Dianne Reilly: Well good evening everyone. My name is Dianne Reilly and I’m the La Trobe Librarian here at the State Library. It’s my pleasure to welcome you this evening.
Our speaker tonight is dramaturge Sarah Cathcart who was awarded a Creative Fellowship at the State Library in 2006 to 2007. Sarah has a BA from the University of Melbourne, and a diploma of acting from the Victorian College of the Arts. She is committed to making theatre that celebrates and reflects upon the Australian identity. After a number of successful shows including The serpent’s fall, Walking on sticks and Tiger land, she returned to the Melbourne stage last year.
Her play The cargo: the true adventures of Mary Bryant was commissioned by the Malthouse Theatre as a solo play in which Sarah performed in February and March last year to very appreciative audiences. It had such wide appeal that the script went on to become the text for VCE drama. In this work she turned her attention to the early settlement of Australia when the First Fleet under the command of Governor Phillip made its almost catastrophic landing at Sydney Cove. Sarah made use of contemporary documents, especially of those of ship’s officer Watkin Tench, which vividly portrayed the hardships early Europeans faced with the first few years of settlement.
In this play Sarah narrates the story of the Cornish convict Mary Bryant, transported for robbery, who achieved fame through a remarkable feat of seamanship with her husband and two children and other convicts. She stole the governor’s cutter and escaped from the penal colony of Botany Bay, navigating the 5000 kilometres to Timor. It’s rather ironic that after surviving the travails of that journey, her children and husband died when they were captured by the British. Mary Bryant returned to imprisonment in England and after the great writer James Boswell took an interest in her case was eventually pardoned.
Sarah’s fellowship project, Boat 2, follows on from the success of Boat 1, and has the subtitle Australians at war on sea and on land. The drama is set in Melbourne during World War II in the munitions factory in Footscray and on a naval destroyed in the Pacific. A young man from Kew has been called up to join the navy, while on the other side of town, a young girl leaves school to make bombs and bullets in the local factory.
Sarah will tell us something tonight about the creative process in researching this play. Please join me in making her welcome.
Sarah Cathcart: So good afternoon everyone, thank you for coming to hear this talk. I’d also like to thank the State Library for giving me this fellowship so I could research Boat 2. I’ve had an amazing five and a half months delving into the research of my next play. So I’m in the process of writing a trilogy of plays that each have their image, their central image, of that of the boat. And as Dianne said my first play Cargo told the story of Mary Bryant who stole Governor Phillip’s cutter and escaped to Timor with her family and other convicts. And it was supposed to be one of the most amazing open boat journeys ever, on a par with Captain Bligh’s, and he actually arrived in Timor in Kupang, exactly one year before she arrived at the same port.
So now I’m researching Boat 2 and the seed of this play is, comes from my father who was in the navy in the Second World War and he never spoke about it. And I always wondered what that story was, the untold story. He could never cope with Anzac Day or whenever there was a war documentary on the television he would always walk out of the room and I knew, it was only many, many years later that I realised that he was carrying war wounds, mental war wounds. And I didn’t know this as a child. To me he was a silent father and a father that I couldn’t understand. So you know growing up through the 70s and 80s I didn’t want to know about Anzac Day or anything like that, just as I didn’t want to know about the first settlement or the First Fleet.
But in my later years I’ve returned to these stories, because I realise say with the First Fleet. I didn’t actually know my own story of white settlement because I’d ignored it for some reason, due to perhaps shame or not wanting to know how white people had dispossessed Aboriginal people of this land. So likewise I’ve returned to another untold… another story that I’ve been ignoring which is that of the war, the Second World War. So I began to think, well, what did my father go through? What was it like to be in battle? He was only 18 years old when he joined the navy. What was that like, what was his training like? What did he think and feel, the night before he went to war? What was it like to be on a ship? What was it like to be a gunner? He was a gunner on the ship, the Arunta. What was it like to be in a battle? What did he hear, what did he see, what did he feel? I didn’t know, because he’d never told me and so I, two years ago I began researching this play and began talking to men who had been in the navy. Drove around the different suburbs, looked then up through the RSL and those men told me stories up to a point, but there’s a lot they didn’t want to talk about which is understandable. So I began my research here and started to look for personal narratives. So I was still looking for that story that somehow was still not being told. And for five months I looked and looked and then in the last two weeks of being here I found a fantastic book called, The voices of war, edited by Michael Caulfield that is full, it’s actually a collection of the best stories told by men who’ve been at war have been put together in this book and it was amazing to read, because it’s really hard when I’m, when one’s doing interviews to find people who are good at telling stories. Like people may have had amazing experiences but not everyone is good at telling a story. And this is what was in this book, amazing storytellers who are willing to share their war experiences.
So the intention of Boat 2 at the moment with my research is to tell the story of our silent fathers and to tell an Australian story of war, the myth and the realities. This is my fifth solo show. I’ve been making solo shows for 20 years now and I find that I return to the same question again and again. I don’t set out with those questions when I’m, when I feel the seed of a solo show coming on but the same questions always come back and they are: what is it to be Australian? And what is the hidden story that needs to be told now, right now?
So with Cargo the hidden story was the story of Mary Bryant, because I had never heard of Mary Bryant and this was extraordinary adventure story. I was researching it for two years. My friends would say, ‘what are you doing?’ ‘I’m researching Mary Bryant’. Only two people out of all the people that I’d interacted with had heard of Mary Bryant, and they were Australian historians. And I thought well why, why don’t we know about this amazing woman, this amazing adventure story? Of course there are people who have heard of her. By and large people hadn’t heard of her. The interesting thing was the month before my show opened at the Malthouse there was a TV series came out, and of course it makes a brilliant TV series, ‘cos it’s full of adventure. She’s a highway robber, you know, she is a gutsy woman, there’s this incredible boat journey and then when after the TV series that happened, people would say ‘oh what’s your show about?’ ‘Oh it’s about Mary’; ‘oh I’ve heard of her!’ Then all of a sudden she’d entered the popular culture, which is actually good for me because people, they didn’t just hear, oh it’s a convict from the First Fleet, it’s someone who’d been on the telly and they were a bit more interested to come and see the show.
So Boat 2 is the story of war, and as we know it’s a pertinent topic right now. We have the war in Iraq, we have the war in Afghanistan and the other thing that is capturing my interest in this research is how Anzac Day is gathering momentum in interest and popularity. And I’ve been asking: why is this? Why in particular are young people being drawn to Anzac Day? And I’ve been researching the Age over the last five years, it was one of the last things I did before I left here, reading every Anzac Day and the day following over the five years, and the Age was remarking how there were more and more people going to Gallipoli and there are more and more people attending services all over Australia and different commentaries of why this is happening. One commentator in the Age last year talks about how it’s a white person’s myth and a search for identify. And he talks about how New Zealand isn’t as interested in Anzac Day as we are, and why is that? And he said it’s perhaps because the New Zealand people have dealt with their indigenous population more so than we have. I don’t know the answers to these questions. This will be a continuing look for me about why Anzac Day is so popular.
The other thing I was reading about Anzac Day last year in the commentaries was, I noticed that the soldiers being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan were referred to as the ‘diggers’, and that surprised me. Because I thought , well, are the soldiers who are going to Iraq, are they diggers? But they are being named diggers, and I saw that they were being linked to the diggers of the first and second world wars. And perhaps this is a way of mythologising the soldiers and linking them to the digger myth. Chris Hedges in his book War is a force that gives us meaning, talks about how nations can mythologise was because it enables the leaders to keep sending soldiers to war. Perhaps this is what is happening here: by mythologising our current soldiers, it enables our leaders to continue to send soldiers to war.
The areas of research that I’ve been doing over the last five-and-a-half months have been the Australian Navy and reading about how they were trained, the different kinds of ships that were used in battle, reading personal narratives of the sailors as I’ve mentioned, in particular the war in the Pacific, the war in New Guinea, the bombing of Darwin and the shelling of Sydney. I actually didn’t even know that Sydney had been shelled. I mean, I certainly knew that submarines had come into the harbour but I hadn’t known that the submarines had shelled the beaches of Sydney. I tried to find what the names of those beaches were, but it’s quite hard to find out which exact beaches they are, ‘cause they’re never named.
I’ve also researched the POW camps in Singapore, Japan and New Guinea, the bombing of Hiroshima from the pilot’s point of view and from the point of view of the people on the ground. And the home front – what war was like in Melbourne during the war years and looking at the history of Richmond and Footscray; the arrival of the American GIs into Melbourne; the everyday life, the leisure and the work that was happening in Melbourne during the war, and life in the ammunition factory in Footscray.
I also researched the war brides, the courtships, the boat journeys, the arrival into the States, life in the United States and the coming home of many of those brides. I also looked at war posters and photographs. So in this time in my research I’ve developed three story lines which will form the kernel of the play and this is just a starting point, but I thought that I’d take you through those story lines; the three characters that are coming together and forming for this play.
So the first character is Gordon who is a sailor and the character of Gordon is based on all those sailors that I’ve interviewed over the past year. And the three story lines, the three characters each have a different relationship to the war. So Gordon is a participant in the war, he is in the front line, he’s in the battlefield. Lorna is based on my partner’s aunt, is a war bride and she grows up in Richmond and falls in love with a GI and moves to the United States, goes on a boat journey. And the third character is me and my story. Lorna is a profiteer of war; she profits out of the war and my character lives in the shadow of war. So there’s three different kinds of relationship with war with these three characters.
So Gordon is based on a man that I interviewed; in particular, his early life. He was a light house keeper’s son growing up in Tasmania and he, as a little boy, stands on the headland and watches all the ships come in from all over the world to take apples from Tasmania to all over the world. And he notes every ship that comes in and he dreams of being a sea captain. And one day his father is in the cow shed and his little sister comes running up to the cow shed and says, ‘Isla won’t come’. Isla is the little sister who’s only two. And the father goes, ‘Where is she?’ and she goes, ‘She’s down by the well.’ So the father runs down to the well and the little girl is drowned in the well – she’s put a stick into the water and she’s tried to reach it and she falls in. And Gordon talks about how this was a family tragedy and he wants to leave Tasmania, and his dream of becoming a sailor becomes even stronger.
When he becomes 16 his family sign the papers and he goes up to Melbourne and trains to be a sailor where he joins HMAS Sydney and at that time World War II breaks out. So he goes to the Mediterranean and he sees a lot of action and he’s involved in a lot of battles and he talks about the sinking of an Italian ship and how he saves a lot of the Italian men who are in the water; they pull the board – the men, who are frightened and covered in oil – and they save a large number of men who become POWs.
And he talks about how recently one of the men contacts him; he lives in northern Victoria and they communicate through letter, and he talks about a big drawer full of letters that he has with this Italian man. Then Gordon comes back to, HMAS Sydney comes back, and he gets tonsillitis and he gets put off in Fremantle because he needs to have his tonsils out and HMAS Sydney sails off and two weeks later it sunk without trace, over 500 men are lost and the ship is never found.
And he has a breakdown after that, after that tragedy, and then he joins another ship, the Perth, and he – this is now a compilation character where I’ve put together a lot of different stories to make one character – and Gordon is now on the Perth and the Perth is sunk by the Japanese, and he talks about being sucked under the boat as the boat is sinking. Now he’s standing on the deck and the boat is sinking and he looks down and he sees the ship’s cat by his feet, and he says to the sailor next to him, as the ship’s going down, ‘What about the cat?’ And the man says, ‘Don’t worry about the cat, just, we’ve got to jump in the water.’ And he was looking at the water and it’s full of oil and it’s on fire and he’s got his life jacket on that are called ‘May Wests’ because they were blown up and they looked like breasts. So they’re both standing there in their ‘May Wests’ and the bloke picks up the cat and puts it down his front and they jump into the water.
Then he talks about being sucked under the boat and he is looking up and he sees the propeller moving in the sunlight and it looks beautiful, and he thinks, ‘This is it. I’m going to drown.’ And he’s looking up at the propeller thinking, you know, what a beautiful sight that is, as it’s slowly turning. Then he actually gets sucked into the propeller and he gets churned around as if he’s in a washing machine. And then he gets thrown out and he travels 200 yards through the air and he lands in the water and he pops up, and he looks back and he watches the ship as it finally sinks. He looks across and he sees some of his sailor mates in a lifeboat, and he goes over and he gets into the lifeboat and the fellow is there with the cat who has actually survived this ordeal.
So then they’re rowing into shore ‘cause they’re just off land and they’re rowing into shore, and a Japanese destroyer comes up alongside them the next morning with their guns trained on them and they’re taken prisoner of war. So he’s now on a prisoner of war ship, he is travelling through the Pacific and then that ship gets bombed by the United States and that ship sinks. So he’s on his third sinking, the first one he missed. So this ship sinks and once again he’s picked up by Japanese and he is taken to Japan, where he’s put in a prisoner of war camp at Nagasaki in a ship-building yard. So now he’s a prisoner of war in this ship-building yard and he suffers all the terrible horrors of being a prisoner of war with the Japanese, and he works alongside the POWs on the ships, both cleaning and building them.
Then one day he talks about a huge flash that goes off like someone’s taken a giant photograph and 12 seconds later they’re all knocked over by a big rush of hot wind and the building next door to the shipyard falls down, and concrete and pillars are cascading down and they are actually under the hull of the ship and they are safe from this falling building. Then the Japanese guards take them out and they put them in a yard and then they go into the town to see what’s happened. And the prisoners want to know what’s happening and they say they want to go to the toilet. So one by one, one of the guards that’s with them takes them to the toilet. They look through the slats and they can see Nagasaki burning, and it looks like, this man describes it as seeing, it’s like a huge elephant foot has stamped on Nagasaki and it’s completely black and it’s burning, completely flattened and it’s burning. Then the guards start bringing people in, the civilians – because there’s a hospital attached to the shipyard – with terrible burns.
And as the week goes by the guards start losing focus, they notice that there are American planes flying above them and the prisoners build a sign out of sacks that says, ‘News?’ with a question mark. And the plane drops a packet of cigarettes into the yard, a packet of Chesterfield cigarettes with a note in the cellophane that says ‘Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, war over, beer and steak for everyone soon, chin up.’
So then the Americans continue to drop food parcels and this sailor talks about how the food parcels are huge, how the Americans always did things in a huge way and that one of them even went through the roof and killed someone lying in a bed. And they opened up these food parcels and they actually started to share them with Japanese civilians who lived near the prisoner of war camp.
Then the Americans arrive and they gather up all the men and of course they are shocked at their condition, at their skeletons and the level of their health. This sailor talks about how they were taken in trucks to a place where they were put into a room, all their clothes were taken and burnt. They were then put into another room and they were showered and put into another room, covered in white powder, next room they were given a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers and then at the end of that they were given an ice-cream by a woman. [Laughs] That was the most delicious ice cream he’s ever had in his life. Then they were put on a ship and he talks about coming back to Melbourne and feeling like he is watching a film, like watching women with prams, people going about their everyday life, it’s incredibly vivid. A description of what it must have been like for some of the men to come back and just sit, he comes into Spencer Street station he’s describing this otherness, this scene of otherness.
The character goes back to Tasmania and lives in Tasmania and becomes an accountant and he, in later years, becomes a mayor. And one year he is invited to Nagasaki, because Nagasaki and Hiroshima have these peace conferences every four years and invite mayors from all over the world to come. So as a mayor he went and they contacted him before he left and they said, ‘Why were you in Japan during the war?’ And he said, ‘I was a prisoner of war.’
So he goes to the conference and one of the men comes up to him, a Japanese man and says, ‘There’s a woman who wants to meet you,’ and he says, ‘of course’. And the woman comes and she says, ‘I was a schoolgirl in the shipyard where you were a prisoner of war and I want to apologise to you for the way we treated you.’ And she said, ‘I want to apologise now.’ And she bows three times, and says sorry three times. Then she says, ‘There’s one other thing I want to do,’ and she goes away and she comes back with a plate of food: with two apples, two pieces of pear, two cherries and two pieces of orange. And she says, ‘Every day my mother gave me lunch as mothers do; I had far too much and I always wanted to give you some food, but I was too scared because I would have been beaten’ – because the man says, yes, there were school-children working in the shipyard and they were treated terribly as well, they were beaten just as they were – she said, ‘Well I wanted to share this lunch, now, I want to share this plate of food with you.’ So together they eat this plate of food. And the man says that he was so overwhelmed by this woman’s compassion that they embrace, and he said ‘I didn’t know her from a bar of soap,’ and they were crying in the middle of this conference. And he said in that moment he forgave all the horrible things that had happened to him and that he’d seen in the POW camp.
The second story line is Lorna who is a Melbourne girl who grows up in Richmond. [Off topic aside] So her relationship with war, as I said, is a profit – she profits from war. She grows up in Richmond and works in the Kiwi boot factory and also, oh she has many jobs. She talks how she leaves school at 15, and in Richmond at that time you could walk into any factory and get a job. So she is working in the factory and one day she’s standing in Burnley Street where she lives and she sees a jeep coming down the street, and she’s never seen anything like it before. And the jeep pulls over and there’s an American in it, an American soldier. She’s never seen an American soldier before. And the GI says to her, ‘Where’s the MCG?’ and she goes, ‘Oh it’s down the road, turn left, turn right and you’ll get there.’ And that’s where he was based. And then he said, ‘Oh, by the way, do you want to go out tonight to Leggett’s, go to a dance?’ – I can see a few people smiling about Leggett’s, I don’t know anything about Leggett’s; I know it was opposite the Hawthorn Town Hall – so she goes, ‘Yeah, sure.’
So she starts courting this American called Jimmy, and he was the laundry man, and he would drive this laundry truck every day to a laundry in Richmond. And he would drive up the back lane and park behind Lorna’s mother’s boarding house and Lorna’s mother, while Jimmy and Lorna are in the bungalow, would get into the laundry van and take the sheets and towels, and her little brother would take all the insignias that were on the American shirts, like the GI, the general stars and apparently the GIs had these little badges, insignias that the Australian soldiers didn’t have. The little brother was taking them to the Caulfield, Collingwood night school and selling them and making a huge amount of money out of these insignia and meanwhile the boarding house had all these towels and sheets.
So Lorna and Jimmy court, Lorna gets pregnant and Jimmy goes AWOL and they eventually get married and Jimmy gets sent back to the United States because he actually ran away from the army. So he goes back to the States and Lorna tries to go and join him. So she wins a berth on a ship that goes over to the United States during the war, when the war’s still on with soldiers on it. So they zigzagged their way across the Pacific, they get to San Francisco, and they’re told they’re going to go through the Panama Canal and to New York because the ship’s needed for D-Day.
So she arrives in New York with all of the other war brides and they all get on a train and they start going across the United States and the different war brides are getting off at different stations, and they all look out the window of the train and watch, you know, who’s meeting them, and make comments about the soldier; and Lorna is the last one to get off. She’s way down in Jacksonville, Kentucky, so she’s the last bride to get off. She gets off at this dusty little station with the baby and she has to ring a certain phone number. She doesn’t know how to work the phone, she bursts into tears, this huge man walks up to her who looks like a cowboy and teaches her how to use the phone. She phones a gas station and then Jimmy arrives in his car and takes her off to her new home.
So they drive out of town, they start driving up into the hills to a little clapboard hut. She goes inside and it’s a tumbled down, broken house and it’s full of people, about 12 people, all family members. And there’s an old woman in a rocking chair in a sack-cloth dress and Jimmy says ‘Hey ma, this is my bride,’ and she barely looks at Lorna and says, you know, ‘Did you have a good trip?’ and that’s it. She goes into the bedroom and she bursts into tears and she’s called for dinner; she comes out for supper and she said that everything is mismatched on the table, she can’t identify the food, all the chairs are broken, the family is just grabbing food, it’s chaos.
And then she realises that there’s no water or electricity in the house and no one actually works. And she’s saying, ‘But Jimmy, we need water and electricity, I have a baby, we need to work, you need to take me into town.’ The next day Jimmy takes her into town, she gets a job as a waitress at the diner, she’s a brilliant waitress; she earns money and starts supporting the family. The boss of the diner likes her so much she stays there for a year, saves, supporting this family, gets the water and electricity put back on. The boss of the diner knows she that she wants to get out because it’s hell in her house and he offers her a job in LA in suburb in a black ghetto there, because it’s a chain, these diners are a chain. So she goes to LA and works there and saves enough money over the next two years to get a passage home.
All the time she’s working, she’s sending letters home, talking about what a wonderful life she has, garden parties, piano lessons, to save face to her family. She never, ever tells the truth. She comes back and she gets a job in a milk bar just next door to what’s now the Hilton and continues to save money over the next 20 years. She’s an amazing person.
So that story’s a compilation of many stories that I’ve researched about war brides and their extraordinary … I mean, different war brides have different stories. I was reading two friends, one also ended up in a hillbilly family, while the other one went up into Connecticut; they were from the same social background, the other one went up into Connecticut and, you know, lived in a beautiful white house with a garden and had garden parties, and played the organ at church, and you know it was a completely different life from her friend. Because they were saying that all the American soldiers looked handsome in their uniforms, they all had money to burn and they didn’t tell them about their social backgrounds.
Third story line is my story line, Sarah, who is living in the shadow of war. So my story will include growing up in my family; how I, with my younger brother, would escape the dinner table because it was always very silent and formal. And I would escape the dinner table with my younger brother and we’d go outside and we’d play football all the time, so I became very good at football, very good at ball games. And how I also had a relationship with my father through the football; he used to take me to the football every Saturday from when I was four to when I was 14.
It’s also a story of my father’s love of ships and how he took his whole family to England on board a ship, and our boat trip actually follows that of Lorna. It’s exactly the same route, through the Panama Canal to New York, so in the play I’ll be paralleling those two boat journeys. And my own experience of war and being in war zones, which was going to Northern Ireland in the ‘70s; dad took us to Belfast in the ‘70s because he wanted to show us where grandpa came from. And it was a time when pubs were being blown up and school teachers were being shot at the front door. And it was a very … now dad was a very cautious man and here he was taking us to Ireland in the early ‘70s. So that’s also the story of him and Ireland and being in a war zone with him and the family, and a number of funny stories about that.
So with all this research material I’m now in a position to put the play together and I’m going to do a showing of the play at the end of the year or early next year, hopefully by the end of the year, in view of having the show produced in 2008. So are there any questions? Yes?
Member of audience: How do you fit it all in?
Sarah: Well yes. [Laughs] Well yes, that is always my problem. How do I fit a wealth of material into one play, so that’s ongoing. Editing and coming back I probably won’t put all of those stories in, into the play.
Member of audience: [inaudible] How do you make that into something as a performance?
Sarah: Well, I’m going to make this play slightly differently from how I’ve done it in the past. I’m going to continue to write up the different story lines of Lorna, Gordon and myself, in discrete stories. So, for example, there might be the story of being at the football with dad. Then there’ll be another story of meeting Jimmy and the jeep, and have a whole lot of stories. Then I’m working in a space with a colleague and I’m going to create the play physically, so I don’t know what the order of the play will be, like all the different story lines. And I’ll be creating physically, so that will also be the editing process, so any stories that don’t fit. It will be quite an organic process.
Usually I write all those stories as I’ve described and have each heading, each mini-story, and then I sit and I arrange them on the floor. So you know I’ll have, you know, a room quarter the size of this covered in pieces of paper and I will, you know, swap Jimmy and the jeep with you know, the storm at sea in the Atlantic, I’ll swap them. So it will be like a jigsaw puzzle and feeling the flow. I also use post-it notes which is a great, great friend of the dramaturge. So in my office upstairs I had the beginnings of the play mapped out on post-it notes, so it’s like Jimmy in the jeep, storm at sea, and I would also put on a post-it note a story that I hadn’t researched yet because I could see where it would go in the arc of the story. Does that answer the question?
Member of audience: You’ve done such a great job telling us the story tonight, I don’t think we honestly need to see the play. The question is [inaudible] you’ve told us I realise that [inaudible] people, but if everything you’ve told us in the story is true or have you invented some of it?
Sarah: It’s all true. Usually with the plays that I make they’re usually all true, which is what fascinates me about this way of working, that they’re true stories. I mean when I make the play I sometimes have to create things to make sense of a composite character, but all of the nitty-gritty things that I told you are all true. Like the man with the propeller and the other thing I need to do …
Member of audience: [inaudible] it all happened to someone?
Sarah: It’s all happened.
Member of audience: Not necessarily to the person [inaudible].
Sarah: That’s right, it’s all happened to someone. But the next step I need to take is I always closely document the source of all of the stories, and I need to go to all of the sources and ask their permission to use the stories. So that’s the next step, like which stories do I want to use. I need to contact the editor of Voices of war for instance and request his permission to use the different stories. I need to talk to Lorna and make sure that she feels alright about me using her stories. So all that process hasn’t happened yet. And that’s always a very important process for me. And to also invite the people to see the show, I always invite the people to come and see the show when I draw on their life stories, that’s a very important part of the process for me.
Member of audience: [Inaudible]
Sarah: I guess there are parts of the stories that I feel will go in, is that what you mean? Like I–
Member of audience: [inaudible]
Member of audience: All of those things seem to me from [inaudible] on stage from [inaudible] talked about [inaudible]
Sarah: Yes, well, the strong thread is always strengthening. When I’m reading or interviewing someone, I always know when I hear or read a story, I’m always like, well that will work. That story will work. That’s always happened. And it’s usually when I’ve gone – as the listener or the reader – gone, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ And so I trust that that will translate to the audience, that kind of feeling. That’s one of my intentions as a play-maker is for the audience to go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that!’ To have that kind of experience. Are there any other questions?
Member of audience: [Inaudible]
Sarah: No, no. I’ve never thought of it. [Laughs] Because I’m an actor. I must say a book, it is easier obviously to include a lot more detail in a book, because the plays I do as a solo performer are at the most 80 minutes long so, as you say, the material needs to be pared back. Even more than what I’ve described today.
Member of audience: Can I ask one more question, you know, you said you talk about the way in which you go back to the people who spoke to you, as you have a sense that that’s important, how do you negotiate what’s public and what should be left behind? [Inaudible]
Sarah: Well I have probably with my first play, The serpent’s fall, I interviewed a lot of Aboriginal women and that was a lot of discussion about what could be said and what could be not said. So that was a rigorous discussion. With this play I would certainly talk to mum about the play and–
Member of audience: [Inaudible]
Sarah: My broth … no my mother.
Member of audience: [Inaudible]
Sarah: Did I say my brother?
Member of audience: No you said mother.
Sarah: No my mother, no not my brother. I might talk to my brother [laughs]. I’ll probably talk to my brother, but I’ll talk to my mother, our mother, and you know, negotiate or talk about how, what she would feel uncomfortable or comfortable with. I wouldn’t want her to be feeling uncomfortable.
Member of audience: Because what you said at the start[inaudible] is the fact that you both grow up with your dad who was an unhappy person.
Member of audience: And if you want to explore that you’ve got to go into the intimate [inaudible] territory
Member of audience: And [inaudible] is that because you feel [inaudible] with the other stories have a way with dealing with what was difficult but private [inaudible].
Sarah: I don’t know yet how. I would like to talk about the tough stuff but that would be to do with my discussion with mum. I think that the thing about the Gordon storyline is that there’s … I also talked about wanting to know what it would have been like in a ship, in a battle facing death, all of those things that war confronts you with. And the Gordon storyline tells that story. So it tells a story that dad didn’t talk about – well, how am I to presume that it’s telling his story, actually – but it brings to life something that I didn’t know about , but I wanted to know about. But it’s a great question and it’s sort of the heart of the work, really. Because it does spring from that thing of wanting to know. And I mean I guess the Lorna character’s a more colour-and-movement kind of character, you know, talking about Richmond and Melbourne. I also love hearing stories about Melbourne that I don’t know, you know, of that time and you know the whole picture of all the GIs swarming across Melbourne and what that all did is like an amazing image. And you know, the MCG being covered in tents and the general saying, this would be a great, you know, ballpark. You know wanting to play baseball, set up baseball games and stuff.
Member of audience: Just before, you were saying [inaudible] about your father, have you ever found his war records from the National Archives?
Member of audience: In detail [inaudible] exactly where he’s been, what he’s done?
Member of audience: Sarah, my question is rather different.
Member of audience: You describe yourself as a dramaturge, could you explain to us the difference between a dramaturge and a playwright, please?
Sarah: Well that’s an interesting question, because there can be conferences and debates about what is a dramaturge. Traditionally a dramaturge works with a writer and helps them, supports them, in editing the play and suggesting changes and edits. The dramaturge can also work with the director. So they work on an existing script. I guess I call myself a dramaturge because I work on the existing script of people’s stories. Like I don’t claim to be a writer, as in I make up the stories; I write plays drawn from people’s stories and I then edit them and make a play from them.
Member of audience: Would other people call that process playwriting?
Sarah: I’m not sure, they could do.
Member of audience: It’s an interesting question.
Sarah: Hmm. Yeah.
Dianne: I think that we feel treated to a most interesting, very moving description of Sarah’s fellowship here in the State Library. I think she’s uncovered more than enough for one play, probably several, so we’ll all look forward to going along to see Boat 2 in 2008.
Dianne Reilly: Thank you Sarah.
Sarah: Thank you. Thank you.