Now Showing – Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment & The Australian Experience

Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment & the Australian Experience, Gallery I, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photo by Carla Gottgens
Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment & the Australian Experience, Gallery 1, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photo by Carla Gottgens

What a great response we have had to our new exhibition, Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment & the Australian Experience! Thank you to everyone who has already been in and taken the time to let us know how much you have enjoyed it.

As part of the national commemoration of the Anzac Centenary we were very keen to explore the often overlooked role played by the performing arts in the lives of Australians during times of war, both on the home front and in the field. Theatres of War explores the power of performance in bringing people together, lifting spirits and offering a form of escapism during times of great adversity.

In researching the exhibition within our own rich Performing Arts Collection we were struck by how many well-known Australian performers had carried out relatively unknown war work. Performers such as Dame Nellie Melba who received her DBE for her fundraising activities during the First World War and Norman Hetherington (aka Mr Squiggle) who entertained his fellow soldiers in the jungles of New Guinea during the Second World War. More recently singers Kylie Minogue and Doc Neeson, and comedians Hamish and Andy have provided a morale-boosting connection to home for soldiers on active service.

Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment and the Australian Experience, Gallery 1, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photo by Carla Gottgens.
Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment and the Australian Experience, Gallery 1, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photo by Carla Gottgens.

Many of these performers have generously lent material for inclusion in the exhibition and we are thrilled to have on display the famous piano used by Australian prisoners in the Changi prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War, courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Instruments used by prisoners in Changi POW camp during World War II. Instruments kindly lent by the Australian War Memorial. Photo by Carla Gottgens
Instruments used by prisoners in Changi POW camp during World War II. Instruments kindly lent by the Australian War Memorial. Photo by Carla Gottgens

The exhibition continues until 20 September 2015.

Vale Doc Neeson

Doc Neeson by Kathleen O'Brien
Doc Neeson by Kathleen O’Brien

 

The rock world was saddened this week to hear of the death of The Angels frontman, Doc Neeson, aged 67. If you never saw Doc Neeson perform live, you missed out on something pretty special. His band mates said it best.

‘Doc became one of the great frontmen of all time, a dynamic, demonic, artistic and imposing performer who would give it his all night afer night, totally spent at the end of each show.’ (John Brewster)

“He would dress up in that morning suit in the late 1970s, looking like someone going to Ascot races and during the show, he would lose the jacket and the tie and end up this sweaty, gritty rock guy.” (Buzz Bidstrup)

The Performing Arts Collection has recently digitised a series of 100 rare live performances shots of Neeson in action during the late 1970s which capture some of the passion, theatricality and raw energy Neeson put into his performances. The photographs were taken by Kathleen O’Brien, a freelance photographer for the Australian rock journals, RAM, JUKE and Rolling Stone.  The Kathleen O’Brien Collection takes us deep into the dark, sweaty, smoky clubs of Melbourne and Sydney during the late 1970s and early 1980s where Australian performers The Angels, Rose Tattoo, Dragon, The Sports, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, AC/DC, Skyhooks and international acts such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Brian Ferry, Lou Reed and Blondie worked their magic.

This week seems like a perfect time to revisit some of those old haunts and to see one of the best showmen in rock ‘n’ roll strut his stuff.