from the back squeaked ‘I am.’ This bit of typical humour was apparently conceived on the spot.

    An imported producer was rehearsing a show which contained a children’s ballet within its production. The kids had jacked up for some reason only known to themselves and were making no progress whatever. They seemed too dumb-struck and listless to try and get anything right. The producer made them go over and over the same thing with no appreciable results and, driven desperate by their non-co-operation, he made them an offer of two shillings each if they only got somewhere near the effect he wanted. He said, ‘Now let’s try it again.’ This time it was nearly perfect. The producer was heard to mutter, ‘I’ve come 12,000 miles to be taken in by a lot of bloody Australian kids...’

    One very satisfactory painting job (in films) was the reproduction of an all-black marble hotel foyer—the St. Francis—in, I think, Los Angeles. On a sheet of glass, with various tones, from black to white, of plaster, we turned out slabs of very creditable and credible imitation marble. Pouring on the black, cracking the glass, we then poured on the grey and white mixtures. Viewing the job by a mirror under the sheet of glass, we were able to control the effect. The large round columns were more difficult, but we made them on a form quite successfully. Whilst on technique, practically anything from brick walls to palm trees can be replicated using plaster moulds, made from casts of the job.

    As an example of the futility of building features of interiors I give the opening scene of Lady of the Rose (1925) as a classic. This set was completely fabricated by Wunderlich in pressed metal. All the columns’ bases and caps, cornices, friezes and architraves were in this pressed metal and it was an utter failure as the lighting flattened it all. Mr. Coleman gave me the job of climbing all over the set, painting in the darks and the highlights, on this reproduction of the entrance to the Royal Academy in London’s Burlington Arcade. This meant I had to paint between the acanthus leaves and volutes of the capitals, the ornamentation of the friezes and the flutes of the columns. Then I had to add the highlights for the lot—it involved my going up and down a ladder all day long, until the work was finished. This building of separate parts in set construction never works out successfully, because always, and I emphasize always, it becomes necessary to paint in the darks and lights afterwards. If this is not done, it all appears to be completely flat. Painted moulding is unquestionably the best way for stage presentation.

    From my workroom I had a clear view of the hiring department, when I once spied someone handling a lion’s head—which brings me in on cue. One of the important people I had with me in the Production Studio was a man called Max Krumbach. He was the modeller and plaster expert, and a complete master of his job. He could extricate a plaster mould from a cast, nearly as thin as cardboard. His father was a sculptor mason, and Max related to me the following story. Incidentally, I later had the opportunity to verify every word he uttered. His father and another man were the sculptors who modelled the lion’s heads which adorn the base corners on each side of the Sydney Town Hall. The foreman builder on the job was an irascible old Scot and when he was making his rounds it was his habit to contort his face into a leering mask of disapproval as he observed the progress. 

    Eventually the building was completed and ready for the opening ceremony. The last job was of course the cleaning up. At the end of the building, against the last corner, had been stacked a huge heap of timber. This was the last thing to be removed and when the workmen pulling the leaning boards away, there was the lion’s head. No-one seeing it could doubt that it was a clever caricature—there was the characteristic leer and grimace of the old Scot, carved into the lion’s visage.

    The same Max Krumbach had modelled a huge whale for one of the floats in Sydney’s Sesquicentenary Celebrations. He had finished the wire netting and the plaster-work on the whale, and it was ready for painting. The man whom I deputized to paint the job was a rather bumptious type who had managed to get under Krumbach’s skin. Every time this chap attempted to commence painting, a stentorian voice would boom out ‘Keep off that bloody whale!’ In the interests of peace and progress, I had to replace this painter with someone more acceptable to Krumbach, the master.

    To be continued


  • 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