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In the mountain range high above Lake Inle lies the ancient town of Indien.  From a distance, these stupas appear, making it seem you are approaching a magical ‘Shangri-la’ kingdom. This was indeed once a major Burmese city, on the scale of an equivalent to Angkor Wat – and just as old. It’s a bit of a trek but thoroughly worth it.

Tony Knight

TONY’S TOURS: The Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia


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The Fleurieu Peninsular extends to the immediate south-east of Adelaide. It was named in honour of Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu who was French explorer, by Nicholas Baudin when he was exploring the region in 1802. The name ‘Claret’ seems rather prophetic as this region that encompassed ‘The McClaren Vale’, one of the top wine regions in Australia. This is a short photographic record of a recent trip down to the Fleurieu Peninsula, particularly to the spectacular and rugged coastline, and the magnificent pristine beaches.



P1080403Goolwa – Paddle-Steamer and Hindmarsh Bridge

First ‘port of call’ was GOOLWA, at the mouth of the Murray River. Goolwa was once considered as the capital of South Australia due to it being a major port. This included the old paddle-steamers that travelled up and down the Murray River. It was also once known as ‘theNew Orleans of South Australia’, which conjures up all kinds of hedonistic possibilities. Now, however, Goolwa is a relatively quiet country town, a popular place for tourists to visit and perhaps catch a glimpse of the by-gone time.


IMG_3609Encounter Bay – South Australia

From GOOLWA we drove west to PORT ELIOT and to the headland, granting a spectacular view of the coastline, including Victor Harbour and Encounter Bay. In the late-nineteenth century, the connection between Goolwa, Port Eliot and Victor Harbour was quite significant. There are remnants of this by-gone ear, old sandstone houses and hotels, and even an old steam train that still runs between the three towns. The rest is very much tourists and retirees townhouses, that are not particularly attractive. The best part is the beaches and coastal walks.



The headland is the remains of an old glacier, thousands of years old, which accounts for the unique rock formation.

P1080425.JPGP1080426.JPGP1080428.JPGP1080430.JPGP1080431.JPGKings Beach

P1080433.JPGGranite Island – Encounter Bay

Just beyond Victor Harbour, at the western promontory, there is this wonderful coastal walk. The coastline is rugged with some startling, almost pre-historic rock shapes, and there are tales of shipwrecks and drownings that are marked along the path. It kept reminding us of parts of Cornwall in the UK, with one lonely sandstone house set amongst the hillside that runs down the coast.


P1080435.JPGP1080437Deep Creek – Walk

We drove further west along the coast and started the walk to Deep Creek Beach, which marks the beginning of the ‘Heysen Trail’ that goes all the way to Cape Jervis. We only did part of this walk, which as you can see was rather steep, uphill and downhill. Nonetheless, the view was fantastic – and as you gazed south all you could think was ‘next stop Antartica’.


MALSIN BEACH in the Gulf St. Vincent was recently named amongst the ‘Top 10’ beaches in Australia. It easy to see why as it is quite unique with its impressive cliff face. We arrived at sunset and walked along the beach to the ‘Unclad’ section. Maslin Beach was the first official ‘nudist’ beach in Australia – we did not venture into that

P1080441.JPGP1080440.JPGMaslin Beach

P1080442.JPGMaslin Beach – Wedding

P1080445.JPGP1080443.JPGP1080447.JPGP1080450.JPGMaslin Beach – ‘Unclad’

P1080454.JPGOnkaparinga River –  Maslin Beach

P1080455.JPGMaslin Beach


We started the next part of our journey through the Fleurieu Peninsula by visiting PORT WILLUNGA. This was another old sea-port that serviced Adelaide and the Fleurieu Peninsula. The only remnants left of that ear are the weathered posts of the old jetty and the man-made caves in the cliff-face. There is also the ship-wreck 200m of the coast of the ‘Star of Greece, which went down in 1888.



P1080465.JPGP1080466.JPGP1080461.JPGP1080468.JPGP1080470.JPGPort Willunga

From Port Willunga, we drove inland to the PRIMO ESTATE VINEYARD.

Primo Estate

And then to PORT NOARLUNGA, which is a beach suburb of the City of Onkaparinga; very popular with families and tourists. We bought a couple of delicious hamburgers from a local (Thai) restaurant and devoured them on the beach.


P1080474P1080475.JPGP1080478.JPGP1080480.JPGP1080479.JPGPort Noarlunga

Like anywhere in Australia there are always fantastic and fantastical ‘street art’, which includes advertisements, murals, and shop window displays.

We returned to Adelaide and went to the South Australian Art Gallery, then walked through the Botanic Gardens before returning to the Rose Park apartment for another beautiful sunset.


Biennale – Art Gallery of South Australia

P1080490.JPGAdelaide Botanic Gardens

P1080494.JPGRose Park – Adelaide


‘COLOURS OF IMPRESSIONISM’: From the Musee D’Orsay at the Art Gallery of South Australia; with an ‘Epilogue’ on Australian Impressionism.


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Jean Renior

Currently, in Adelaide at the Art Gallery of South Australia, there is a truly wonderful and enlightening exhibition – Colours of Impressionism – that has some excellent works from Musee D’Orsay in Paris. What follows is a brief overview of the exhibition.


The first colour that is focused on is black. Following traditional methods, black was used for shadows, to highlight landscapes and portraits. Black hues were used by the romantic artists to darken their predominantly historical paintings. Significantly, ‘black’ was also the dominant colour of men’s clothes in the mid-nineteenth century, hence its relatively constant presence in realistic portraiture of the time, and was regarded as very ‘modern’.

P1080248Clair de lune sur le port de Boulogne (1869) – Edouard Manet

It was Edouard Manet (1832-1883) who exemplifies the beginning of a new approach by the ‘impressionists’ in the use of the colour black. To quote from the exhibition pamphlet – ‘Manet applied thick black paint to create stark shapes with greatly simplified contrasts. Black played a key part in the balance of his compositions, a departure from its standard use in creating shadows and darkening other tones’.

There are other works in this first section of the exhibition. Two works that captured my attention that also exemplify this new use of the colour ‘black’ are by Alfred Stevens (1823-1906) and James Tissot (1836-1902). 

P1080246Le Bain (1873-74) – Alfred Stevens

What is remarkable about Alfred Stevens’ Le Bain (The Bath) is the juxtapositions of ‘white’ and ‘black’ objects. The actual bath, which was traditionally done in ‘white’, is in various dark shades and hues. In contrast, the eye is drawn to the ‘white’ objects, such as pale flesh of the female bather, the book and linen next to the bath, the flowers, and the soap dish on the wall. Intriguingly, there seems to be a black ‘fob watch’ in the soap dish, which suggests that there is a time limit for this bath.

The-BallI am big fan of James Tissot’s work. He is primarily known for his painting of ‘high society’ that are generally quite crisp and vibrant in detail. Subsequently, it was great to see La reveuse (The Dreamer), which is a rather dark intimate painting of a woman reclining in a chair. According to the accompanying descriptor, Tissot was also inspired by Japanese art at the time in regards to linear portraiture.

P1080247La reveuse (1876) – James Tissot


The second section of the exhibition deals with the colour white. This is exemplified by respective paintings of snow by Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-1878), Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) and Claude Monet (1840-1926). There are others, including a most unusual Paul Gauguin, nonetheless, it was the following that captured my attention and imagination.

P1080245La neige / Snow (1873) – Charles-Francois Daubigny

Following new contemporary theories in regard to colour, shades of blue were used for shadows and highlights. Furthermore, inspiration came from Japanese artists, such as Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Monet, in particular, was inspired by these Japanese artists, and kept a large personal collection of Japanese art.

P1080244Vue de toits (effet de neige) / Rooftops in the snow (snow effect) – Gustave Caillebotte

P1080242La neige a Louvreciennes / Snow at Louvreciennes (1878) – Alfred Sisley

DSC00811There are a number of Alfred Sisley’s ‘snow’ paintings but this one stood out for me, partly because of my own fascination with ‘pathways’ and ‘perspective’.

However, the most impressive painting for me is this section was Claude Monet’s magnificent La pie (The magpie). This relatively large painting not only exemplifies the use of white and blue, but also the vulnerability of life in winter, represented by the sole magpie perched on the rickety gate.

P1080241La pie / The  magpie (1868-69) – Claude Monet


The third section of the exhibition is devoted to the matter of la peinture claire (‘painting light’). This involved the impressionists use of luminous colours, ‘subtle contrasts of tone and rapid broken brushstrokes to capture the ephemeral effects of light’. This complemented another developing characteristic of ‘Impressionism’ known as en plein air, which essentially meant painting in the open air.

La peinture claire and en plein air were partly due to a reaction against the conventional and academic approach to historical painting favoured by the official ‘Salon’ of contemporary Paris. The ‘Impressionists’ were also called the ‘Independents’ because of their reactionary position. The term ‘impressionism’ came from the art critic, Louis Leroy, who used this word to describe the work of Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renior and Alfred Sisley, who were the artists represented in the first Impressionist group exhibition in Paris in 1874.

There are numerous examples of la peinture claire and en plein air in this exhibition, particularly by Pissarro. However, it was the ones by Alfred Sisley that mainly attracted my attention. This included La Barque pendant l’inondation, Port-Marly (Boat in the flood at Port-Marly). Sisley lived in Port-Marly from 1874-1880. In 1876 the region was subject to severe floods and Sisley did a series of paintings, of which this is one.


P1080239La Barque pendant l’inondation, Port-Marly / Boat in the flood at Port-Marly (1876) – Alfred Sisley

What is remarkable about this painting is not only it perfectly exemplifying la peinture claire but also adds a dramatic element to un plein air. Even here there is the unexpected subversion of conventional ‘historical’ painting, based on real events. The two figures, as well as the whole canvas, seem rather calm and tranquil in contrast to the natural disaster of the flood.

There is also another – a ‘triptych’ that has paintings by Sisley, Pissarro and Monet, all depicting different aspects of a ‘lie-de-France’ – Sisley’s Saint-Denis Island (1872), Pissarro’s Entrance to the village of Voisons (1872), and Monet’s Pleasure Boats (1872-73).


These three paintings were donated to the Musee de Louvre in 1923 by Ernest May and remain exactly as they were when they belonged to him. As the catalogue states, ‘Each in a similar gilded frame, they maintain their long-standing dialogue’. Whilst Pissarro’s painting centres the triptych it remains within his general preoccupation with earthy rural settings. Sisley’s and Monet’s offer a chance to discern their respective differences in depicting reflections in water. As the catalogue states, ‘in Monet’s treatment of water, the areas of flat colour impart a vigour absent in Sisley, who preferred small, juxtaposed touches to express the shimmering river.’


The fourth section of the exhibition is about the Impressionists use of green and blue. Monet’s advice to a young American painter, Lily Cabot Perry, encapsulates the use of these colours and more: ‘When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you…Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint them just as you see them…until your own artless impression of the scene appears before you’.

Most of the paintings in this section are un plein air. There is one Monet, however, that is of an interior – Un coin d’appartment (A corner of the apartment), which contains a young boy in blue who is framed in different shades of green shubbery. It is a rather unsettling painting as the young boy seems like a ghostly presence in this corner of the apartment.

P1080249Un coin d’appartment / A corner of the apartment (1875) – Claude Monet

Another extraordinary Monet painting is Le bassin aux nympheas, harmonie rose (Water lily pond, pink harmony). This comes from a much later period in Monet’s life, around 1900, and is one of two studies; the other being Water lily pond, green harmony. As stated in the catalogue, these paintings ‘anticipate the long sequence of pictures that Monet painted of the pond that was built in Giverny in 1893’. Nonetheless, the ‘pink harmony’ painting also exemplifies the respective use of la peinture clair, the use of green, blue and pink, and the influence of en plein air.

IMG_3574Le bassin aux nympheas, harmonie / Water lily pond, pink harmony (1900) – Claude Monet


The fifth section of the exhibition is devoted to the ‘Neo-Impressionists’. This is exemplified by works by Georges Seurat (1859-1891)Paul Signac (1863-1935) and Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944). These artists featured in the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition in 1886.

The critic Felix Feneon identified Neo-Impressionism as ‘a modern synthesis of methods based on science’. Rather than mixing on the palette, the Neo-Impressionists divided primary colours based on the principles of contrasting colours advocated by Michel-Eugene Chevreul and James Clerk Maxwell, as well as Ogden Nicholas Rood’s influential 1879 ‘colour circle’. As the exhibition’s pamphlet states, the Neo-Impressionists ‘methodically juxtaposed small brushstrokes of complementary unmixed hues, these responding to and invigorating each other’. This was called Divisionism, that included the sub-genre of Pointillism, ‘which refers to the technique of applying tiny dots of paint rather than adopting the principle of colour division to create more vivid and accurate tones’.

IMG_3569One of the most famous examples of Pointillism is Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86). This exhibition contains a couple of ‘studies’ that Seurat made in preparation for the final painting.

Whilst there are a number of other Neo-Impressionist work in this section, there are three by Paul Signac that I found particularly impressive – Les andelys (The Riverbank), La bouee rogue (The Red Buoy) and Les chateau des papes (Palace of the Popes); and L’entree du port de Roscoff (Entrance to the port of Roscoff) by the lesser known Theo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926).

IMG_3568Les andelys / The riverbank (1886) – Paul Signac

IMG_3565La bouee rouge / The red buoy (1895) – Paul Signac

IMG_3567Le chateau des papes / Palace of the Popes (1909) – Paul Signac

IMG_3571.jpgL’entree du port de Roscoff / Entrance to the port of Roscoff (1889) – Theo van Rysselberghe


The final section of the exhibition involves how the colours of the Impressionists softened in the late-nineteenth century and early twentieth century. This exemplified by works from Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) and Auguste Renior (1841-1919). 

Sur un banc au bois de Boulogne / On a bench in the bois de Boulogne (1894) – Berthe Morisot; Gabrielle a la rose / Gabrielle with a rose (1911) – Auguste Renoir

As stated in the exhibition’s pamphlet, ‘The works us “fluid harmonies” of gentle tones, rather than complementary colours, to create subtle effects such as the morning mists, the pink of dusk and the play of light at different times of day. Painting the fleeting light was now, however, less about recording direct observation than the expression of a mood evoking a sense of memory or melancholy’.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Monet’s series of paintings of Rouen Cathedral (1892-94).

P1080223La cathedrale de Rouen. Le portail et la tour Saint-Romain, plein soleil / Rouen Cathedral. The portal and Saint-Romain tower, full sunlight (1893) – Claude Monet

The exhibition concludes with a painting by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), representative of and anticipating ‘Cubism’ in the early twentieth century.

P1080224.jpgRochers pres des grottes au-dessus du Chateau Noir / Rocks near the caves above Chateau Noir (c.1904) – Paul Cezanne


The Art Gallery of South Australia contains some truly exceptional artworks. This includes some 19th Century paintings that exemplify the kind of ‘historical’ works favoured by the conservative academics at the Paris ‘Salon’ that the ‘Impressionists’ reacted against. This includes popular works such as The Feigned Death of Juliet (1856-58) by Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) and Zenobia’s last look at Palmyra (1888) by Herbert G. Schmaltz (1856-1935).

The Impressionist exhibition has a couple of paintings by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), citing his ‘experimental use of colour’ influence on the ‘Neo-Impressionists’. Australian ‘Impressionism’, which was like its European counterpart also primarily characterized landscape painting – un plein air – can trace its own unique influence with the early colonial artists, such as John Glover (1767-1849).

P1080316Baptism on the Ouse River by Rev. Henry Dowling (1838) – John Glover

One of the most impressive Australian paintings and one of the most popular in the Art Gallery of South Australia’s collection is Evening Shadows, Backwater of the Murray River. South Australia (1880) by H. J. Johnstone (1835-1907). This perhaps couldn’t be regarded as a work of Australian ‘Impressionism’, more like a precursor to twentieth-century ‘photo-realism’ (Jonstone was a professional photographer), nonetheless, its use of colour is very much sympatico with ‘Impressionism’, as well as coming from the same time.

P1080309Evening Shadows, Backwater of the Murray River. South Australia (1880) – H. J. Johnstone

The first major Australian ‘Impressionist’-like artist is perhaps Tom Roberts (1856-1931). Roberts, like his European Impressionist counterparts also firmly followed un plein air, as exemplified by his Winter’s Morning After the Rain, Gardiner’s Creek (1885).

P1080290Winter’s Morning After the Rain, Gardiner’s Creek (1885) – Tom Roberts

Other major Australian ‘Impressionists’ are Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), exemplified by his Cario Street Scene (c.1897), and Charles Conder (1868-1909) and his A Holiday at Mentone (1888), both in the Art Gallery of South Australia’s collection.

There are many others. Complementing the final section of the Musee D’Orsay’s exhibition – ‘Ideal Harmonies’ – and the more ‘fluid’ and softer use of colour and light in the early decades of the twentieth century, there is From the apartment window, Paris (1901) by Hans Heysen (1877-1968), Le Bar, Saint Jacques, Paris (1904) by American artist Ambrose Peterson, La Coiffure (1908) by Rupert Bunny (1864-1947), After the Bath (c. 1911) by E. Phillips Fox (1865-1915), and The Pheasant (c.1919) by English artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942).

Finally, to finish with one of my personal favourites is German-Australian Hans Heysen, who studio and home were in Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, which can be visited today. The Art Gallery of South Australia has a number of large paintings by Hans Heysen – one of which is Mystic Morn (1904), which is a superb example of ‘Australian Impressionism’, as well as a painting that exemplifies ‘ideal harmonies’.

P1080315Mystic Morn (1904) – Hans Heysen






JOURNEY THROUGH A WINDOW – The Re-Discovery of Worth


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Looking through a window, any window, is to gaze on a number of possibilities – some good, some bad. Stepping through that window, by choice or by force, means engagement – some good, some bad. Either way, it is a journey – from the scourging of a past life to a re-birth, a re-awakening, and a re-discovery of self-worth. This was my journey over the past several years, represented and exemplified by the following photographs.


Through a Window: Inneston, Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia


Everyone faces, at least at one point in their life, an experience that wipes away a past life. This can be quite painful and devastating, combined with feeling like one is going through a ritualistic cleansing – a scourging of fire and water.

2. RITUAL - FLAMING WATERS.jpgPrologue: The Scourging of Flaming Waters – Fountain, Brisbane, Queensland


After the scourging comes the re-birth and re-awakening. We greet the new day with a smile in the hope of better life.

4. ACT 1 - THE AWAKENING - SUNRISE.jpgRe-Awakening: Sunrise – Maslin Beach, South Australia

We look around our immediate environment and notice the ruination. Feelings of being confined and trapped complement a sense of isolation.

Re-Awakening: Isolation – Port Willunga, South Australia

We rise to face the day. Gazing into what seems vast as well as beautiful there is the juxtaposition of various figures and positions that reflect our current sense of self.

6. ACT 1 - MOON, SKY, SEA, ROCK.jpgRe-Awakening: Moon, Sky, Sea, Sand, Rock – Maslin Beach, South Australia


We need to accept what was and move forward to what may be. In order to do that we must seek solace; to calm, to nurture and re-nourish, to be inspired and to re-invent. This place of solace can be nature, a place of religious worship, and in art galleries. In all cases, it is a source of spiritual solace as well as slowly but steadily re-connecting with a living world.

7. ACT 2 - SOLACE - NATURE - DANCING TREES.jpgSolace: Nature – Dancing Trees – Murdoch Walk, Botanic Gardens, Adelaide, South Australia

8. ACT 2 - SOLACE - SPIRITUAL.jpgSolace: Spiritual – St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Adelaide, South Australia

9. ACT 2 - SOLACE - ART.jpgSolace: Art – National Museum of Australia, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory


In these places of solace, there is always the possibility of being inspired by something – such as a work of art. Emerging from these places, hopefully re-nourished, you are more open to the wonders and beauty that surrounds you on the street.

In Adelaide, there is wonderful ‘Street Art’, which is often breathtaking in beauty as well as scale. This includes the first work of ‘Public (Street) Art’ in Adelaide, which is a statue, a copy of Canova’s ‘Venus’. It was first unveiled in 1892, and caused a minor scandal due to its nudity and conservative tastes and morals of the time. It shows the goddess Venus stepping from a bath and being surprised; by what or by whom is up to the imagination of the gazer.

In the contemporary ‘Street Art’ of Adelaide there are numerous other re-imagings of a modern ‘Venus’, which can be found down laneways, and even in car parks, such as this one by Adelaide Street Artist Jimmy.C.

Inspiration: Canova’s ‘Venus’ – North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia; Jimmy.C’s ‘Venus’ – Rundle Street, Kent Town, Adelaide, South Australia


From the nurturing honeyed waters of solace and inspiration, the re-invention of self begins.

12. RE-BIRTH - HONEYED WATERS.JPGRe-Inventing: Honeyed Waters – Fountain, Martin Place, Sydney, New South Wales

Re-invention means re-engaging, and the realization that there really is, as Shakespeare’s says, ‘a world elsewhere’. There are multiple worlds, none of them perfect,  in which one can find inspiration, hope, and adventure. Looking out, not in, moving forward by accepting the past and the present for what it is…and the next journey begins.

14.  ACT 4 - ADVENTURE - TONY'S TOURS - MYANMAR. TEMPLES - INDIEN, LAKE INLE, MYANMAR.JPGRe-Inventing: Adventure – Temples, Indien, Lake Inle, Myanmar

15. ACT 4 - ADVENTURE - TONY'S TOUS - TEMPLES AND COW, BAGAN, MYANMAR.JPGRe-Inventing: Adventure – Cow & Temples, Bagan, Myanmar

16. ACT 4 - ADVENTURE - TONY'S TOUS - MYANMAR - FISHERMAN - LAKE INLE, MYANMAR.jpgRe-Inventing: Adventure – Fisherman, Lake Inle, Myanmar

17. ACT 4 - ADVENTURE - TONY'S TOURS - MYANMAR. TEMPLE ENTRANCE - BAGAN, MYANMAR.jpegRe-Inventing: Adventure – Temple Entrance, Bagan, Myanmar

EPILOGUE: The New Self

Photography was a major source of re-invention for me. After the devastation and sense of isolation and abandonment, I discovered a means to release a dormant creativity. I thank the various people involved in helping me to re-invent my fractured self in a way that I never knew could be possible.

18. EPILOGUE - PORTRIAT OF AN ARTIST - NOW.JPGThe New Self: Portrait – Sie and I

‘Never Stop Believing’ and continue ‘Making the Ordinary “Extraordinary”




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THE RISE OF THE AUSTRALIAN ACTOR: George Coppin (1819-1906)

images-2George Selth Coppin (1819-1906) has been called “the father of Australian theatre” (Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, 1939). Whilst this may be disputed, nonetheless, George Coppin was one of the prime movers in establishing a professional theatre in Australia in the mid-colonial period. In many ways, he could be called 19th Century Australia’s ‘greatest showman’. As Sally O’Neill states, ‘Undoubtedly his enterprise was irrepressible; the business of entertainment suited his talents but, more important, he had an ingrained love of the theatre. He acted to make money but he found a stage in many other spheres.’ (Australian Dictionary of Biography).

George Coppin was born 8 April 1819 in Steyning, Sussex, England. His father, George Selth Coppin, was the son of a clergyman who gave up his medical studies to become an actor, and subsequently was disowned by his family. Hence, George Coppin was born into a theatrical family and started performing (with his sister) from the age of six. From 1835 he was working in the English provinces and at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, where he established himself as ‘first low comedian’. It was also in Dublin he met Maria Watkins Burroughs, nine years his senior, and they lived together from 1842-1848, Maria accompanying Coppin on first adventures overseas.

In 1842 George and Maria decided to leave the UK, with a choice between the USA and Australia. On a toss of a coin, they decided on Australia and arrived in Sydney 10 March 1843. From this point and for the next fifty years Coppin’s fortunes were like a rollercoaster, going from ‘boom’ to ‘bust’ several times. He worked in Sydney, Hobart, Melbourne, and Adelaide, either as an actor-manager, or hotel owner. He created a number of theatres and hotels, including the Queen’s Theatre, Adelaide, and the Semaphore Hotel, which gave the Adelaide suburb its name. It was also in Adelaide, in 1848, that Maria died.

In 1851, after going ‘bust’ again, he left for the Victorian goldfields, and whilst he did not find gold, nonetheless, he earned a considerable amount performing for the gold diggers. In 1853 he returned to Adelaide, paid off his creditors, and returned to England. He worked successfully in London and the provinces, and it was whilst working in Birmingham he met Gustavus Brooke (1818-1866), one of the leading British tragedians of the time. He engaged Brooke for an Australian tour and had a pre-fabricated ‘Iron Theatre’, specially built for the tour. In a way, Coppin’s ‘Iron Theatre’ prefigured popular ‘pop-up’ theatres in the 21st Century.

This marks the beginning of ‘international’ actors touring Australia. Whilst there had been a number of English and American actors touring Australia, the Coppin-Brooke partnership truly marks the successful touring of Australia by internationally renowned actors. These included Gustavus Brooke, Joseph Jefferson, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean, and Maggie Moore and J. C. Williamson.

From 1858 Coppin also established a political career that lasted off-and-on until 1895. Time and space does not allow for any elaboration on Coppin’s political career, other than stating that it was relatively successful and he was a valued member of the respective Victorian parliaments and legislative committees on which he sat. It is, however, in his ‘off’ political years that Coppin furthered Australian theatre. This included acquiring the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, which unfortunately was burnt to the ground in 1872. As the Theatre Royal was uninsured Coppin went ‘bust’ again. Nonetheless, he formed a committee and rebuilt the Theatre Royal. It was in this period that he also performed in the USA where he met J.C. Williamson and Maggie Moore, and in 1881 engaged them to perform in Australia.

Suffering from gout from 1868, Coppin announced his retirement from the stage; an announcement he kept making for next twenty-odd years. He embarked on numerous ‘farewell’ tours in Australia and other British colonies but did not give up the theatre until the mid-1880s. His later years were mainly concerned with his political career, as well as developing the Victorian seaside suburb of Sorrento, where he lived with his family. In 1855 Coppin had married Harriet Hilsden, Gustavus Brooke’s widowed sister-in-law. Harriet died in 1859, and subsequently, Coppin married one of her daughters from her first marriage, Lucy Hilsden, in 1861. Coppin had three children from his first marriage, three daughters, and seven children from his second marriage, two sons and five daughters. Except for one daughter from his first marriage, Lucy and the other children survived him when Coppin died in 1906.

This brief sketch doesn’t really do justice to the incredible life of George Coppin. As an actor, he specialized in ‘low comedy’, but was also successful in ‘classical’ works, such as Sir Peter Teazle in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, Bob Acres in Sheridan’s The Rivals, Tony Lumpkin in Goldsmith’s She Stoops To Conquer. Launcelot Gobbo in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The contemporary Australian critic James Smith described Coppin’s talent and ability to successfully portray “the ponderous stolidity and impenetrable stupidity of certain types of humanity—the voice, the gait, the movements, the expression of the actor’s features, were all in perfect harmony with the mental and moral idiosyncrasies of the person he represented, so that the man himself stood before you a living reality”. This suggests that there was an acute sense of observation of real life, and a kind of early ‘naturalism’ in Coppin’s characters, albeit in essentially heightened comic roles. This is complemented by his theatre-manager-director insistence on ‘correct costuming’ for his characters and productions (Australian Dictionary of Biography).

As well as building theatres, including the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, establishing new download-7methods of advertising shows, and bringing international artists to Australia, Coppin also helped to establish copyright legislation for playwrights in Australia and was one of the first to advocate for a ‘school of acting to develop Australian acting’ (Australian Dictionary of Biography).

Coppin also advocated and brought camels to explore the interior Australia, some of the camels that Coppin imported were on the disastrous Burke and Wills expedition (1860-61). Whilst owner and manager of the Cremorne Gardens, Melbourne, he arranged for the first aerial balloon ascent over Melbourne and helped to introduce English thrushes and white swans to Australia. This is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the truly remarkable George Coppin.


THE RISE OF THE AUSTRALIAN ACTOR.1 – Eliza Winstanley (1818-1892)


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This series of post is about the identity of the Australian actor. It is partly based on recent public lectures I recently delivered at the National Portrait Gallery and the National Film & Sound Archive, Canberra.

Currently, many Australian actors enjoy considerable national and international acclaim and success; however, whilst generally unknown and unacknowledged this has always been the case, from the colonial period to present day. Former posts have been about The Genesis of the Australian Actor, focusing on the convict performance of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer in 1789, and how many features of that performance have their resonance in the modern world and instrumental in the formulation of the character and identity of the Australian actor. This series is focused on highlighting some of the most exceptional 19th and early 20th Century Australian actors who achieved national and international success and played a significant part in the forming of the Australian actor. Due to time and space, this is highly selective and only gives a hint at the diverse and extraordinary range of Australian actors and their respective careers.

Shakespeare wrote that actors enact the abstract and brief chronicles of the times (Hamlet). Whilst this is true it also relates to other crucial aspects about actors and acting. Relatively, no actor is remembered beyond his and her own times, unless they achieve an iconic status that reaches beyond a particular career. This series is partly designed to draw attention to the great but now largely forgotten Australian actors of the past. Why should we care? T. S. Eliot was once challenged by a young student with this question – Why should we study people from the past when we know so much more than they did? ‘Exactly,’ replied Eliot,’ and they are what we know.’


Acting is a highly emotional art form, attracting and triggering strong responses. We often talk about actors in highly emotional terms – “I love that actor” – “I hate that actor” etc. Whilst there may be a number of reasons for responses, one is that a particular actor triggers and sparks an individuals imagination and others do not. This involves the appeal (or not) of a particular on-stage (or on-screen) persona, their unique artistic identity. This can be defined by examining three particular areas:


TALENT – is what the actor is blessed with. It can be very difficult to define, as Constantine Stanislavsky stated, but we know it when we see it. Generalizing, an actor may have a great talent for comedy, or drama, and if particularly talented can do both. The most versatile actor is what in Musical Theatre terms is called the triple threat. This is the actor who can Sing, Dance and Act – such as Hugh Jackman. What is remarkable about the Australian actor is that many of them, past and current, enjoy this particular talent.

TECHNIQUE – is associated with skills. Just as there are many different types of actors, so too are there numerous techniques that assist the actor to unlock creativity when inspiration fails. In the US the so-called ‘method’ and its derivatives are naturalistically based and is something in which the American actor excels. All the contemporary Australian actors who have found success in the US and UK essentially have a technique and skills that complement this.

TEMPERAMENT – this is associated with particular stories and characters in which the particular actor is interested and excels, and in which complements their unique talent and technique. Subsequently, it is closely associated with a public persona – on-stage and off-stage – and is what we generally come to expect from a particular actor. This may be ‘personality’ based, in that it is essentially just one persona, or is ‘transformational’ and has radical variations. In US terms, is the actor a ‘movie star’ or an ‘actor’? They can also be both – such as Nicole Kidman. The question is – does the actor remain within a particular genre or ‘personality’, or does the actor work in numerous genres, aiming for ‘transformation’ – like Nicole Kidman.

As previously stated time and Space does not permit for me to go into great detail about the great Australian acting pioneers. There are, however, a number that I wish to highlight,  who in many ways encapsulate and represent the evolution of the Australian actor throughout the 19th Century and early 20th Century. These are – Eliza Winstanley, George Coppin, J. C. Williamson, Maggie Moore, Nellie Stewart and Oscar Ashe. All these actors were triple threats (and more), and all enjoyed national and international acclaim and success.


Eliza Winstanley has the distinction of being the first Australian actor to achieve international success. She was the first Australian actress to appear and have a successful career in the UK and USA.

Eliza Winstanley was born in England in 1818 and emigrated with her family to Australia in 1833. Her father, William Winstanley, was a scene painter and decorator at Barnett Levey’s Theatre Royal, the first successful professional theatre in Sydney, and it was here that she made her professional debut in 1834. She married the actor-musician-writer Henry Charles O’Flaherty in 1841 and henceforward acted under her married name – Mrs. Eliza O’Flaherty. With her husband, she also worked as a theatre manager, primarily at the Olympic Theatre in Sydney. Along with another female Australian theatre pioneer, Anne Clarke (c. 1806-1847), Eliza Winstanley brought a new level of respectability and social acceptance of actors into the growing cities of Sydney, Melbourne, and Hobart.

Despite beginning in the operatic and musical theatre it soon became apparent that her particular talent and skills lay in the world of classical theatre and popular melodrama.The melodramas were of the blood-soaked horror kind, such as Madeline the Maniac, the title suggestive of the extreme emotional characters in which she excelled. She was the first to appear on the Australian stage as Shakespeare’s Desdemona in Othello, Rosalind in As You Like It, and Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor, as well as scoring considerable success as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. 

Hal Porter in his Stars of Australian Stage and Screen (1965) cites critical responses to ‘this tall, dark-eyed, lively, comely, and intelligent girl. With her “agreeable form”, “rich voice”, “graceful deportment”, and countenance susceptible to strong expression”, she quickly became Sydney’s favourite actress.’ She also attracted negative responses – ‘Miss Winstanley is too affected and making improper use of the letter “h” ‘, and “if she had not displayed such a wish to be in heroics she would have succeeded better’.

Eliza Winstanley’s bold theatrical and personal temperament is suggested by two incidents. In 1840, whilst she and her sister Anne were walking home after performing they were accosted by a group of young men who wore ‘cabbage tree hats’ as a symbol that they were ‘native’ born. The Winstanley girls were regarded as English and not ‘native’ born, and subsequently were seen as inferior. Previously they had been heckled numerous times with profanities whilst performing on-stage. This night a young teenager called Charles Davis threw his ‘cabbage tree hat’ at Anne Winstanley’s feet, which Eliza Winstanley then kicked out of the way. Davis then threatened to kick them cabbage-tree hat Powerhouse Museum Sydney‘for attempting to tread on the cabbage tree’. When this came before the authorities Davis changed his story, stating that he would have kicked them ‘if they were not women’. This incident was reported in the Sydney Monitor (1 January 1841) and was also dramatized for the Sydney stage by Henry Charles O’Flaherty, in a number of sketches – Thespis in Austalia: or The Stage in Danger – in which O’Flaherty appeared as ‘Knight of the Fiddle, and Champion of the fair Eliza’, stroking ‘the place where his beard should be’ and claiming that he received a black-eye in the incident. This was followed by a poem The Battle of the Cabbage Tree, which was a satiric parody of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. It is possible that these dramatic pieces were part of O’Flaherty’s wooing of Eliza Winstanley as they were married the following month on 6 February 1841. (Australian Plays for the Colonies 1834-1899. Ed. Richard Fotheringham. University of Queensland Press. 2006. 49-50).

Another example of her independent spirit and temperament is the minor scandal she caused in 1842 when she appeared as Richard III in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Whilst it was not uncommon for women to play male roles in the early Australian theatre, mainly out of necessity, nonetheless, for many contemporaries, this was far too audacious for the times.

In 1846 she and her husband went to England, and after appearing with a number of provincial theatre companies she made her successful London debut at the Princess Theatre, London. In 1848 she also successfully toured the USA. She was the first Australian actress to appear and achieve success in the London and New York theatre. Back in London in 1850 she played leading roles with Charles Kean’s company at the Princess Theatre, establishing herself as one of London’s most popular and successful actresses of the time.

This success was due not only to her particular talent, skill, and temperament but also to the changing theatre scene in London. After considerable pressure, the 1843 Theatre Act dissolved the previous 200 years old monopoly of Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and the Haymarket theatres, subsequently allowing for more than 20 new theatres in London. One of these was Charles Kean’s Princess Theatre. Furthermore, the young Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert loved Kean’s epic productions of Shakespeare so much that they had a permanent box at the Princess Theatre. As Hal Porter states, Kean’s productions were ‘tastefully opulent, archaeologically correct to the minutest detail, with hundreds of supernumeraries including horses and hounds, spectacular scenery, and hand-picked casts in which Eliza Winstanley shone’. (Porter. 25).

In 1848 Queen Victoria revived the staging of a Royal Command Performance at Windsor Castle by invited companies. For Eliza Winstanley this led to another ‘Australian first’. Eliza Winstanley was the first Australian actress to take part in a Royal Command Performance; playing for the benefit of the young Queen Victoria and the royal family the role of Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals. She subsequently appeared in many other Royal Command performances; as well as touring extensively throughout the UK and the rest of the world. As Hal Porter states, ‘Possessed of inexhaustible vitality, without which no actress in that age of body-breaking stage labour and grisly traveling facilities could survive, she toured widely: Melbourne, Hobart, Launceston – playing the Cape as she came out, and Canada as she returned – France, Germany, Italy, and even Russia. enacting the Shakespearian roles by which she had earned her fame.’ (Porter. 25).

In 1865, at the age of 47 years old, she retired from the stage and took up writing, successfully publishing over the next 15 years 33 novels, as well as her own autobiography Shifting Scenes in Theatrical Life (1864). Significantly, most of her novels were set in Australia, including For Her Natural Life: A Tale of 1830 (1876), which was her ‘proto-feminist’ re-working of Marcus Clarke’s popular convict novel For the Term of His Natural Life (1870-72). 

In 1880 Eliza Winstanely (O’Flaherty) she returned to Australia. After initially staying with her sister Anne in Geelong, she moved to Sydney, where she died of ‘diabetes and exhaustion’ in a house on Clarence Street December 2, 1882. She is buried in Waverly Cemetery, right next to Henry Lawson.

Eliza Winstanley [O’Flaherty] was quite an extraordinary actress, person, and pioneer. What is significant is not only her wide and diverse and internationally successful career but also what her artistic identity represents in regard to the character of the Australian actress. Independent, intelligent, strong, determined, expressive, bold, and, as Hal Porter stated, possessed of an inexhaustible vitality. Such characteristics could equally apply to many, and many of those are modern Australian actresses – but Eliza Winstanley was the first.




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On June 4, 1789, in the middle of a Sydney winter and less than 18 months since ‘First Settlement’, the first piece of ‘Western’ theatre was produced in the new colony – The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar. This first theatrical production in the new colony was mounted in honour of King George III’s birthday, performed by a group of unknown convicts, to an elite audience of about 60 people, including Governor Arthur Phillip, the Marine Corps officers and their wives, as well as the few ‘free settlers’, and was performed in a ramshackle convict hut. Other than this not much is known about this first theatrical production, nonetheless, there are a number of factors that remain as considerable influences on the character of the contemporary Australian actor. These include – the Play, the ‘Performing Space’, the ‘Event’, and the Actors. This series of posts will look at each of these factors and how they relate to modern Australian theatre, film, and television practice in forming the character of the Australian actor. This post concerns ‘The Actors’.

4. The Actors

We do not know the names of the convict actors who performed The Recruiting Officer. What we do know is that ‘some of the actors acquitted themselves with great spirit, and received the praise of the audience’ (Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, in New South Wales. London. 1793. 25). Furthermore, they had no higher aim than ‘humbly to excite a smile’ (David Collins. An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales. London. 1798). It may, however, be assumed that they were amongst the few who could read, and possibly write. It may also be reasonably assumed that they may have seen in England a production of The Recruiting Officer.

Subsequently, whilst speculation, they may have modeled their performances on the current style of the acting in the English theatre in the late-18th Century. This is exemplified by such actors as David Garrick (1717-1779), Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), John Phillip Kemble (1757-1823), and Dora Jordan (1761-1816). It is quite possible that the convict actors may have seen these popular actors, particularly Dora Jordan who was the leading comic actress of the time.

The acting style may have been illustrative and demonstrative, complementing the relatively ‘romantic’ and ‘sentimentality’ of contemporary popular tastes. However, in regards to these convict actors’ performance, any excessive gesturing may have been somewhat restrained due to the intimate ‘One-Room’ performance space of a small convict hut. One over-excited hand wave may have knocked over a candle and the whole place would have gone up in a blaze

What also can be assumed is that the convicts were an ensemble of ‘amateur’ actors.

In modern Australia ‘amateur theatre’ is the largest and most diverse of theatrical activity and engagement in the country. Furthermore, whether it be in a high school or university production or with a local amateur theatre company, this is where most Australian actors begin.


Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker (1987), and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s stage adaptation Our Country’s Good (1988) is about this convict production of The Recruiting Officer. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play has been successfully staged throughout the world, is still being produced, and is particularly popular with drama schools.

 In Keneally’s novel and Wertenbaker’s play, the convict actor Robert Sidaway (1758-1809) is a member of the cast for The Recruiting Officer. There is no proof that this was the case, nonetheless, despite speculation, it is quite possible as Robert Sidaway has the distinction of being amongst the first of recorded Australian actors.

Robert Sidaway was born in London in 1758. By 1782 he had been identified as a notorious thief, was convicted of ‘grand larceny’, and sentenced to death. This was commuted to transportation, and hence Sidaway found himself as part of the ‘First Fleet’ on the ship Friendship.

Sidaway was a ‘trickster’. During the voyage to Port Jackson, his name was recorded by Lt. Ralph Clark on two occasions and was put in ‘irons’ for ‘impertinence’. Whilst it is unknown whether or not he was a member of the convict cast of The Recruiting Officer, nonetheless, his name reappears in 1789, being involved with the hanging of Ann Davis, the first woman to be executed (for theft) in the new colony. In 1792 Sidaway received a conditional pardon and a full pardon in 1794, with a contract to be a baker for the resident troops.

In 1796 he opened a 120 seat theatre in Bell Row (now Bligh Street), Sydney, with the permission of Governor John Hunter. He put on Nicholas Rowe’s The Tragedy of Jane Shore, which was followed by other, including a revival of The Recruiting Officer. Unfortunately, Sidaway’s theatre was closed in 1800, being regarded as exerting a ‘corrupting influence’ on the fledgling town of Sydney.

During the brief period in which Sidaway’s theatre operated, he produced an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, which was the first of Shakespeare’s plays to be staged in Australia. Like other contemporary adaptions of Henry IV it is reasonable to assume that this adaptation focused primarily on the popular character of Falstaff.

David Malouf in his 1998 Boyer Lecture – A Spirit of Play: The Making of Australian Consciousness contends that Shakespeare’s Falstaff is the one that best encapsulates the nature of the Australian character. Similar to Sergeant Kite in The Recruiting Officer Falstaff is a clever, witty, and mercurial ‘trickster’. It is possible that these roles, and their perceived relative popularity, mark the beginning of the Australian ‘larrikin’ character. Furthermore, dramatic ‘trickster’ characters are notorious for their mercurial characteristic and qualities, being able to adapt and exist in multiple worlds, high and low. As will be later discussed in future posts, this mercurial, anti-authoritarian, ‘trickster’, ‘larrikin’ character will become a major feature of the Australian actor, nationally and internationally, as exemplified by such Australian actors as Snowy Baker, Errol Flynn, Mel Gibson, and Hugh Jackman.

This concludes this series on The Genesis of the Australian Actor. To re-cap – these are the elements regarding the convict production of The Recruiting Officer that still have an influence today:

  1. Modern satiric comedy that is relevant, particularly reveling in ‘trickster’ characters.
  2. The Event – that festivals complement the highest and most diverse theatrical activity in modern Australia.
  3. ‘One-Room’ Theatre – that intimate performing spaces are the most common throughout Australia, producing a cultural habit and expectation in regards to Australian acting that is intensely physically and emotionally immediate and intimate.
  4. Amateur Theatre – that the unknown convicts who performed in The Recruiting Officer in 1789 were amateur actors, and that amateur theatre is the largest and most diverse form of theatrical activity in modern Australia, and is where most professional Australian actors begin their respective careers. 

This may the ‘Genesis’ of the Australian actor – but there is so much more – which will be explored in future posts.




THE GENESIS OF THE AUSTRALIAN ACTOR – George Farquhar’s THE RECRUITING OFFICER – 3. The Performing Space – ‘One-Room’ Theatre


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On June 4, 1789, in the middle of a Sydney winter and less than 18 months since ‘First Settlement’, the first piece of ‘Western’ theatre was produced in the new colony – The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar. This first theatrical production in the new colony was mounted in honour of King George III’s birthday, performed by a group of unknown convicts, to an elite audience of about 60 people, including Governor Arthur Phillip, the Marine Corps officers and their wives, as well as the few ‘free settlers’, and was performed in a ramshackle convict hut. Other than this not much is known about this first theatrical production, nonetheless, there are a number of factors that remain as considerable influences on the character of the contemporary Australian actor. These include – the Play, the ‘Performing Space’, the ‘Event’, and the Actors. This series of posts will look at each of these factors and how they relate to modern Australian theatre, film, and television practice in forming the character of the Australian actor. This post concerns ‘The Performing Space’ and the influence of ‘One-Room’ Theatre.

3. The Performing Space – ‘One-Room’ Theatre

The anniversary of his majesty’s birthday was celebrated, as heretofore, at the government house, with loyal festivity. In the evening, the play of the Recruiting Officer was performed by a party of convicts, and honoured by the presence of his excellency, and the officers of the garrison. That every opportunity of escape from the dreariness and dejection of our situation should be eagerly embraced, will not be wondered at. The exhilarating effect of a splendid theatre is well known: and I am ashamed to confess, that the proper distribution of three or four yards of stained paper, and a dozen farthing candles stuck around the mud walls of a convict hut, failed not to diffuse general complacency on the countenance of the sixty persons, of various description, who were assembled to applaud the representation. Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, in New South Wales. London, 1793. 25.

Watkin Tench’s eye-witness account of this first theatre performance in the new colony is one of the very few that exists. What can be gleaned from Tench’s account, however, is of considerable significance. Previous posts in this series have highlighted the choice of the play, George Farquhar’s popular satiric comedy, The Recruiting Officer, and its immediate ‘modern’ relevance to the contemporary audience, and that it complemented an ‘event’. Both these issues are still relevant and influence the formulation of the Australian actor. Of even greater significance and influence, however, is that the play was performed in a convict hut, with mud walls, and ‘three or four yards of stained paper, and a dozen farthing candles. This is, in modern theatre parlance, intimate theatre – ‘One-Room’ theatre in which the demarcation between audience and actor is relatively minimal.

The above images are derived from a later period, nonetheless, they give the impression of what convict ‘slab-huts’ were like – they were not very big at all. It was in such a place, however, in which the convict production of The Recruiting Officer took place – intimate ‘One-Room’ theatre and performing space.

In the English theatre, it wasn’t until the mid-18th Century that the lights in the auditorium in a theatre were turned down, creating what is known as ‘Two-Room’ theatre, with a clear demarcation between auditorium and stage. This was a French theatre innovation that was taken by David Garrick and introduced to English theatre, partly in order to quieten the audience, to make them passive observers and focus on the action on-stage. By 1789, however,  this innovation was still relatively new.

Watkin Tench’s account references the rather improvised design of the production. It is easy to overlook the fact that the particular items cited – three or four yards of stained paper, and a dozen farthing candles – were actually precious and relatively rare commodities in the new colony. There was no printing press to churn out paper, nor was there an ready and easy supply of wax for candles. In relative terms to the dreariness and dejection of their situation, this was an expensive production; a marvel that it even went on at all.

The play was performed under candle-light, which was also common practice in the English theatre. This is a much softer light on actor’s faces, and subsequently often demands heavier and more defined make-up. In an intimate performing space, candle-light can also influence gesture and physical expression; any overt and reckless gesture could knock over a candle and the whole theatre could have gone up in a blaze of fire.

‘One-Room’ theatre demands and exerts a considerable influence on the physical nature of performance. There is a physical, and subsequently emotional, intimacy between actor and audience. Over the years, and centuries, this steadily become a ‘cultural habit’ – and is very much a part of contemporary theatre practice. Whilst the larger proscenium arch ‘Two-Room’ theatres play a major part, particularly for commercial theatre (i.e. musicals), most Australian actors begin their careers and acting experience in intimate ‘One-Room’ theatres. The very immediacy and physical presence inform the acting style and approach – and this began with the convict production of The Recruiting Officer. 

Throughout Australia in major cities and in regional communities, there is a plethora of intimate ‘One-Room’ performing spaces. These can be school halls or old buildings that have been converted into theatres. Examples include The Stables Theatre in Sydney, which originally was an old stable for horses, as well as The Bakehouse Theatre in Adelaide, which originally was an old bakehouse, and the Powerhouse Theatre in Brisbane, which was an old electrical powerhouse. There are many others – including the La Mama Theatre in Melbourne, the Hayes Theatre in Sydney, the Blue Room in Perth, and Whilst all the major subsidized state theatre companies have proscenium arched ‘Two-Room’ theatres, they also have smaller intimate ‘One-Room’ theatre performing spaces.

Subsequently, the ‘cultural habit’ and influence of ‘One-Room’ theatre is firmly entrenched. Audiences and actors are accustomed too, and very often prefer the physical and emotional intimacy of ‘One-Room’ performing spaces – and this ‘cultural habit’ and legacy began with the convict production of The Recruiting Officer.










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On June 4, 1789, in the middle of a Sydney winter and less than 18 months since ‘First Settlement’, the first piece of ‘Western’ theatre was produced in the new colony – The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar. This first theatrical production in the new colony was mounted in honour of King George III’s birthday, performed by a group of unknown convicts, to an elite audience of about 60 people, including Governor Arthur Phillip, the Marine Corps officers and their wives, as well as the few ‘free settlers’, and was performed in a ramshackle convict hut. Other than this not much is known about this first theatrical production, nonetheless, there are a number of factors that remain as considerable influences on the character of the contemporary Australian actor. These include – the Play, the ‘Performing Space’, the ‘Event’, and the Actors. This series of posts will look at each of these factors and how they relate to modern Australian theatre, film, and television practice in forming the character of the Australian actor. This post concerns ‘The Event’.


This production of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer was arranged and performed as part of an ‘event’ – in honour of King George III’s birthday. It is highly likely that Governor Arthur Phillip and the rest of the ‘First Fleeters’ had no idea that by this time King George III had succumbed to the first in a series of serious mental health battles, which quite possibly was the generic disease ‘porphyria’ that has plagued other members of the British royal family. Besides, the approximately 1,500 people who made up the ‘First Fleet’, convicts as well as officers, free settlers and their respective wives and servants, had their own concerns – mainly survival in a strange and hostile land.

220px-Watkin_tench.jpgLieutenant Watkin Tench (1753-1833) was a Marine officer with the ‘First Fleet’ and provided one of the few eye-witness accounts of this production of The Recruiting Officer. Tench wrote, That every opportunity of escape from the dreariness and dejection of our situation should be eagerly embraced will not be wondered at’ (Trench – A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson in New South Wales (1793). 25. Tench’s comment reflects the genuine concern and fragile position that faced the ‘First Fleeters’ in establishing the colony. There were only copies of two English plays that accompanied the First Fleet – George Farquhar’s popular satiric comedy The Recruiting Officer (1706) and the sentimental The Tragedy of Jane Shore (1714) by Poet Laureate Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718). Considering the difficulties, the ‘dreariness and dejection’ felt by Tench and one can assume by many others, Governor Arthur Phillip wisely chose Farquhar’s comedy to honour King George III’s birthday.

The complementary matching of theatrical performances with respective events is still very much a part of the annual modern Australian theatre scene. It is notable that the occasions in which there is the most heightened theatrical activity occur during the numerous festivals throughout Australia. This includes the Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Darwin Festivals – plus others – such as the Adelaide Fringe Festival, which is the second largest in the world.

Furthermore, a number of festivals are targeted towards specific audiences, similar in a way to the target audience of  The Recruiting Officer – the respective Marine officers and their wives. Examples include The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Festival, and the Oz-Asia Festival in Adelaide.

In conclusion, whilst a number of Australians are regular theatergoers, nonetheless, it would seem that Australian audiences really love ‘events’ with theatre attendance soaring during such ‘events’ like the annual festivals, combined with and complementing the vast range and diversity of productions that can be seen and experienced in these respective ‘events’ and festivals. Many of these productions are in ‘site-specific’ locations, such as the convict production of The Recruiting Officer, which is the subject of the next post in this series. Whilst it may be somewhat romantic (and theatre is a romantic world), the combination of heightened theatrical activity and events helps to produce a ‘spirit of play’ in the formulation of the character of the Australian actor.











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On June 4, 1789, in the middle of a Sydney winter and less than 18 months since ‘First Settlement’, the first piece of ‘Western’ theatre was produced in the new colony – The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar. This first theatrical production in the new colony was mounted in honour of King George III’s birthday, performed by a group of unknown convicts, to an elite audience of about 60 people, including Governor Arthur Phillip, the Marine Corps officers and their wives, as well as the few ‘free settlers’, and was performed in a ramshackle convict hut. Other than this not much is known about this first theatrical production, nonetheless, there are a number of factors that remain as considerable influences on the character of the contemporary Australian actor. These include – the Play, the ‘Performing Space’, the ‘Event’, and the Actors. This series of posts will look at each of these factors and how they relate to modern Australian theatre, film, and television practice in forming the character of the Australian actor. This post concerns ‘The Play’ itself.




George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer was a popular ‘Restoration’ comedy that had been first produced in London in 1706 and had remained in regular performance throughout the 18th Century. It concerns the social and sexual exploits of two officers, Captain Blume and Captain Brazen, in the rural country town of Shrewsbury, and the recruitment of soldiers from the local farming community with the ‘trickster’ Sergeant Kite to assist them.


One of the central tenets of ‘Western’ theatre is found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1601), that ‘the purpose of playing’ is ‘to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature’; that the theatre is a reflection of life and the human condition in all its myriad forms. More often than not this a reflection of immediate contemporary life – as was the case with this convict production of The Recruiting Officer.

What does the title – The Recruiting Officer – suggest? This is a play involving the military, and subsequently, it had an immediate contemporary relevance for its elite audience of Marine officers and their wives and the ‘free settlers’. Recruiting was something they would have all be very familiar with, particularly being often enforced by the notorious “press gangs’. Furthermore, as Humphrey Hall and Alfred J Cripps state in The Romance of the Sydney Stage (1996) it is more than likely that the convict actors were dressed in borrowed clothing from the officers and their wives. Somewhat ironically, the convict actors were dressed as their jailers.


In modern theatre parlance, this would have been a ‘modern dress’ production of a relatively old and ‘classic’ play. This issue, plus the immediate relevance and topicality of the play has remained a relatively common feature in Australian theatre, film, and television – we like our dramatic works to be ‘modern’. Whilst we certainly do ‘historical drama’, nonetheless, for the most part, Australian audiences like their plays/films to be of immediate contemporary relevance.

This is particularly evident in the numerous ‘modern’ dramas and especially in satiric Australian ‘comedy of manners’, exemplified by the plays by David Williamson (amongst others), of which Williamson’s Don’s Party (1971) remains the most popular. Other examples include Chris Lilley’s Summer Heights High (2007) and Nakkiah Lui’s Black is the New White (2017). Subsequently, Australian actors are not only distinctively ‘modern’, reflecting their times, but are also experienced and skilled in ironic and satiric comedy. The mischievous ‘trickster’ character of Sergeant Kite in The Recruiting Officer is arguably the first in a long line of ‘larrikin’ characters.



The next installment in this series on The Genesis of the Australian Actor will look at The Eventand how similar events and festivals are those which are the most heightened times of theatrical activity in Australia.