Interview with: Eileen Rowell
Date of Interview: 1 August 1985
Interviewer: Susan Brinnand
Transcriber: Heidi Scott
Eileen was the makeup artist for the Nambour Amateur Theatre Society from the 1950s. Eileen also conducted very successful schools in make up for the society. She recalls the trials and tribulations of staging performances in the old Digger Hall and speaks of many amusing anecdotes of her time with the Society.
Begin Tape 1/Side A
SB: Eileen Rowell has been involved with NATS since the 1950s. Eileen could you tell me a little bit about how NATS first began?
ROWELL: Well I wasn’t here in the town when it was at first, they put on a meeting and called a meeting to form a dramatic club in Nambour. A report went through the Chronicle to call a meeting and a Mrs Caine, Myrtle Caine, who had lived in this town in the early 1920s up into the 1930s, had gone back to Melbourne, her own home town, and she was sent the Chronicle every week about the doings that went on in Nambour. And she read that Chronicle from cover to cover. And she knew Jack Collins, and she’d read about this meeting being called to form a new society, and she wrote to Jack and wished him luck, in the formation of the new society, and suggested that they call this society the Nambour Amateur Theatrical Society, and shorten it to NATS. Well Jack took that letter along to the meeting, and the meeting decided that that was the name of the new society. There are still some members in the town, living in the town who were at that meeting - Lurleen Ferriday was one, and Jean Currie she was then, she’s Jean Bell now, think she has something to do with the Catholic School, I think she’s the Headmistress of the Catholic School. And, well both Jean and Lurleen were at that meeting. That’s the original meeting. Well they formed the society and they put on a show, that was in 1945. 1946 they put on their first show. I think that Bill Agnew was the producer of that show, and it was called ‘A night at the Blue Dragon’. And it was put on, I’m not too sure where it was put on.
SB: Right, and was there any other group happening at the time that NATS was formed?
ROWELL: Well, there was a society here, which was formed during the War years of older men in town who were not eligible for War service, and they were nearly all businessmen. And Jack Collins was one.
SB: Did he own the Collins Cafe?
ROWELL: Yes. He was a wonderful businessman, and a wonderful businessman for the society. And he, Jack Collins, Leonard Perren was another. Di Rees was another, the baker. And a Bill, he was the tenor, he was a small man, can’t remember his name. But he had a very good voice, and he was their leading lady. They put on quite a few shows, I saw some of them.
SB: What sort of thing would they do?
ROWELL: Ballet. [Laughs] These sixteen and seventeen stoners in, with their hairy chests, and little ballet costumes, they were hilarious, I’ve never laughed so much in my life. And they couldn’t get ballet shoes so they wore sandshoes. And they just had a walk on stage and you couldn’t help but smile, though some of them wore wigs. They were really a funny group, and they knew they were funny too, they didn’t have to do very much to make you... the whole audience scream with laughter. They realised that they needed something more to hold people’s attention, as they probably exhausted all their revenue of tricks. That is why they started to think about a society that could put on shows that were of more interest to the general public. And once this society started it had quite a struggle because it had no costumes, no music, no piano, no scenery, nothing, they were starting right off from scratch.
SB: So who were some of the early patrons of the society?
ROWELL: Patrons, Mrs Overell came in later, I think she came in after 1950, but no I wouldn’t know who the early patrons would be. Possibly, I think, Di Rees might have been.
SB: So there was support from the business community in the town?
ROWELL: Yes, a certain amount, yes. But it really had a struggle. When I came into the society in 1950, and it had established itself then. It did have a few costumes, and a big box with some make-up in, which was a box of pink powder, and a tube of lipstick, and a broken eyebrow pencil, and a couple of sponges, and one stick of grease paint, which was a number nine and I didn’t know how to use it. And one, a very pale one, which could have been a number five. That was about the make-up that they owned.
SB: And where did you learn to do make-up?
ROWELL: Where did I learn, well I’d been working in Brisbane before I came home, and I belonged to a concert party. They had a couple of very good pianists, and some, two or three good singers. But we used to visit the army camps, and the army camps sometimes wanted to put on a concert of the men from there, their own men. And I would be invited to go out and help with the make-up, there was two or three others that were there. Well we’d go out and we’d put on these cow hair eyelashes, they were the most terrible things you ever did see. [Laughs] And we couldn’t get proper glue, and in the war years you couldn’t even buy make-up, but we’d have to eventually get these awful eyelashes put on these fellows. And we’d give them nice pink cheeks and a terrific amount of eyeshadow, and darken their eyebrows, real floozies, we turned them out as real floozies. And they looked, well ghastly, but of course at the camps they
: had these huge spotlights, and huge lights, not like an ordinary theatre would have. So that when the lights were put on then, and they were playing to all the fellows, I mean they’d get whistles and catcalls and that sort of thing, it really didn’t matter. Oh they were ghastly. And we did that every time, the same thing, we had more trouble with these, I said they were cows, made from cows tails, I don’t know what they were made from, probably horse hair or something, but they were about two or three inches long. Two inches long anyhow, they’d be quite two inches long, and they were as hard as could be, and we never seem to be able to make them stick on their eyes, because there was never any glue to use. All sorts of things, somebody would come along with a new, it’s a wonder we didn’t blind them, that’s it, because I’m sure we didn’t know what we were using in the way of glue to stick them on with. But however eventually they did stick on, even if they fell off when they got on stage, it didn’t matter. So that’s how I started doing make-up, and previous to that I had been with, I used to help, not as doing make-up, but in with the wardrobe with the Brisbane Repertory, yes. And I didn’t do the make-up but I used to see it being done. But it wasn’t anything wonderful because you couldn’t buy it, anyhow there was no theatre make-up at all. And if you could buy make-up for yourself you were lucky, make-up was a precious thing during the war years. And when I came back to Nambour, somebody must have been helping in theatre down there, in Brisbane. Tom Carter, was in a show that was on, that the NATS were putting on at that time, and I think it was ‘Labumum Grove’, I wouldn’t be sure, but I think that was the first show that I had anything to do with. And I was given this little box of make-up to do the whole of the show. And I did them I think the same as we did the fellows at the army camp. I didn’t go out and have a look after they’d been done up, I just went home. Because I was expected, I was asked if I would go along and help do the make-up, I thought there would be somebody there doing the make-up, and I would only be doing the bases, and helping, but it didn’t turn out that way. I had to do the whole lot. And on the final night of the show I sat in the back of the theatre and had a look at the make-up, and I nearly died, it was terrible, it was shocking.
SB: What did the producer think of the make-up?
ROWELL: He never said a word, he didn’t say a word about it. Didn’t tell me it was far too heavy or anything, and everybody looked as if they had black eyes, including the men. And I thought, well I might have known it was a bit different to doing soldiers up in an army camp. And I never even thought of it, because I was so flabbergasted when I found I had the lot to do, that I didn’t know, and I just went ahead and used what was in the box. I mean everybody had the same colour on, and men had red lipstick and oh, truly.
SB: And so when did you start getting better make-up supplies?
ROWELL: I thought, well if I am going to be asked to do the make-up again, I had better do something about it. So I went to the library and they had one book only on make-up, and it wasn’t a very good one. But I read it from cover to cover. And I started to think about it, and I was asked again to do it, and I thought well after the last lot, I didn’t think I’d ever be asked back again, but I was asked back again. And they had no make-up and they had no money to buy make-up with. I used to go to Melbourne a lot in those days for my holidays. And I went down to Melbourne, and I went through I think it was Dimrocks, the make-up people down there, and I went to their shop, and they had everything, it was lovely. And I spent a bit of money on make-up. And I bought a couple of make-up books too, at the same time, and I went around all the theatres and studied the make-up on the people on stage as close as I could get. I bought myself a pair of binoculars, and I put the binoculars on them, and I could see every bit of perspiration they had on their face. And that was the start of it. I made notes of what they did, and how they did it, and the reason for doing it, and how they made themselves old. And between watching the professions and books, I started to learn a bit about it. And every time I went to Melbourne I bought a whole swag of make-up, and that went into the box. I had a whole bag of hair, every colour you wanted, I could delve in there and find you a bit. So that was how the NATS make-up began.
SB: And were you able to get supplies close at home?
ROWELL: No, no.
SB: You couldn’t.
ROWELL: Eventually Mr Sweida in Brisbane, I knew old Mr Sweida through the previous time I’d been in Brisbane when I was with the Repertory Theatre, because old Mordy that I’d worked with down there, was an old professional. And I don’t know whether she was a wardrobe mistress for one of the theatres, I don’t know which one. But anyhow Mordy she knew her work, she knew, to her, the stage was a picture, and everything had to harmonise, everything had to be right on stage. And if it wasn’t right, the characters were wrong, the people were dressed incorrectly, they didn’t, she wouldn’t allow them to go on.
SB: So from here did you learn a bit about stage setting and things?
ROWELL: Yes. Oh she terrified me, I would be only about eighteen, I wouldn’t be any more than seventeen or eighteen at the time. And she terrified me. But I found out afterwards that Mordy was very fond of the gin bottle, and it was when Mordy had had a lot of gin that she got so aggressive. And she used to speak to me as if I was, oh truly she ordered me around, and terrified me more and more. I only stayed with Mordy about eighteen months, that was all. But I did learn a lot, looking back afterwards I realised that Mordy knew what she was talking about even if she was very rude about it. She knew her work, and I think that was the foundation of knowing what was right and what was wrong, you looked at the stage as a picture, and if the presenting of the stage was the frame of that picture, and the people on it were part of this, they’d moved in as part of the picture.
SB: So it was through her that you had that contact with Mr Sweida?
ROWELL: Yes. I originally knew him. When I go down to Sweida’s shop, which was in the Brisbane arcade, Mr Sweida was there, they were one of the original wig makers, the only Sweida’s that you could have wigs made by, old Mr Sweida himself was a wig maker. But that comes into theatre, but I think that Sweida’s still make all the judges wigs for this State. I don’t think there’s anybody else who does it.
SB: Was he Australian?
ROWELL: No. The old man wasn’t. I don’t know what nationality they were, they’re fair people, they weren’t Italians, oh they could have been, no but I don’t this so. Sweida.
SB: Scandinavian or something?
ROWELL: Scandinavian countries yes. No it wouldn’t be Holland, be further north Norwegian or Swedish I would think. Because they were very fair people and they, well the son, the one that I used to go to, he is a make-up manufacturer. So he would have to be a chemist I would say, an industrial chemist. And he has his factory, somewhere here in Queensland. But the fact that I knew his father, or knew of his father, I think, I don’t know but I always got on with him. People used to say well he’s very, wasn’t a nice, you know wasn’t easy to get on with. I always got on well with him, he was always very helpful to me, and he was the man who first made the make-up for when colour TV came into, first came in, it was Sweida’s make-up that they used for the cameras. And that was when he really went into the make-up in a big way. Previous to that he sold mostly grease paint.
SB: So when you needed make-up for the theatre you’d have to go to Brisbane?
ROWELL: I used to go to Brisbane and ask for Mr Sweida and ask how I should do it, and ask, and he would show me. I found him to be very good like that, show you how to, you know, what to use and hot to do it. But now you go to the girls there, and they just say, well you want this, you want that, that’s it, that’s all you get. They’re there to sell it.
SB: Yes right.
ROWELL: So did I tell you about Ned Kelly. The show the Ned Kelly.
SB: Yes, well tell me about the make-up for Ned Kelly, that’d be interesting.
ROWELL: Well, I consider that that was the real test of good make-up. Because Bill Agnew produced the show, and it was good show, it was put on in the Civic Hall, and it was one of the ...
SB: So that was in the ‘60s then?
ROWELL: Yes. It was a big show and it was a very good show. But Bill Agnew cast Eddie Alice as Ned Kelly. Now Ned Kelly has black hair and black eyebrows, and Eddie Alice had blonde hair. And I thought well what are we going to do with him, you’d have to, it would be necessary to dye his hair. And he works at the Mill, and he won’t want to go to work with his hair dyed black. I thought well what are we going to do. So I took myself down to Brisbane, and talked it over with Mr Sweida, Mr Sweida said, “No trouble, no trouble at all.” He said, “I’ll mix you up some black dye.” He said, ”And he can go home at night and wash it off at night.” Oh I thought that would be lovely. So he mixed me up a large bottle, looked like black ink, about like that. And I’d never used anything like it before, and hoped for the best. Well then Bill Agnew went to Sydney to the, not the Oxley Library, but the library down there, that was equivalent to the Oxley Library here, and he got photos, big blow ups of the whole of the Kelly gang, quite big photos they were. And they were wonderful photos. And there was Ned Kelly with his eyebrows and his straight mouth and it was a wonderful guide, for that, we doing the make-up. And there was the whole, there was Ned Kelly, well there were four of these big pictures and we just pinned them up in the dressing room, and looked from the actual photo to the face. And it wasn’t hard to make Eddie Alice look like Ned Kelly, because he had the same deep set eyes, all we had to do was straighten his eyebrows, and put on a beard of course. But with the hair dyed black, we poured some into a saucer, and there was three of us doing this make-up, Jean Heaton and I think Marlene Skinner, there were a couple of very good girls helping at that time. And they were good reliable girls, they both worked at the chemist shop and they knew make-up. And Jean Heaton was marvellous she did marvellous straight make-up, far better than I could ever do, because she was finished, her make-up was finished, well that’s the way the women like to see themselves look like, look like they look on the street. It’s street make-up that they seem think is right for stage. And they don’t know the difference, that suits them, when they look like they look more beautiful than they look normally. But Jean Heaton did beautiful work, and Jean, I think took the saucer and a toothbrush and she brushed this into Eddie’s hair, made it as black as ink without putting it on the, you see you couldn’t put it on the scalp, cause the scalp would show through and it would look like a wig. So Jean did it beautifully and we put on Eddie’s beard, and straightened his mouth, and straightened his eyebrows, and by joves he looked like Ned Kelly.
SB: Well how would you straighten his mouth? Just through lipsticks….
ROWELL: Well you have a fine pencil and you draw a straight, when you’re putting the base on you go right over the mouth, and sort of take it right out, and then you draw it straight with this pencil, and then you fill that little bit in where it’s quite straight. I considered that was the best work we ever did, was to make a blonde man with blue eyes, look like Ned Kelly, who was a dark man with, oh he had blue eyes, but still we made him look like that person. We didn’t have to spend quite so much time on the other quite so much time on the other characters, but still. When you sorted it all out, Bill Agnew had really picked the heights and he’d got them quite, almost as though nothing much had to be done to them.
SB: Yes. So when you were doing the make-up for the different productions, you would study the character to work out the make-up?
ROWELL: Yes, yes. Always I went along to the rehearsals, I got all the names of the characters, I wrote them down, I’ve destroyed the note book, but I used to write the type of person each person was. And then I would have a sheet of paper or a sheet, I used to save all the old cardboard and write on it, the character, the name, their stage name and who they were. And then I would write down their bases, and I would say, a light base number, number seven, and then I’d put all the colours to be used on that piece of paper so that if one person was away sick or something like that, they knew exactly what, if somebody else came along they had that piece of cardboard to refer to, to get to know what colours to use. And that was kept till the end of the show just in case everybody couldn’t be there, because they’d have six nights. Well six nights, especially in the winter time, there’d be colds and flu and that sort of thing around, well if you didn’t get your make-up right, if somebody else had to take over, you had no guide. These were only for principal characters, for the lesser characters it really didn’t matter, they just wanted a bit of make-up bunged on, that was all.
SB: Say for something like, I was looking at, there was one production, ‘All of a Twitter’, there were forty characters in that one. Would they all have make-up?
ROWELL: Well they’d all have make-up on, but some of it would be just bunged on that was how it would go. You’d just look at the face, you’d do it over, do their eyebrows and put a bit of rouge on their face, or if they needed it - bit of rouge on their lips, and you never used red on men, because it was effeminate. And you never used blue or green eyeshadows, that was effeminate too. You used grey or brown, or some colour like that. And so you just had to remember those things.
SB: So men had certain colours that you could use?
ROWELL: Yes. Yes. And I’ve always used on the men, unless they were old, elderly, use for ordinary healthy men, was a number nine grease paint for their lips and their rouge, because that’s a sort of an orangey colour, orangey brown, and that is a good colour for men. But you’ve got to be interested in the whole thing I think, to do it well.
SB: Yes, well you’ve got to understand the whole production.
ROWELL: Yes, you’ve got to know all the characters, oh yes if you get them, you know, you could get them wrong if you didn’t know what colours to use on them. Whereas an old lady you would never use what you’d use on a young person.
SB: What colours would you use on an old lady?
ROWELL: Well you take all the pink out of the skin, that’s the first thing you do. So you can but a flat base now - it’s number 3A which is quite good for an old person - but if you haven’t got that in your box, well you use a grease paint. You could use a grease paint, which would be number 5 grease paint, which makes the skin just look yellow all over. Well now a person doesn’t go yellow, they either get a blue tinge or a grey tinge into their skin - grey mostly - and you’d take that yellow look out and then you put a little bit of colour into it, by putting a little bit of number nine grease paint, and work that in, if they look too ghastly. You’ve got to...it’s like, it’s the same as oil painting, you mix your colours to suit the face. And that’s it, and if a person is sick or been on the grog for a long time a bit of blue is wonderful mixed into the colour you get it straight away. But it’s got tot be a certain shade of blue; you can’t use any blue. And you’ve got to use your colours as you would use for painting, and as you see them another person mightn’t see it that way at all.
SB: And did you use wigs a lot?
ROWELL: No, no.
SB: You didn’t, no.
ROWELL: Crepe hair we used a lot, because in those days men had short back and sides. And they wouldn’t wear their hair long, if you didn’t go to the barber every week and have your hair trimmed you were effeminate, one of those. So and the very thing that they would do, and I would say, “Now this is a period play, nobody is to get their hair cut.” And two or three wouldn’t be there when I’d say that, and they didn’t know, and they’d come with their hair all cut nice and short on the sides. Well you couldn’t have a nice short hair cut on the sides and then start putting a beard on, because that would show definitely on stage. So then you had to take a pencil and darken all the skin up where they had their short, back short and sides done. Darken it all, so that it would look as if there were hair growing there. Oh yes, you had to use your scone to overcome these difficulties.
SB: Did men not like playing certain parts, or was it a problem with make-up for men who didn’t want to be considered effeminate or....?
ROWELL: No, I never ever found that, no. They just took it; they just did the part and didn’t think about make-up at all, that didn’t come into their thinking.
ROWELL: But we’d been caught before about people who’d come along with this short haircut, but of course they were going on stage and they’d go and have their hair cut, naturally, so they’d look all right. So that’s when you look at it, and you think he’s got to wear a beard
ROWELL: look at it, and you think he’s got to wear a beard, and what am I going to do about it, you can’t put a beard on with short back and sides.
SB: What was crepe hair?
ROWELL: It’s a...
END TAPE 1/SIDE A
SB: Like a synthetic hair.
ROWELL: Yes. Even that’s deteriorated, I might have some here.
SB: So when you buy it, it comes in a...oh I see.
ROWELL: That’s the way I used to buy it.
SB: It’s in a plait.
ROWELL: Well no, the modern one is in a plait, now. I’ve got the plait here. That is, they call that dolls hair, that’s not stage hair, but I used, that’s what I used, because I found that it was the best of the lot of them because there was such a quantity of it.
SB: And would you make beards from this as well?
ROWELL: Well yes, this is what you have to do with it before you use it. You cut a small piece off. You see everybody sends to me for crepe hair. And I’m reduced to a few bits like this, because the school send up...and say have I got any crepe hair, or do I, have I...? I used to have every colour you could possibly think of.
SB: Why, don’t they really sell it anymore?
ROWELL: They sell it down at one of the chemist shops and you get a little tiny wee bit for your money. That is about, well it’s not even as thick as that, the new one they sell now, and it’s plaited. And I’ve got some there somewhere, I don’t know where. But it gets very curly when you start to tease it, so you have to tease it out. And if you can’t get it to the type that you want it, then you get a hot iron and put this between some tissue paper and iron it.
SB: And it doesn’t come apart once you’ve put it on the face?
ROWELL: Well to do a good beard, you have different lengths that would do for the side of the beard but you’d want longer for the front of the beard. And you want, you know, depending on what type of character you’re doing, and for the average person that would be quite all right. Well then you don’t go and stick it on like that, you take small pieces of this, and you use your glue. Now I’ll show you the size, I think I’ve got a bottle of glue that they sell you today. I truly don’t know how theatre groups operate at all, because everything’s so expensive, they charge so much for everything.
SB: So you stick each little piece of the hair on with glue?
ROWELL: Yes, that is the best one, that is spirit gum. And that dries quickly, very, very quickly. And a lot of people before they go on stage, they get terribly nervous, and their nerves show in their talking, and you can not do make-up on a face that’s using it’s muscles all the time, and you can not put a beard on a face that is talking all the time, because they’re moving their muscles. They don’t realise that, and so you’ve got to, I usually say, “Now look, just relax, just relax, just relax.” And they relax for two minutes, and they start again, talking. And then I might do it twice, three times, and I say, “Look! I can not write on a moving blackboard. Will you please be quiet?”
SB: Well that would be good for them too, wouldn’t it? Before the performance, that time when they have to be calm.
ROWELL: Yes, oh yes. You’d have to calm them right down, you can’t do good make-up on a talking face, because every muscle’s being used, you see. And you want to put the rouge here, but it’s in the wrong place, when they’ve finished their conversation. And you’re trying to put a beard on, and of course there’s not a hope in the world. If it came off on stage, you’d be, well the worst person in the world, if their beard started coming off. But they don’t realise that they’re to blame, so I used to give them a good talking to when I had a good beard to put on, and I’d say, “Now, you do not say a word, you sit in your chair and you just relax, now relax everything, because you don’t want your beard to fall off on stage, do you?”
SB: Did you ever have any disasters like that, beards falling off, or wigs falling off, or anything like that?
ROWELL: No, except one night, it wasn’t in NATS, this was for another show, and it was a real bung-up show. And the chappie who had a long speech to make, he was a Frenchman and he had a powdered wig and, it wasn’t his beard that came off, it was his cravat that fell off... a Dutchman he was, and he had his long speech to make, and he used his hands a lot and thought he was just marvellous, and his cravat fell off.
SB: So how would you put the wrinkles on the face, if you wanted to make an old face from a young one?
ROWELL: Well you draw them on, you have to draw them on with a very fine, I sometimes used a matchstick, but over the years you find out you acquire lots of things that are a help to you.
SB: It’s like a small pencil without a... oh that’s a nail thing isn’t it?
ROWELL: Yes. Matchstick, a sharpened matchstick makes, you know, that sort of thing, that makes good lines. And a wrinkle, to do good wrinkles, there’s not too many people who can do them, I used to say to them, “Look, you’ve got good wrinkles there on your wrist, now try them out on your wrist.” Just find the line, because you must put a wrinkle where the wrinkles are, and you’ll find wrinkles on every face, everybody’s got them.
SB: Oh I’ve got them. [Laughs]
ROWELL: Yes, they’re there, they’re there on a baby, but you’ve got to wrinkle up the skin to find out where they will eventually come. But unless you put your wrinkles right where the natural wrinkle line comes, it’ll look all wrong. And the finer you can get the wrinkles, the better. And I mean, you’ve got to phase out the end of the wrinkle; you don’t just draw a straight line like that and then leave it. That is, well, it shows on stage. So that you use your thumb and you take the end and sort of ease it off.
SB: Smudge it?
ROWELL: Yes. And then the wrinkle always has a grey shadow. You use number - I might have it here - it’s a reddish colour, you use the same colours you’d use in a painting, that’s a bit of lake, no that’s not a bit of lake, its a brown colour. These are colours that you can’t do without at all in make-up, because they are necessary things. It’s a brownish colour, it’s a real brown, and that does your wrinkle, the brown.
SB: And then you give it a grey shadow?
ROWELL: And then you put the grey shadow on the lower side of the wrinkle, a line which... see this is why I can’t do make-up now, because I can’t see to do it. You draw a grey line; you draw your brown line first, then your grey line on the higher part, and below it - where the flesh bulges - a white or a cream line. And you just run your fingers through that, sort of. It makes them all meld together.
SB: Right. And did you have to do things like scars?
ROWELL: Yes, oh scars are easy. You use a bit of red and the bit of red does the purpose, a bit of red for your scar, bit of purple will do for this, and that’s the bruise, and you meld them in together. The bruise would have to be melded out, see their old now and they won’t, the grease has gone out of them, they are grease paint, and they are so old that they won’t melt. But I still keep them because I have to use them occasionally.
SB: And what about someone who’s covered in freckles, and they’ve got to be a nice English peach?
ROWELL: Oh, the bases cover that, yes the bases cover that. They are a water base and the... were putting those on too. See that’s all Sweida’s and that was when he started making make-up for TV. That’s men’s make-up, that one. And you put that on, which is a dry base, and it’s very easy to put on, you just get a sponge and put it on, and anybody can use that. But what a lot don’t understand is that that is a suntan, a healthy suntan colour, and if you are, well you can’t have everybody on the stage with the same colour on, so this is where a bit of vaseline comes in. To spread another make-up on, over the top of that dry base, is awfully hard, when you go to put grease paint into a dry base - it just won’t go. That’s the number one you can’t live without - that is lake. So you put a little bit of grease paint on.
ROWELL: Vaseline on your hands, and you wipe it nearly all off. And you start with your blending in, and you meld in another colour, and another colour goes over the top of your base, and you put in little bits like that, just sufficient to alter the colour of your base. And you, ease that in, it takes the bright suntan, healthy look off the face if you want it to be an old face, weather beaten, stockman or something like that, you would use a brown to bring it down to not the usual suntan colour, it would be a more rugged sort of face. And the vaseline will help it meld in. And that’s how you do it, but that is a very useful, this is not Sweida’s, this is a German, I think it is, these are recent make-ups. And I think it comes from Germany.
SB: And how do the stage make-ups differ from the street make-up, is this thicker?
ROWELL: Well, it differs quite a lot because street make-up, your lighting comes from the top or from the sides, and your face is, what should I say, it is not a hard light, but stage make-up, the lights come from everywhere, there’s no shadows on the face. They come from the side battens, the footlights, the spot lights which come from the front, and it bleaches all the colour out of a face, so your stage make-up should be a good bit heavier. And you’ve got a lot more light on your face and no shadows, except your eyes will be just black, there, where the light hits, there and there, and your face can look drained, white, flat and white, no shadow. So to do good stage make-up you should always put a slightly dark shadow down here on your nose and a little dark shadow there to give you a bit of a chin.
SB: Under your lip?
ROWELL: Yes. And sometimes here, but those shadows must be very, very carefully done, and well worked out. And that is done with a... a real dirty old colour. This one!
SB: Oh that brown colour?
ROWELL: Yes, it’s number sixteen, they all want cleaning too, they’re not the real colours. But that’s that colour. But you must, you put it on and you’ve got to meld it, but it makes all the difference to a flat face, or a face with shape when that person gets on the stage. And that’s what a lot of those who just put ordinary street make-up on, don’t realise until they get on stage. And they won’t be told.
SB: So when you first came to NATS, were people sympathetic, or understand the need for all these different types of make-up and things?
ROWELL: Well we didn’t use them right at the beginning because they were too hard to come by. The only thing we had to use was, use grease paint bases.
SB: That was all?
ROWELL: That was all, yes it was all grease paint.
SB: Well what sort of lighting did you have in the old Diggers Hall?
ROWELL: Well, we didn’t have any lighting at all, except the footlights, and there were some lights up in the ceiling I can’t remember. But there was very little lighting, that’s when I went out and sat in the audience and looked at the faces, and thought, oh my god, I’ll never forget that night as long as I live. Oh it was shocking.
SB: So can you tell me a little bit about, well the Diggers Hall, the old Diggers, what was it like?
ROWELL: It was a very big draughty hall. A very big hall all the balls were held there because previously the town hall had been burnt down, so the Diggers Hall, all the big occasions that took part in the town was held in the Diggers Hall. There was a supper room up stairs, quite a large room. There were stairs at the side of the front door, that’s al you could say it was, just a big front door. And the stairway ran almost from the front door up to the supper room, it was called then. But they used to have meetings there and lots of small parties and things like that. There was nowhere else to have them.
SB: What was it like for a theatre?
ROWELL: It was shocking, it was a wide open space with galvanised iron walls, galvanised iron roof, and towards the end when NATS were there, and they knew they were going to build a new hall sometime, there was no repairs done. So that there were cracks in the galvanised iron, and in the summertime it was nice, it cooled it, conditioned the place, but in the wintertime, you almost froze to death if you were near one of the cracks. The chairs were canvas seats, the seats had been used for so long, that the canvas has stretched and they had quite a big scoop in them, so that if you didn’t take a cushion to sit on, you couldn’t see the stage. So if you took you own cushions, or if you were lucky, and you chose one that didn’t have such a big stretch of canvas in it, you might see the stage. The seats were in a terrible condition and the canvas, this is what shocked me, because you didn’t notice it so much at night when all the lights were on, but in the day time, you could see all the dirt in the canvas, and you could see, those days men always used brilliantine or some oil on their hair, to slick it down, and there would be this patch of oil on the canvas, like that so, just like that. Ane when you sat in the seat at night, you didn’t seem to notice it, I don’t think I noticed it. It wasn’t until you saw these seats in the daytime, that you realise what a condition they were in. But you could understand that they weren’t replaced, some of the canvases had torn and the canvas had been, the whole seat had been renewed, you know, in recent years, they weren’t too bad. Is that thing on?
SB: It’s all right, it’s good to know what conditions you had to work with.
ROWELL: It was a large hall.
SB: What about the dressing rooms?
ROWELL: There was no dressing rooms at all. It was used as a picture theatre, and it was quite all right as a picture theatre. Well we thought it was, we’d used it for years, it was the only thing you had, there was no Town Hall, you’ve got to realise that, that was burnt down.
SB: How did you cope without any dressing rooms?
ROWELL: We had a tent in the back yard. I think the tent belonged to Bill Agnew, I would not know, but it was always up when I’d go down to do the make-up. There were two entrances to the stage, one either side of the stage, and that was the only way you could get from side of the stage to the other. The people next door, there was a cafe next door, Crawford’s cafe, and Crawford’s pies were very, very tasty and very useful. In the wintertime when you were rehearsing, or when you were on stage when you were hungry, you could always go across to Crawford’s. And Crawford’s chooks slept on the back steps; one side only, on the right hand side of the stage was Crawford’s chook roost. People on stage couldn’t go from one side, behind the curtain. Although eventually they did rig up a back drop somewhere, that you could walk between the stage and the backdrop, they hung something there, Bill Agnew did I think, he was the man that always had the bright ideas of what you could do. But mostly if you wanted to go from one side of the stage to the other, that’s the way you had to go, from down one set of back steps, and go across and up the other side. But then you had to disturb the chooks on the roost, and that didn’t sound so good, a scatter of fowls after dark. And the noise sounded right throughout the theatre.
SB: Well how did you manage if it was raining?
ROWELL: Well luckily I don’t ever remember it raining, sometimes it looked as if there was storm coming up, but it never seemed to rain before the show was over. And that was a worry, it was always a worry, you kept your eye on the clouds to see if you were going to get, because if it did rain you wouldn’t have a hope of hearing a word that was said on stage, in this tin shed, tin hall.
SB: You’d have lights down in the tent in the back yard, wouldn’t you?
ROWELL: We had a light. We had a piece of rope put through the centre of the tent, and one side was for the men and the other side for the ladies. And if there was sufficient clothes hung over the piece of rope, you didn’t see one another, but if there wasn’t sufficient, well you just went ahead and got dressed anyhow, that’s all there was to it.
SB: Yes right. And then after that you moved to the new Diggers Hall did you?
ROWELL: Well when we moved, it was worse still. Well the new Diggers Hall, the stage was smaller, much smaller, and we didn’t have any space at all to move around, it was too small. It was only, I think that was built as a picture theatre too. But the make-up and the dressing still went on in the backyard.
SB: Oh really.
ROWELL: Yes. Well the new picture theatre, they didn’t build any dressing rooms at all. And then the NATS, some members of NATS, Amy Giles was one, Ralph Smith was another, they decided that it was time that we had a decent place to play in, they were getting tired of having to make-shift, with these, well most inadequate conditions. And so they, Ralph and Amy approached the Council to build a Civic Hall. And it was through their effort that the Civic Hall was started, and we thought that when we got into the Civic Hall we’d be just made.
SB: Is that the one that’s next to Railway Square now?
ROWELL: Yes, that is the Nambour Civic Hall. Well beautiful dressing rooms we had for the first time in our lives. Beautiful dressing rooms, somewhere that you could relax in, and somewhere that you could get...
SB: In the sixties?
SB: Is this in the sixties that you got in there?
ROWELL: Can’t remember what year it would be, in the late sixties or the early seventies I would say. But it was the first time we’d had dressing rooms, and it was well, it was just lovely. We felt it. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. See there was never anywhere to leave make-up, and so I got Jack Collins bought me a big suitcase, and all the make-up went into that. And I’d supplied most of the make-up in that time because, well I felt I was working, and the make-up wasn’t a terribly expensive thing. And well it was my donation to NATS over the years. But when I’d felt that I’d had my day, nobody else seemed to want to take on the make-up. I tried to give it away on several occasions the same as I tried to give up doing the scrapbooks. That was my idea in the first place, and I found that I was left with it. But I thought that the keeping a record of all the NATS had done, I had been in Gympie, and I’d been staying with friends of mine, and their father had kept a scrapbook of the early days of Gympie, and the shows that he had put on. He was a very musical man, and he also taught club dancing to the people though he wasn’t a dancing teacher, as a matter of fact he had no training at all in music, he taught himself music, and all that he knew about music he learnt from a book. And he was a clever old man, and he had kept a
scrapbook of all the shows that he had put on, in Gympie, right back to the, I suppose the early 1900s. And some of the programmes were beautiful, they were giltedged.
SB: And who would do the programmes for NATS?
ROWELL: Well mostly the Chronicle office, well when Vic McFadden came into it, he did a lot, he painted a lot of scenes for NATS, well they weren’t charged there, you know, they all charged very little, down to bedrock. Vic McFadden did a lot for NATS, and there’s no recognition given him at all. And I thought when they got the new theatre this theatre, I’d like to have seen three trees planted, memorial trees out in front of the theatre. Fancy planting three memorial trees in front of that pimple.
SB: So three, who would the other two be?
ROWELL: There would be Vic McFadden, Jack Collins and Bill Agnew. Three trees in memory of them. And they were the, I would say the foundation members of the society, and they were the ones who held it together for many years. And at all shows, Vic McFadden, had his orchestra there, and they played, course they played the Queen or the King to start the show, but they always played during interval, they’d played the whole of the interval time.
SB: Vic McFadden, that’s not the editor of the Chronicle is it?
SB: It is.
ROWELL: Yes, he was in shows right back to the very early days, when we’ve got no records of those at all. Vic was always in the shows, although I think there was one in 1923 in one of the programs that, mentioned in the first scrapbook there, that Vic McFadden’s name was mentioned.
SB: Se he conducted the orchestra?
ROWELL: He conducted and he had about forty players when they first started.
ROWELL: Yes, he had a very good orchestra.
SB: Were they all local people who were in the orchestra?
ROWELL: No, they weren’t a local, not all Nambour people, some used to come from Buderim. And there was an old chappie who lived a Bli Bli, an old Mr Thorpe, and he was a very good double base player. And of course that made quite a difference to the orchestra when he had him. And Vic McFadden used to send a taxi out and pay for it, to bring him into the rehearsal, he’d bring him in and the taxi would take that old chappie home. Every time they had rehearsal and they played at the theatre, Vic McFadden paid to bring that old man in. He was Daddy Thorpes, they called him.
SB: What did they call him?
ROWELL: Daddy Thorpe.
SB: So the orchestra must have been a very part of NATS?
ROWELL: It was, yes, it was. And it was a good orchestra. They had a lot of music, and Vic McFadden eventually, when I think the, well everything comes to a peak, and then gradually dies away, I think that Vic McFadden had got a bit weary of the rehearsals, he was out too many nights of the week, and that sort of thing. And well he couldn’t get the players, anyhow they wouldn’t come out, and TV had come on their way, you know, and the people didn’t go out, like they didn’t feel the need of entertainment.
SB: So how did you cope without the orchestra, I mean you must have really missed it?
ROWELL: We did. I don’t think that shows were ever the same after the orchestra folded up. They just were naked.
ROWELL: They just started off, that was all the show started. But there was no music before hand, and no music to see people go out of the theatre. And in those days, well Vic McFadden, I can think of him, he and Jessie McFadden, or if Jessie wasn’t there, he always stood at the front door, like the parson does at church, and said well, how pleased he was they’d come, and did they enjoy the show and this sort of thing, and talk to everybody as they streamed out the hall. And that meant something to the people, to the public.
SB: Well it’s like a private party in some ways, isn’t it.
ROWELL: Yes. And they had their regular customers, who wouldn’t miss a NATS show for anything, there was something about them. But it’s lost all that now.
SB: So it was a real society thing was it?
ROWELL: Yes it was. Yes it was.
END TAPE 1/BEGIN TAPE 2/SIDE A
SB: Do you remember any other Nambour people that were keen on the theatre, who were keen on NATS?
ROWELL: Well let’s think, Mrs Overell, Ken Overell’s mother, was a very keen member, she was a patron come to think of it, she was Mrs Overell. And Letty and George Chadwick, but especially Letty. The French’s, Jean and Harry French, Jean and Eddie French, and Harry French and his wife, not so but they were interested. They’d always be at the shows, they’d always come. The chap who worked at the post office, what was his name? You know I can’t remember people’s names now.
SB: It is hard to remember names.
ROWELL: I’m going back twenty years, more than twenty years, twenty- five years.
SB: And so on opening nights, would you have a special party after opening night, or anything like that?
ROWELL: No, no we didn’t have any of those wine and cheese parties, or any of those things, people just came for the enjoyment of the show, and they enjoyed it. They enjoyed the music and they enjoyed the show. We didn’t have to coax them along with wine and cheese.
SB: Well at intervals did you have a supper or anything like that?
ROWELL: No, we had music. The orchestra played right through.
SB: And I noticed that the plays used to be on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
ROWELL: Yes, yes.
SB: Why did they have to be on the weeknight, not on say the weekend?
ROWELL: Well I can’t remember, but it had something to do with the booking of the hall I think. I’m not too sure about that, I don’t know why it was always Wednesday and Thursday night, but I think that it had something to do with the booking, there was something else on Friday night. I can not remember that, somebody else might. Ralph Smith might remember why it was on during the week. And another thing they had through the centre of the town, they had a huge canvas. Jack Collins was in charge of that, I don’t know how he got it up, but through the middle of Currie Street, he had this huge canvas strung up, right high, in the street for everybody to see. And it was advertising the show, the current show that NATS would put on, and the dates firmly marked under the show itself. And that was the best ad that they ever had. It had several big holes in it, that were there to let the wind blow through, so that it didn’t billow out. But Jack got that big canvas up, and it must have been a difficult thing to get up because it was a huge thing, and it didn’t look big when it was up, but it was quite a big canvas. And that was hung up there always before the shows came on.
SB: Well when a production was going to occur, what would the sets be? Who would decide what plays would be done?
ROWELL: Oh there was always a committee, three or four people who read the play and decided. But it they could get a producer, producers have always been the difficult thing to get, and there was always a backstop, if nobody else was producing, Bill Agnew always filled in as a producer. He was marvellous like that, if nobody was available for producing, Bill Agnew would put on a show. And he always had something to put on too, he always had some idea. And his final show, I said, well I’m glad he was transferred because he wanted to put on Nightingale, Florence Nightingale. From the age of eighteen or seventeen, till the age of when she died, ninety-four I think it was on stage. And I said, “I’m jolly glad, I’m jolly glad you got transferred, I’m sorry you’re going, but I’m glad you got transferred.” (Laughs)
SB: Because that would have been very difficult make-up wise.
ROWELL: But his idea, was he was going to put on two different people, from the age of eighteen to about forty, and then he was putting on another woman, and older person to play the part of forty to ninety- four or what ever it was, on stage. But she still had to be aged. But he’d put them on, and look, they’d be good shows, he put on, what was it, it was a terrific show to be put on by amateurs, St Joan. And Carol Skinner, it was the first time she had been on a stage, and she was only a schoolgirl then, but she was a big girl. But Carol took the part of St Joan, and it was a terrific show, both in costumes and make-up, the lot. And the woman who did the costumes for that was Olive Bartlett, and she made a very good job of it.
SB: And so did you always get full houses for the performances?
ROWELL: Not always, and when we went to the Civic Hall, if the house wasn’t full you couldn’t pay your expenses.
SB: Because it was so expensive to hire the hall?
ROWELL: Yes, and they couldn’t go onto the stage for rehearsal, the two nights that the shows were on, was the only nights that they were able to afford to pay, even if it was a big show. And they found that some of the shows, they hadn’t paid their way, so something had to be done about finding a venue for them to put on their shows. And it was then that the Masonic Hall came up, they were selling the Masonic Hall as they were building a new one. And NATS had to make up their mind whether they wanted Masonic Hall. Working to get the Civic Hall going, we found we couldn’t afford it, it was too expensive, and we were in debt every time we put a show on.
SB: Was the Council not interested in letting you have it at a cheaper rate?
ROWELL: No, they wouldn’t let us have it at a cheaper rate. It’s the same with Caloundra, that new hall of theirs, the little theatre crowd down there can’t afford it, it’s too expensive.
SB: It’s a shame isn’t it that the local groups can’t afford to use the local facilities.
ROWELL: Yes, it’s no good to them. And it was, for our shows, it was a little bit too big anyhow, the Civic Hall. Unless you filled the Hall, well you lost on the show, so it was too big for our shows.
SB: Well NATS performed musicals, and comedies and dramas, and everything, everything.
ROWELL: Yes. For the musicals it was all right. I mean you could get a big crowd in there, and the musicals always brought the people, because there was so many people involved in a musical show. The last show we put on there was the ‘New Moon” I think. Yes, I think it was the ‘New Moon’ and that was a very big show.
SB: How would NATS get its cast, especially for big shows like that?
ROWELL: The person who wanted to produce this big show, would have a fair idea of who the leads could be. Because you’d have to have good singers for the leads. And then they would fill in, they would have casting meetings of course, and anybody that was interested to be in the show would come along to casting meetings, so that they would get the, from the casting meeting, they would get the foundation for their shows. And then some of the, if the choruses were a bit weak, well they would scout around and get fill-ins for their choruses.
SB: And did NATS ever enter any drama competitions?
ROWELL: Yes, they did a lot. Quite a lot.
SB: Did they? How would NATS compare with other groups?
ROWELL: I think they were about on the level they should have been. To me they should have been way out, they should have been the outstanding ones, but they weren’t ever that. There were some that they did quite well in, with Buderim, and I don’t think they ever won any prizes when they went to the Warana festival. I can’t remember that, I’d have to look up in the book to see, because I was not terribly interested in those shows. Sometimes I went along, but it was usually a group of three or four, they didn’t put many players in as a rule. But I can’t remember much about that part of the show because I didn't take any part of it.
SB: But for local performances the standard was quite high?
ROWELL: Yes, yes they were. There was a time when I thought, used to think, that we put on far better shows than Brisbane was putting on, far better.
SB: Was that because the producer was very strict?
SB: Who was producing then?
ROWELL: I would say Tom Mainfield, who has worked with the, is still working with the ABC as a producer in Sydney. Tom was from the Department of Agriculture and Stock or DPI and he went to the Sydney University, and produced shows while he was at the University, and then he came from Sydney, up here, well he went to Macquarie Island, and I think he was there for two or three years, and then came back and joined the DPI. And he was an entomologist, he trained as an entomologist and that’s what he was in the DPI here. And he knew theatre. He had been involved, not in going on stage but he had a cousin who worked with Dick Bently, in Sydney, when Dick Bently was younger. And she worked with this Dick Bently in Sydney, and Tom used to go to the theatre and be message boy for them, he went out and bought pies and all this sort of thing when they were hungry, during rehearsals. So that he had a grounding in what went on in theatre, he knew theatre, and then he worked at the Sydney University, and he was interested in producing. And what Tom put on, he was a bit of a fanatic, it had to be right, it had to suit him, and we put on some very good shows here while Tom was here. And there were other producers as well who knew theatre and put on good shows. So the shows were pretty high quality at that time. Then we had Ralph Smith, well Ralph was always a good producer, and Ralph knew what he wanted and he got it too. He was one of the main stays of NATS, for many years producing, because good producers were always hard to get.
SB: Was there ever any upsets at rehearsals, or anything, because the producer might have been too hard?
ROWELL: Yes, they had their turns, but it all blew over eventually. All blew over, some of them were quite funny. Jack Collins would come in, Jack would come into the theatre, he never missed a show, he never missed a rehearsal sort of thing, and he’d come in towards the end, when it was coming near the time of the show to come on. And Jack would have a sleep, or at least everybody thought he was sleeping in one of the seats, and he was listening to every word that was spoken. He was just having a rest, that was all. And he’d lie there in the seat, and everybody would think that was okay, he was just having a sleep. And when the show was over, he’d get out of, when they come to near the final, he’d get out of his seat, or it might be an appropriate time, Jack would get up, shake himself, and walk down to the stage, and, “That was bloody awful! And if you think people will come and pay money to see that.” He said, “I’ve listened to every word of it,” he said, “none of you know…” and he’d say this. They’d be dead silence, the leading lady or whoever it was that was ‘bloody awful’ because she’d never come back into the society again, she would be seen, and she would flout out, flounce home, and they’d all be there the next rehearsal night. The producer of course would probably have seen then in the meantime and smoothed things over.
SB: What role was Jack playing, was he just a patron?
ROWELL: He was a patron, he was the business manager, and he was a very good one. And he was a very good member. I mean everybody knew their lines next time they came on, next rehearsal. Yes, that’s all they wanted, that’s all they wanted, and they realised what he said was true, every word of it was true. Only the producer was much to genteel and too much afraid to speak, of offending people, and he wasn’t going to say it, but he would have passed the word to Jack that hey weren’t doing very well, and Jack would go along, and throw in a brick. And that was all it needed, and they would come to, and the night of the show they would be good. But Jack was missed from the society, Jack used to give his café, for all the NATS parties, and they had some wonderful parties. Truly it never had the same feeling after they got into a bigger hall, we cramped into the café like sardines.
SB: And so all the NATS people would crowd into this café for the parties.
ROWELL: And Jack would have, Jack was very good at rhyming and Jack would paly, “Much binding in the Marsh”, do you know the tune?
ROWELL: But he would have, the whole of the twelve months period of the shows and the occasions that any member of NATS had taken to the stage, and he would have that all written in this ditty, and the crowd would sing it, “Much binding in the Marsh”. And it mentioned the three shows that had been put on during the year. And it all came into our Christmas party. And Jack would drum this tune on the piano. It was one of the call signs of Flanigan and Allen, or on, I don’t know it was TV or the radio at the time, probably be the radio. And Jack could play the piano strum, he’d strum the piano, strum the tune, and everybody would sing, and he’d have the whole thing written off in some pages, and they’d be handed round amongst the crowd. I may have some of those, I think there might be one in one of the scrapbooks, the first scrapbook.
SB: Right. So Jack Collins café was quite a scene of merriment?
ROWELL: Yes, yes, and Jack found a lot of talented people when they came into the café for a cup of coffee. He talked to people.
SB: Yes, where was this café?
ROWELL: Well, that’s it when you walk down Queen Street and you try and place these things, I think it would be…
SB: Was it in Queen Street?
ROWELL: No it was in Crow Street. I think it’s where Coles, one of the chain stores, yes, Woollies, the first one, well it must be Coles, the second one, that’s where it was. And quite an update, they undated it, and it was quite a nice place to have a meal.
SB: And did this social life was it reported in the paper at all?
ROWELL: The party?
SB: Or the social life of Nambour, was that reported in the Chronicle?
ROWELL: Jessie McFadden used to give all the news of the people who were, the bank managers wives, you know, if they had a party, yes, that was always reported. But Jessie used to put that, or the social news was always reported by Jessie, for a long time, other people did it, but I liked the paper best when Jessie McFadden did it, because it was always a big fruity.
SB: So everyone in Nambour was very interested in this personal column?
ROWELL: Yes, well I don’t know about if everybody was, but I always was, and I missed it, I missed it. Jessie would come along, in later years, Jessie would come along to the Christmas parties, and help with the taking the plates of sandwiches around and the beer, and that sort of thing. I usually found myself finishing up in the kitchen because nobody else seemed to go in the kitchen, so I’d go in and Jessie, and Freddie Wilkes, and there were about four or five of us working in the kitchen. Freddie used to keep the beer jugs full, and I used to keep the plates of sandwiches full, and Jessie would help with that.
SB: Tom Mainfield?
ROWELL: Mainfield, yes.
SB: Was the producer in the early days.
ROWELL: Yes. A lot of people didn’t like Tom. He was a, what should I say, well I don’t think he attended to his work very well. He had plenty of time to roam around to talk to people. He knew people, he liked people, and a lot of the men thought that he was too fond of the ladies, mixed too much with the…. he was a woman’s man, let’s say, and he could sit and talk with a bunch of women and be quite relaxed about it. But he didn’t seem to do it with the men so much. He was a clever man, lets say that, and he did put some very good shows on for NATS. Did some good work for NATS. He would sit and talk theatre and knew what he was talking about, and that was good for NATS, because we were all a bunch of amateurs and didn’t know how to do things in the right way.
SB: How many rehearsals would you have before a play would go on, would rehearsing go on for months at a time.
ROWELL: Oh it went on for, I would say about six weeks, before the show. Maybe for big shows, it did go on for months, yes, till they got it right. Cinderella, they put that on, the ‘Glass Slipper’, and they were a long time rehearsing that.
SB: Were plays not put on until they were right, or did you have a date?
ROWELL: Well they had a date to work to, yes, they had to make a date, they had to advertise the show, a long time before it came on, so therefore once the date was announced, then they had to really get down to work. But for the ‘Glass Slipper’, I think that they were rehearsing that for a long time before they decided when it would be, because the scenery for one thing, was a big thing. That went on in the old Diggers Hall.
SB: Right. Did you notice that the coming of TV made any difference to the interest?
ROWELL: Yes it did.
SB: It did. In what way did it affect theatre?
ROWELL: Well I don’t know whether, to me that was the starting of the decline, in Little Theatre. And I don’t think people will be bothered getting off their seats now and going anywhere. Because there was a very good musical show, I’m told on for the coming artists, the young people, who show potentiality of being very good artists, and it was put on by the Arts Council.
SB: The Arts Council, and what, they couldn’t get an audience?
ROWELL: No, no audience. For talented young people. And nobody, they had a very poor audience, I didn’t know it was on. But it was on one night last week. No audience.
SB: Was there any problem getting cast, was that a problem after TV came as well?
ROWELL: Yes, I think that more or less, if there was big cast, there was always problems, especially with men, getting men players. But for those who worked amongst men, and worked at the Mill, and worked at the DPI like Bill Agnew, he usually was able to pick from amongst the fellows, most of them were University trained, and most of them had been in some show at the Uni, or had something to do with you if they were at all interested they’d be in these shows. So bill Agnew was a pretty good scout in that respect, and Ralph Smith was another one, and he worked at the Mill in the sugar boiling or something like that at the Nambour Mill. And in those days the Mill was quite a big thing in the town, it provided an awful lot of employment for men, and for cane cutters. And the cane cutters certainly made a big difference to the industry in this town, because before the season started, the town would hum with activities for boots and shirts and clothing for the cane cutters, and for the food stores for all their food, so that the town brightened up as soon as cane season started. Ralph Smith worked at the Mill and he was able to find people there for shows that were put on, and if he was producing. It was he who found Eddie Ellis, and Eddie came into the, I think ‘Reedy River’ was one of the first shows that Eddie ever played in. And he had a beautiful speaking voice, natural speaking voice, and he was able to eventually act. At first he didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, in the first few shows he did. But he soon lost that when he started to feel sure of himself, that was only a form of nervousness I think, that knowing what to do with his hands.
SB: Were there any people who started playing in NATS that went on and did more acting?
ROWELL: Yes, quite a few, quite a few. Tommy Dysart, Dysart was another person, I’m going forward a few years now, but Tommy was I think, wait a while I’ll go back a bit. Ralph Smith was putting on a show, and the name of the show was something about, the late Christopher Bean. And in that show they wanted a Scotchman, or a person who could speak with a Scotch accent. So nobody was available around the town that they could think of, but they had the idea, I don’t know who, but Ralph, probably Ralph, had the idea of writing to the Caledonian Society and asking if they knew of any young Scotchman, who would take the part of the speaking voice, the Scotch voice. And Tommy Dysart was suggested, Tommy was a new comer to the town, and I don’t know who suggested it, but they got hold of his name anyhow. And they followed that through and asked Tommy if he would come along to the rehearsal they were having, to the casting they were having, that was it, the casting. And Tommy came along, and I thought it’s that bodgie type fellow, oh he’s just arrived in town, I wondered who he was. And well he came and he spoke, he read the lines that he had to say and he had a beautiful speaking voice, and I changed my opinion of Tommy the bodgie type fellow that arrived in town whom I didn’t know his name, or didn’t know where he came from, but he spoke these lines and spoke them beautifully. Just in the right type of voice.
SB: Tommy Dysart.
ROWELL: Tommy Dysart, yes.
SB: Yes, and you were saying how he was a find.
ROWELL: He was a find, yes.
SB: Did he want to act?
ROWELL: No, he wasn’t interested in acting at all. But he had such a beautiful speaking voice, that some of the members of this society thought that he should go further. And I know that Amy Grimes was one, who brought papers along for him to fill out to go down to Brisbane. It was, I can’t remember who it was, it might have been the Australian Theatre were putting on this research work or they were trying to find young people who might be interested or suitable for state work. And they were putting on a sections, the Sydney University, if they won their competition, they would get some time at the Sydney University for training.
End Side A/Begin Side B
ROWELL: Amy could tell you all about it, because she was the one, I know that thought Tommy should have training, I can remember that quite well. And she got Tommy to fill this paper in, and Tommy went down for an audition, to Brisbane, he went to Brisbane, not to Sydney for an audition. And he was chosen as one of the two or three players, people that had the chance of going to Sydney University, and he took the opportunity and went to Sydney University. At that time Bible reading was the thing, I think that one of the English actors was giving a series of Bible readings, or series of evenings in which he read the Bible, sections from the Bible. And Tommy read to win the competition to go to the Sydney University, Tommy read this section of the Bible. I think that’s in the scrapbook too. Young Tommy, he really had a natural speaking voice, his mother had the same kind of voice, deep, right down in the chest. And Tommy was chosen, that year he did his course at the Sydney University, and he was chosen to do a show at the Arts Festival, Adelaide Arts Festival. He read sections, a section from the Bible, which he’d done so well with, and he also did a part of a play, took the leading part in a play. Can’t remember the name of the play… And he has been on stage. He was with Jill Perriman in ‘Funny Girl’. He was in the play, ‘The Spanish Thing’, the girl Steel, Susan Steel took the lead part and Tommy was one of the muleteers in that show. ‘Man of La Mancha’ yes, he was in that in Sydney for years, I think they played there for a couple of years.
SB: Were there other people from NATS that went on?
ROWELL: Yes, Carol Skinner, who played in the production that Bill Agnew put on, the ‘St Joan’.
SB: Yes, she was quite young then.
ROWELL: Yes, she was only just a schoolgirl. And her teacher said she’d never do the part, she couldn’t it was too difficult for her. But Bill Agnew had her up at his house every night in the week, or almost every night, and he coached her, and coached her, and coached her, till he got what he wanted for her, she was able to master the part. And Carol Skinner got the stage in her blood stream then, after doing that, Carol wanted to go on stage and her parents were good Presbyterians and they didn’t think she should go. And then they found that she was so keen to do it, to go on the stage, well her father said well, give her some money and let her go, and get it out of her system. She never ever got it out of her system, she’s still on the stage, I don’t know whether she makes much of a living out of it, but she hasn’t had any major parts, that I can think of, but she’s had a lot of small parts.
SB: So NATS was obviously at its peak in the fifties?
ROWELL: Yes, I would say so. I would say so. Well that’s my opinion of it, I don’t think they’re right down in the doldrums now.
SB: Do you think Nambour itself was in a peak time in the fifties?
ROWELL: Possibly. Because there were good sugar seasons, and all the farmers were happy, and the town was prospering and we didn’t see shops taken over and close up, well that’s not a good sign in any town and its happening here all the time. People can’t make a go of their business, well I don’t ever remember anybody closing their shop at all, they just are old timers who’d come here to earn a living, and they earned a living in their business.
SB: So there were some good businessmen in the town as well?
ROWELL: Yes there were. But there were no chain stores then to compete against, for people who had small businesses, and I think they’ve gone out of fashion, small businesses now because they only seem to operate for a short time, and they’re closed.
SB: Tell me a little bit about Jack Collin’s café. You were telling me before, can you just tell me, you know, was it a place where you could get a good meal or what did they provide?
ROWELL: Yes it was. It became a very modern eating house, and they provided what people wanted, a good cup of coffee, and if you wanted toasted sandwiches, something like that, you could get that. Or if you wanted a meal you could get quite a good meal too. I don’t know who their cook was, but they had a good cook, no the boys didn’t do any cooking.
SB: Did they specialise in anything?
ROWELL: Collins’s pies, yes. Jack had a little ditty out in the front, I’ve been trying to think what the ditty said, it was something to do with Collins’s pies, but I just can’t recall it, it was typical of Jack. Jack was the businessman there, and lots of people would come in, and he was always looking for talent. And you’ve got to if you are interested in theatre, and that’s what’s lacking in NATS now, there’s nobody searching for talented people. If you go along, that’s okay, I don’t know whether you’re even made to feel welcome, but you go along and you can do as you like there.
SB: Tell me, who were the main personalities in Nambour at the time? Can you tell me a little bit about William Whalley?
ROWELL: William Whalley, I can, what do you want to know?
SB: Well what role did he play in the town as such?
ROWELL: Well he was the money man of the town. Whalley’s was the big store, it was a big store, and there wasn’t anything that you couldn’t buy there, I don’t think. They had beautiful china and beautiful crystal, and they supplied all the farmers that couldn’t pay their bills in the bad seasons. I think they carried them over. They had quite a large office at the back of the store, three or four steps up to it. They had quite a big staff there. Les Whalley was in charge of the office, that was the eldest son, and then there was Jim Perren, he was the head office man, and Amy Grimes was there, and then they had three or four juniors working on staff, so it was quite a large office they had. They had a grocery section, they had an orderman, who was I think, Eddie Hamilton used to ride around to all the customers in the town, today and took your order. And then your groceries were delivered by, well it eventually became a truck that they delivered in, but horse and cart used to be right in the early days, but that was delivered right into your kitchen table, all your groceries. And farmers used to buy their seed potatoes there, and their fertilisers and their chaff for their horses, it was a big, they had a big back store. And everything that you could possibly think of was held there.
SB: And did William Whalley sort of see Nambour as a place that was going to…did he have some vision for Nambour do you think?
ROWELL: Well that I don’t know. I didn’t know him well enough to. But I think that he saw the potentiality of when the mill came, that it would go ahead, yes he must have done, because he was one of the share holders, and one of the, he must have been one of the biggest share holders in the mill. So he would see that, because when the farmers began to open up, it must have meant Nambour going ahead. So ye, he would see the potentiality of a good business. Because Willy Whalley himself, was a plumber by trade, but his parents drove from Brisbane up here in a bullock dray, and settled up on the range, I think up Highworth way, somewhere up there, somewhere in that vicinity. And he was, as a lad he was the mail boy, used to deliver the mail around the district, so that’s how he started off, as a mail boy. And I don’t know where he learnt his plumbing trade, but he was a plumber by trade, and I think that’s what he first started off, as a plumbing business her in town.
SB: Well he certainly was a successful businessman then wasn’t he?
ROWELL: Oh he was, he was a good businessman. And he had three sons, Les was the eldest, and Les’s wife was just buried the other day, Daisy Whalley. And then next one was Frank, and Frank married Metcalfe, what was her first name, oh I know her quite well, anyhow they lived up on the Heights, up in Nambour Heights up there. Frank, and they all had beautiful gardens, and Jim the youngest one, married the hotelkeeper, who came here, married Coral Terry. Coral was an only daughter.
SB: Tell me a little bit about the eisteddfods.
ROWELL: Yes, we used to have big eisteddfods her once upon a time, and Maleny would have them too, Gympie would have them, everybody had an eisteddfod. And there were a lot of talent around the area, I wouldn’t say that I had talent, but evidently we sang well together, we weren’t good soloists but we could sing together.
SB: Olive Whalley and you?
ROWELL: Yes, our voices evidently blended, except when I forgot the words, and I’d get a jab in the ribs. I said to Olive, “Do you remember when you used to do this to me to make me bring myself to my senses?”
She said, “Oh I didn’t did I?”
I said, “Yes, you did, I always knew that if I got the words wrong, or I got something wrong, your elbow would come into my ribs.”
Oh days of real sport, and she always, before we’d go on to the stage, she’d always, “Oh I’ll have to go, oh I’ll have to go.”
I said, “Don’t you, don’t you, they’ll be ringing the bell and we won’t be here.”
“I’ll have to go, I’ll have to go, and you’ll have to come with me.”
Right, we go with our torch, right to the toilet, right down about half a yard down the back yard it would be, as it was at Maleny, and where else would they have their toilet right in the backyard, somewhere else, I can’t think now where it was. But we’d have to go half a mile walk, and come back with our shoes all wet, truly, and they’d be ringing the bell and calling our names, and we’d have to race straight on stage. Oh, and then I’d forget, I’d go on stage and I wouldn’t know what I was going to sing, what we were singing, I’d be saying, “What are we singing? What’s the first words?” I’d be saying to her.
SB: And so did a lot of people compete in the eisteddfods?
ROWELL: Yes, we had good competition. And she was here the other day, she came up with her sister-in-law, for Daisy Whalley’s funeral. And I said, “Did you ever keep any of those old papers?’
She said, “I did but I don’t know what I’ve done with them.”
Of course she’s had a lot of shifts, she married a chappie in the Education Department, a chap by the name of Hoskins, and he was one of those very studious fellows, and he got into the head office in the Department of Education in Brisbane, and he used to write up the, this is way back when the kids had exams, and he’d write all the questions and that sort of thing for them. So they shifted from one place to another in their early life, and she said that she thinks that she lost them, she doesn’t know what happened. I said, “Well we only had one super win, and that’s when we beat that tenor fellow, that the judge didn’t like.” He couldn’t stand him, he didn’t like his voice at all. He had much better training than we’d had, and he had a much better voice than we had, but he didn’t like something that this tenor did, he couldn’t stand him. So we beat him, and that was the only time we really had a good win. It was only luck.
SB: Well saying about when the mill first came to Nambour, who owned the land? Could you just tell me that story?
ROWELL: George Bury. He donated it, I’ve got that all written up somewhere, I wonder where it is, and the names of all the people involved. The land was owned by George Bury, and the place that they were to buy at Yandina on the banks of the Maroochy River, or the north arm of the Maroochy River, the man put the price up to such an extent on the land when he found out the mill was going to buy it, that he missed out on the sale. And George Bury gave them land where the mill is today, and that’s how it came to Nambour.
SB: And George Bury, he owned the hotel? The Royal George was it?
ROWELL: The Royal.
SB: The Royal Hotel.
ROWELL: Yes, because the Royal George is down this end of the town. The Royal was a big hotel and it accidentally got burnt down. Nambour was a great place for fires, it had one fire after another. In the 1920s well every night in the week, every year it had a beaut fire, got rid of a lot of the old houses, the old dwellings, and anything they didn’t like they burnt it down. The 1924 fire was the biggest, because it burnt down all Currie Street, right from the tramline right down to the end of the street.
SB: Would those places have been insured?
ROWELL: Oh, I think so. But they were just rabbit warrens, they were upstairs and downstairs sort of thing. And Geddes’ café was there, Mrs Geddes had a café there. And there was a butchers shop, and Harry Hill the saddler.
SB: Did you know Harry Hill?
ROWELL: I didn’t know him personally, but I knew who he was, he was the town saddler, I knew his son Len Hill, but they were very quiet people. Almost like Quakers. Fred Bendixen, Bendixen’s Sports, Bendixen, no what was it?
ROWELL: No that was later on, we didn’t have any sport in those days, didn’t have enough money to have sport I don’t think. No it was Nielson saddlers, everybody rode, so that’s why you had your saddlers around, yes.
SB: Did you know a Bowder, a man called Bowder?
ROWELL: From Yandina?
ROWELL: Well yes, I didn’t know them personally, but I know of them, Bowder’s, yes, they had a nice home and a nice garden at Yandina, not far from the railway station, just across from the railway station.
SB: I noticed that Bowder used to write to the newspaper a lot, he was in the sugar industry, into cane farming.
ROWELL: Oh yes, I suppose he would have some type of farm there, yes. I know they were quite comfortable off, they were not poor people. And McNabs, this was at Yandina, McNab was the, well Mrs McNab used to be in everything that had music attached to it. She was a great, a good pianist, and church organist, Presbyterian, I think they played at the Presbyterian Church. And she was, before she came to Yandina, before she married and came to Yandina, she was a Dauth of the early sawmillers, right on the Brisbane River, right near where the Kangaroo Point is now, used to be Dauth, but they were money people.
SB: So actually there were quite a lot of rich people living in the area then?
ROWELL: Yes, yes there were, comfortably off, yes.
SB: Was there much poverty in the area in the fifties say?
ROWELL: Well there was always the fellow who neglected his family for his grog. There were a few of them around, but I would say they were in the minority, but yes there were because if a woman lost her husband she got no recompense at all. She didn’t get a pension like they do today, she had to take in washing.
SB: So the women were the ones that suffered.
ROWELL: Yes they were. And the kids too, until they could go out to work and earn a bit to bring in to the mother, but a woman, that was what a woman usually turned to when her husband died, she took in washing, or went out cleaning, one or the other. There was always bank boys, you know who wanted their shirts washed and their washing done, there was always women who couldn’t cope with their own work, who had money to pay a woman to do it for her. But a widow got nothing from the government.
SB: Nothing at all.
ROWELL: Well in the 1950s, well towards the end of the 1950s I guess there was some recompense then, but early on a woman got no help from the government.
SB: So would the churches help, would churches help in those instances, I mean, what role did the church play in the community?
ROWELL: Quite a big role I would say. Because they got all the weddings.
SB: Seemed to be a lot of churches being built in the fifties, a lot of denominations springing up.
ROWELL: Yes, well at that time the churches that were originally built here were beginning to get very shabby and too small, for the congregation couldn’t fit into them, that was the whole trouble, they were too small. So they had to build. And now they’re going backward, I believe there’s trouble between the Presbyterian church and the Methodist church, they don’t need the two churches. And who goes? Which one goes?
SB: That’s the thing isn’t it. So you can see Nambour as a picture of growth and prosperity in the fifties.
ROWELL: Yes, it was. But now since this sugar trouble has come up, well that’s been a big blow to Nambour, because it has certainly affected all the businesses and it’s affected the growth of the town.