On Tuesday 5 March 2013 an intrepid band of actors, musicians, directors, friends, spouses, partners and their children set out from Melbourne headed for South Western Victoria to perform four readings of the new Waltzing Matilda musical – The Man They Call The Banjo. The South West was chosen because of the Warrnambool and Camperdown connections to the Waltzing Matilda story. The team comprised playwright/composer and soon to be actor, Felix Meagher, Wolf Heidecker, Director, Cory Corbett, the lead role of Banjo Paterson, Cora Browne,playing Sarah Riley, Banjoʼs fiancé for eight years, and Ewen Baker, musical director and mandolin player. On the way through they picked up Angela Little, (who flew in from Sydney), who was playing Christina Macpherson, the woman who supplied Banjo with the tune for Waltzing Matilda and became his lover, and Colin Driscoll, legendary bush poet from Ararat,playing the role of the Swagman, Peter Daffy from Camperdown on guitar and Lou Hesterman from Apollo Bay on bass. One member of the team unable to join the throng, was Dennis OʼKeeffe, author of the book that inspired the musical, Waltzing Matilda – The Secret Story of Australiaʼs Favourite Song, who was receiving medical treatment in Geelong. Unbeknowns to both of them at the time, Felix would need to stand in for Dennis, who was unable to take his place in the role of Robert Macpherson, The Squatter.
With a series of hot days forecast, the cast rehearsed in the theatre by the wharf at Flagstaff Hill, Warrnambool for the opening night of the tour. A full house, including two bus loads of tourists from Inverell, NSW, waited for the show to start. As if with the waving of a wand, a magical atmosphere was created by the opening of some doors that allowed the audience to watch the cast while overlooking a large billabong-like pond. John Menzies, from Camperdown, described it – ‘…as a glorious experience sitting in the half open air looking at the pond and the village listening to the music…’
The next morning the cast drove back in the direction of Melbourne to Coleʼs historic wool shed (dating from 1851) on the Camperdown/Darlington Rd, for the next show. There was a plan to counter the expected heat in the wool shed, and Gisela Heidecker was picking up a port-a-cooler from Coates hire in Geelong. Tim Lee, from ABC Landline arrived with a crew to film the rehearsal and the show, and another full house gave the cast a standing ovation. Emailed feedback from those in attendance included the comments, ‘Awesome show.’ ‘Donʼt change a thing!’ ‘Fantastic!’
The final leg of the tour of readings was at the Port Fairy Folk Festival. The hot weather continued, but the coastal breezes and the opportunity to dive into surf of the Southern Ocean made for more pleasant circumstances for the cast – not to mention the many wonderful musicians performing on the festival stages, and creative atmosphere that is Port Fairy! The show received two more standing ovations from houses that were at about three quarter capacity. The final show was followed by a cast bonding session in the Green Room, with Felix Meagher taking copious notes for the inevitable re-write in the next few days. Dennis OʼKeeffe, recovering well from his treatment, and with a glass of Guinness in hand, congratulated the cast – ‘Well done. Bloody good show!
The producers and cast wish to thank the following people for making the tour possible- Jamie McKew, Port Fairy Folk Festival; Carole Reid, Shipwreck Coast; Merran Fife, Flagstaff Hill; Nick and Sue Cole, Gisela Heidecker, Rachel Donovan, Bushwahzee, Community Arts Alliance, Gwen and Edna Jones Foundation, Jamie Tait, Annabel Brady-Brown, Penney Logan Publicity; Margie Brophy, Peter Coverdale, Chris and Christine Maguire, Corangamite Arts; Nicky Atkinson, John and Donna Storey, Janice Trenair and Frank Duggan, Peter Nawn
For further information about The Man They Call The Banjo contact: