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Heritage—memories of scriptwriter Ellinor Walker

Ellinor Walker was the scriptwriter for the historical pageant Heritage, and recorded her memories of the event on 20 August 1976. These written memories are held in the Ellinor Walker archival record group in the State Library of South Australia as PRG 1019/4/21. Some extracts are included here with permission from the Society of Women Writers [in South Australia]. These recollections will prove fascinating to anyone who lived in Adelaide at that time, but also make interesting reading in themselves.

"It is with special pleasure that I record the following facts and reminiscences. The Pageant Heritage, performed as part of South Australia's Centenary celebrations in 1936 was one of the most fascinating highlights of my life; so much so that, though it was likewise the occasion of some of the hardest work I ever had to do, it is always enjoyment to me to recall it.

Heritage was presented at the Tivoli Theatre, Grote Street, Adelaide, later rebuilt and renamed Her Majesty's, and it ran for ten nights. It opened on Wednesday, September 23rd, 1936, and closed on the Saturday week, the first Saturday being the Vice-Regal night, with Sir Winston and Lady Dugan present. On every one of those evenings the Theatre was practically full, and I might mention here that the Pageant cleared £1,400, ($2,800) towards the establishment of the Flying Doctor Service at Alice Springs, which was South Australian Women's Centenary Memorial to the Pioneer Women of our State. The little memorial garden behind Government House was a quite small addendum so that there should be something definite here in Adelaide.

But of all the thousands of people who sat and watched the Pageant, there were hardly any who had the faintest idea of all that had gone to give them that evening's entertainment, and it is something about that that I am now going to tell.

I put in a month of intensive hard work, drawing up a sketch for a historical pageant of South Australia . . . A first sketch, subject to improvement, and itself taking up twelve foolscap pages of typing. It was all set out as such a thing must be, in a series of short scenes, each to take so many minutes exactly, and alternating between front and full stage, so as to eliminate all waste of time in the changing of scenery.

Meanwhile, Heather Gell approached the [Women's Centenary] Council with the sketch for a Fantasy of South Australia. and a request that that be sponsored in 1936. The name of Heather Gell, of course, is very well known. Originally also a Kindergarten [Training College] Graduate, always with outstanding musical gifts, she had developed into Australia's leading exponent of Dalcroze Euhrythmics, and the art of Music and Movement, a field in which she had undoubted genius.

Her Fantasy was a series of lovely scenes in music, mime and movement - no words - representing various aspects of South Australia, but not historical. The end of all that part of the story was that Heather Gell and I were asked if we would collaborate and combine her Fantasy and my historical pageant into a Pageant of South Australia, which should be sponsored by the Council, and produced by Miss Gell. We agreed, and got down to many weeks of hard work on the matter, turning two full-length things into one, with much re-shaping and various new ideas.

But at last we evolved a satisfactory sketch for a Pageant of South Australia in three parts, . . and the finished sketch was submitted to the Council's Committee, which approved it, and told us to go ahead. Well, by that time it was November 1935! And the Pageant was already scheduled to be performed in September 1936.

I told all my friends I was going into retreat for the holidays - no visits, no outings, no parties. I remember saying "No thank you" to one very specially nice party, and on December the 26th, I started in. And I really did literally work morning, noon and night.

For it was not only just a matter of sitting down and writing, though that was a big enough task, but there was the most tremendous amount of research to be done. For, though I had a good general knowledge of the history, it was necessary to hunt up every possible detail in connection with each historical scene, so as to make the whole thing as authentic as possible, and so as to make use of every possible detail that could add to the facts and the interest.

Research behind the scene of the Duke of Wellington's speech

I spent hours and hours at the Public Library, the Archives Department, and so on and there was another thing, in this particular type of writing, it becomes a virtue to incorporate as much as possible of what other people have said and thought and written. As an example, in the scene that occurred later in the Pageant concerning the attainment of self-government by South Australia, it was far better and more effective for me to use words that appeared in the leading article of the daily paper on that very day, expressing the thoughts and feelings of people who were actually living through that piece of history, than to compose sentences of my own.

So the range of research was very wide. Most of it was pretty straight-forward and simply meant sitting for hours at a stretch, whole days and evenings, reading and taking notes. but sometimes one came up against unexpected snags, and I will give an outstanding example.

It is a historical fact that the Duke of Wellington played an important part in the foundation of South Australia. The South Australian Company was organising the project with the humanitarian aim of relieving by emigration some of the poverty and misery caused by the Industrial Revolution, and it was necessary for it to get a Bill for the Colonisation of South Australia through the British Parliament. It went through the Commons, but when it reached the House of Lords, it met with a great deal of indifference, and some active opposition, and all omens were that it would be thrown out and the whole thing would collapse.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield, on whose excellent ideas the Colony was being planned, including his supremely wise principle that emigrants should be equal numbers of both sexes, he and Robert Gouger, the Company's fine secretary, waited upon the Duke of Wellington, as a man of sense and influence, to seek his support. Their arguments and their enthusiasm convinced him, and he promised to help. The next time the matter came up in the Lords, he made a speech so warmly and strongly in its favour, that he carried the day and the Bill was passed.

There was a little scene in the Pageant, indicating this episode. The tabs parted a few feet, showing a small inset scene, and the Duke of Wellington standing there, with the spotlight on him, making this important speech. In order to create this scene, I wished to hunt up the real original speech, so as to use extracts from it for the purpose. I started at the Parliamentary Library. and asked "Did they have the British Hansards of 1834?" Yes, they did, and I was taken up to a little gallery surrounded with the bound volumes. I picked out the one I wanted, and sat down with it, only to be knocked back.

For it turned out that in those days Hansard did not record every word spoken in Parliament. Somebody decided what was important and what wasn't, and if it wasn't it got very short shrift. It was an ironical little commentary on the ways values change in a Century. There were pages and pages about tithes in Ireland, and only a few lines on South Australia - nothing of any use to me. When I went downstairs, the Librarian asked, "Had I found what I wanted?" And I said 'No. I had not', and told him what I was seeking.

He said he had the collected speeches of the Duke of Wellington - it might be there. Two huge tomes were produced - a most marvellous edition - and I searched them hastily and eagerly, but there was nothing. The book had almost certainly been compiled from Hansard, and it had nothing about South Australia.

I then repaired to the Archives Department, then situated in the quaint little building at the rear of the Art Gallery, with the nice Mr. Pitt in charge. And what a delightful person he was to work with. So enthusiastic and co-operative and pleasant,.. but he said, No, they didn't have the speech, he wished they had. He was very interested in my search; if I found anything, would I please let them know.

I went to the Public Library, and hunted through three separate biographies of Wellington in the hope of turning up some reference or quotation that could give me a lead, but in vain, At that time, my family belonged to the old Circulating Library. I arranged with my mother, and got out two more biographies of Wellington... He was a favourite subject of 19th Century biographers, and took them home to study, but to no avail, and the only thing I got out of all that was to verify the fact that there is no record of that speech. It's been lost to posterity.

I thought, "Oh, well, if I can't find the real speech, I must write it in myself". So back I went to the Parliamentary Library, asked for the collected speeches of the Duke of Wellington, sat down for an hour and a half, with notebook and pencil, studying the style of the Duke and jotting down sentences, phrases, turns of speech that I thought I might use.

Then I went home and I wrote the speech, thus guaranteeing pure Wellington. And when that scene was acted in the Pageant, how long did it take? One minute! And of all the many people who saw that tiny scene more or less flash past them in the early part of the Pageant, there would not have been one that ever would have dreamed of all the time and trouble and work that lay behind it.

Research behind the scene of Robert Russell landing in the The Duke of York on Kangaroo Island

The putting into the mouths of historical characters of some of their own real words as recorded in letters and diaries, was a part of the work that interested me very much, and which I regarded as very important. I did not mind how much trouble it meant, if I could only manage to incorporate a few sentences or even just a few words.

Interesting examples of this were Robert Russell, Captain Morgan, Robert Gouger. Robert Russell was the second mate of The Duke of York under Captain Morgan. The Duke of York was one of the three ships that left England together with the very first lot of pioneers for South Australia, and it was the one that arrived here first.

Long years after, when Robert Russell was an old man living in North Adelaide, for he settled here, The Register, the daily paper sent out a reporter to interview him, and printed his remarks very fully, There was one little paragraph about the ship that I seized on, feeling I could well work it in to the scene of the first landing. It had been decided that these earliest pioneers should land on Kangaroo Island, because nobody knew yet where the Capital was going to be. Colonel Light would follow them up in about two months in his ship The Rapid and when he had decided on the site for Adelaide, then they could move over nearby if they wished, and of course we know that many of them did move over to Glenelg, and later arrivals went straight there.

But it was in Nepean Bay, where Kingscote is now, that The Duke of York dropped anchor, on July 27th, 1836, A boat was lowered, and a boatload rowed ashore. There was great rivalry as to who should have the honour of being the first to step ashore on the New Land, and the Captain settled the argument by decreeing that it should be the youngest person in the boat, little Elizabeth Beare, aged two. He told Robert Russell to lift her out, wade to the shore and set her little feet on the sand, which he did.

In the Pageant, this scene was set just in from the beach, with a backdrop of the sea and the ship at anchor. Voices were heard off, denoting what was happening, and then the characters entered in ones and twos over rocks at the back. For the purposes of the stage, one could not have a two-year-old child, so I made Elizabeth four or five. The part was taken by Marigold Gell, a little niece of Heather's, and she did look a perfect darling when she came running in across the stage in her old-fashioned frock and bonnet, and pantalettes.

She was followed by Robert Russell, then by Samuel Stevens, the Company Agent then by Captain Morgan, to whom Stevens turned with congratulations and praise and who told him to praise the Ship. And that was where Robert Russell said the words that were his own words spoken many years after....

"Aye, York's as good a barque as ever I shipped aboard. A hundred ninety tons and none of your a bluff-barred slow-sailing craft, but a good sea boat and fast."

Others came in and there was a little talk of place and the future, and then the Captain called them together, for it is history that these first pioneers of ours on their first landing, knelt down and, led by their Captain, thanked Heaven for bringing them safely to their journey's end; and when they rose, there was a rainbow in the sky, which they hailed as an omen of the future.

This whole incident is so expressive of the spirit in which our State was founded - so different from any of the other Australian Colonies, that I felt the scene must end with that, but of course no-one ever wrote down what Captain Morgan said that day, and how was I to know what sort of prayer such a man would have made a hundred years ago?

Well, I did know because I had read his Log Book, which was in the Archives, and is a most revealing document. He was a man of not high education. but strong and simple piety, and over and over he records his thanks to Providence for having brought them safely through this and that hardship and danger, in words strongly influenced by the grand Bible language with which he was familiar.

So by piecing together his own words from one part and another of his Log, I was able to compose just exactly the sort of prayer he would have made, and the scene was able to end as it should, with the prayer, and the Rainbow as well as the Electrician could manage it.

Research behind the scene of the Overland Telegraph cable

Part I of the Pageant followed a fairly clear chronological line, dealing with Discovery, Foundation, Proclamation. but in Parts II and III, highlights were picked out from a hundred years of history, and presented with an much variety as possible.

Sometimes several items were linked up together in one way or another. One such group was headed.... "The joining of the distances", and showed how South Australia had led the way, or given special contribution in this field, as the Spirit of South Australia said in her introductory speech, "My wire, my wheel, my wing."

The Wing was, of course, our Ross Smith with his pioneer flight from England to Australia.

The Wheel was the first Government-owned railway in the British Empire, which ran from Adelaide to Port.

The Wire was the Overland Telegraph Line, built from Adelaide to Darwin under Charles Todd, to link with the Cable to England and serve all Australia. This was the biggest item in this group, and after some introductory action denoting the building of the line, the audience looked through two little window scenes, and saw the Telegraph Operators sending off the first cable sent by the Governor or South Australia, Sir James Ferguson, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in England, Lord Kimberley, and then Lord Kimberley's reply.

The men and machines were lent by the GPO and when the messages had been tapped out in code on the machines, a voice behind the scenes recited the words. For this scene it was necessary for me to hunt up the exact wording for these two cablegrams. and I did not anticipate any trouble in this, because, of course the occasion was one of the most tremendous excitement and interest to South Australia, and the Newspapers went to town on it with headlines and reports and so on.

I went to the Public Library, and there I looked through the old Register files. There were the headlines and there was this and that and all kinds of excited reporting, and it told how the Governor had gone to the GPO and had sent off this cable to Lord Kimberley, and then how a few hours later Lord Kimberley's reply had come back. And It gave Lord Kimberley's cable exactly in his words, but it did not give the wording of the outgoing message. I hunted up and down every column of the paper on every page. I looked up the paper for days beforehand and for days after hoping to find a reference, but it simply was not there.

I went round to the Archives Department. and of course the first thing they did was to produce The Register.

I said, "I have just been reading that at the Public Library, and it does not give the words of the Governor's cablegram.

And that was true, it did not. Mr. Pitt recommended that I should go straight to the GPO where they should have a record. But if I could not find the message there, to come back and they would have a real search.

So I went across the City to the GPO, and after a good deal of trouble, and having to come into town another time, I had an interview in a charming room up-stairs with a very pleasant gentleman, and he broke to me the tragic news that when the Commonwealth took over the Post Office, it destroyed all the old records. Talk about Vandalism! Not even an effort to retain a few really historical things like that first cablegram. He suggested I try the cable Company a few doors along, and I penetrated in there, but they knew nothing about it.

So it was back to the Archives and Mr. Pitt started on a real hard search. He thought it might have been mentioned here, and he thought it might have been referred to there, and he darted hither and thither, and I followed him up with my heart sinking lower and lower into my shoes; for if this wretched message couldn't be brought to light that whole part of the scene would have been ruined. For that was a thing that I could not make up myself.

At last he said, "I wonder whether it might have been mentioned in the Governor's Dispatches of that period?"

And he led the way to where rows and rows of bound volumes contained typed copies of every letter that had ever gone out from Government House. He picked out the one that was the volume that was wanted , and he took it over to one of the windows where the deep stone windowsill cut into the thick, thick wall of that wonderful little old Archives building, which was originally built to house Explosives, made a very well-lit and convenient table, and he began turning over the pages while I stood breathlessly by.

And he really was such a very delightful person, Mr. Pitt. He suddenly looked up and said,
"I am feeling quite excited, aren't you?"
I said, "Oh, yes!'
I could hardly speak. He turned the pages and came to the date, and there it was.
"October 2lst, 1872.
"To the Right Honourable, the Earl of Kimberley, etc.
"Dear Sir,
I have this day despatched to you the following cablegram"
and then it gave the words......
"Telegraphic communication established this day between Australian Colonies and England.
"Landline working without Interruption since
"22nd August."

That hurdle was got over and blessings on the Red Tape that had decreed that the Governor had to write a letter to Lord Kimberley to tell him that he had sent him a cablegram.

That telegraph item ended with curtains parting, showing Lord Kimberley presiding at the banquet held in London to celebrate this event and speaking the words that should be a source of rightful pride to all South Australians.

Research behind the scene of the pioneer women

But the scene which seemed to be most popular with the press and public was that which honoured the Pioneer Women of South Australia, and there was more behind this apparently simple scene than might be realised. Ever since I first conceived it, I had kept eyes and ears open for facts which I might use in it without overlapping other parts of the Pageant. I had read, of course, the famous diary of Mrs. Mary Thomas, and that of another Pioneer woman, which is available, and had noted relevant items in my general historical reading.

At that time the Glenelg Corporation used to entertain the old Colonists every year on December 28th, and the reporters would go down and interview the old people. I read their columns with care, and I especially noted the name and address of one person. When I came to the writing of the scene, I rang up the home, explained myself, and was invited to call, and spent a delightful afternoon with this grand old lady and her daughter.

The former had been a child of six or seven when the events happened which I wished to relate, and well remembered them. Her mother was the one who walked from Ballarat.

Also I was able to introduce into this scene two things which I felt no Pageant of South Australia should omit. One was something which has always appealed tremendously to my imagination, and that is the fact that our innocuous suburbs of Black Forest and Forestville are so called because there once really was a 'Black Forest' stretching between Adelaide and Glenelg. All gone now, but it was there, and the words that describe it in this scene were the actual words of Alexander Tolmer, the famous Chief of Police of those times. The mention of Tolmer was the second thing that I was bent on including in this scene, for his name is part of our history.

Tribute to Heather Gell

I have been telling pretty fully about what lay behind the actual writing of Part I, which was done under such stress so that the Producer could start rehearsing as early as possible, and of course no words of mine could ever pay too high tribute to Heather Gell, for the wonderful work she did as Producer of' Heritage.

It was a tremendous undertaking, the huge range of planning, the organising of all those hundreds of people, actors and helpers, Committees, musicians, business contacts of very kind, and of course, all the time she was training her own Eurhythmic classes in her Fantasy scenes.

She held a hundred threads in her hands, and controlled them all, and the final achievement was indeed a triumph. The Advertiser stating that the Pageant was probably Adelaide's most ambitious excursion into big-scale theatrical production.

I want to refer to several other things, which were most important and essential to the Production, but which were either very little thought of, or else entirely unrealised by the public.

The music

First, just a few words about the music, which was such a wonderful part of the whole, and which was almost all contributed by our own South Australian composers. We had a good orchestra of thirty pieces, conducted by John Horner, and he it was that wrote the utterly delightful Overture, so aptly based on a mingling of British and Australian airs, with a few bars of The Watch on the Rhine for our fine German citizens.

He also composed the Pioneers 'Marching Song' to which the Rhythmists marched at the end of the Colonel Light scene, and he was responsible too for the clever medley of the Adelaide University song tunes for the second part of the Education scene, when the Rhythmists formed an impression of the University Mitchell building, and a procession of graduates entered from the sides, turned and walked into the University, thus displaying the colours of all their different hoods.

Miriam Hyde wrote the lovely Rowing Song to which Sturt and his men came down the River Murray, the glorious vivid waltz for the Wine Scene, in the Industries, and much other fine work, while Brewster-Jones wrote the lovely, effective music for the Bush Scene of The Waiting Land.

Miss Gell asked Dr. Harold Davies, who was then the Director of the Elder Conservatorium, if he would write a piece of music for the little scene representing Religion in South Australia. Dear old Dr. Davies said:

"Ah, why should I try to do what Bach has done so much better than any of us ever could? But if you like, I will arrange a Chorale of Bach's for your scene, and orchestrate it."

Which he did, and it was just perfect.


Then, of course there was the rehearsing which began in February, as soon as Part I was ready, and went on steadily through the year to September, week after week up in Heather's big Studio in town, where she and Miss Iris Thomas, who was in charge of the Speech Production, coped with a large, mixed mass of material. We had some of the best amateur actors and actresses in South Australia in Heritage and people such as Mimi Martin, Gwenneth Ballantyne, Roxy Sims, Keith McDonald, David Dawson and so on, would practically train themselves, but the large majority of the cast, like all amateur cast, though good, needed a deal of guidance and shaping up, and it was a tremendous credit to those two women, that when the Pageant was finally presented, that side of it was practically perfect.

I myself went to Heritage six times, and often as I sat there rejoicing that it was coming over so excellently, my thoughts would fly back to an early rehearsal I had attended, when Miss Thomas was patiently struggling with the speech and gesture of some of the young men, and yet here they were just right.

Meanwhile, as rehearsals proceeded, the scenery and stage properties, always known as "Props" were being got ready, mainly under the clever fingers of a very brilliant young artist, Thelma Thomas. She was quite wonderful that girl. Th