MICK WOIWOD - Historian and Author
The Andrew Ross Museum, Kangaroo Ground
Bruce Nixon launches Mick's book of children's tales, Auld Duncan's Kangaroo Tales, at the Andrew Ross Museum.
In 1996, I had been commissioned by Bruce Nixon to write Kangaroo Ground: The Highland Taken. This led me into a deeper involvement in the local scene. Furthermore, when I’d chosen to join the Eltham and District Historical Society, I and two other Bend of Island friends had ended up converting the vacated Kangaroo Ground school residence into the present-day Andrew Ross Museum which in the fullness of time was awarded the distinction of being named ‘Nillumbik Community Group of the Year in 2002’.
Not for us the static displays of memorabilia that added little of worth to the local story, instead we arranged theatre performances based on local themes such as the bushrangers who’d bailed up the Donaldson women way back in 1841, moonlight and twilight tours of the local cemetery centred around the sad passing of little Judith Furphy in 1851; poetry competitions, unveiling of stone memorials, even an in-depth investigation into the region’s oldest homestead.
One highlight of my museum days was my involvement in the production of a three act play for the evening of the launch of my sixteenth book — The Diary and Reminiscences of Andrew Ross, the diarist after whom the museum had been named. It had been an important book deserving of a special launch and so I’d rung my Bend of Islands neighbour, Peter Oyston, the founding Dean of Drama at the Victorian College of the Arts to ask if he’d be so kind as to script a Three Act Play based on the life of Andrew Ross for the coming Book Launch. His first response had been,
‘Look Mick, plays aren’t about people, they’re about conflict! You find me conflict in it and I’d gladly do it for you.’
This required a few seconds of quick thinking on my part and I’d immediately come up with the solution,
‘Look Peter, for sixty-seven years, Ross had kept a Diary and only once does he mention his wife, Mary Ann, by name in it. Surely, there has to be conflict there, somewhere?’
Peter responded, ‘Right, I’ll pop over at eight in the morning and I want you to outline a possible Act 1 and I’ll take it away with me and script it. I’ll be back with Act 1 at midday for you to type up and I want you then to tell me a believable Act 2 for me to take away and script while you are typing up Act 1. I’ll be back again at three with Act 2 for you to type up. You then give me a scenario for Act 3 for me to wrap it all up by six.’
And that is the exact way that it had played out. In one day, Peter had scripted a Three Act Play. He then brought in two of Melbourne’s lead television actors, Dennis Coard and Debra Laurance to do a pro bono performance of the Play under the title of The Squire of Kangaroo Ground, in the Eltham Little Theatre on the night of the Launch of The Diary of Andrew Ross 1828-1895 & The Reminiscences of Andrew Ross 1851-1864.
A highlight of the night’s performance, was the singing interludes of Peter’s opera singer daughter, Dominique, and son-in-law David Gould. Sadly it had been Peter’s ‘last hurrah’ to a brilliant career during which he directed some 200 theatrical performances worldwide. Peter had died soon after on 9 October 2011.