Posts Tagged ‘By George; George Landen Dann: Queensland theatre history; sunshine coast; LaBoite Theatre;’

I was recently at the Fryer going through files of correspondence to George Landen Dann (which are organised alphabetically).  As I was making notes it occurred to me that it might start to make a bit more sense to start organising some of this information chronologically… and so here is it, with notes drawn from correspondence but other documentary material as well.

1901 George’s parents married – George William Dann and Mildred Challis Dann (nee Pearman).

1901 Older sister Isabel Challis born (23 Dec 1901).  She is the one who is described as being an invalid in other documents, though no detail is ever provided about what her condition was.

1904 George Landen Dann was born on the first of January, 1904 – his mother was aged 35.  Father listed as being a gardener on birth certificate (Birth record 18142).  Family lives at house on the corner of Kift St and Coward St, Sandgate.  House also seems to have been home for an Uncle (Charles) and Grandfather Dann at the time (see 1905 and 1913 electoral records).

1905 – Sister Dorothy Rose born

1908 – Sister Mildred Matilda born and dies (probably still born)

??  Won a scholarship to attend Brisbane Grammar School

1920 – Entered survey office of Qld Lands Depart, trained as a draftsman. In letters and article said he wanted to be a pastor with the Anglican Church, to make a difference and work with Aboriginal people.  Newspaper article says he started to write plays when he was 16, so this would be around the time he started writing, although another article says he began writing at 8.

1924 – Joined Brisbane City Council as a draftsman, in water supply department.

Performed and wrote a play for the Sandgate Queen Carnival Musical and Dramatic Concert at Town Hall, Sandgate.  George Dann performed in a farcical sketch called ‘A Pair of Lunatics’ with Miss Gwen Taylor and then in a comedy play ‘Odds’ (which in a later newspaper article is credited as being written by him), cast included his sister Miss Isabel Dann.

1925 – Electoral records list voters at the Dann’s address including his mother and father, sister Isabel (with occupation listed as ‘feeder’), George Landen listed as a labourer.

1926 – ‘Family Failings’ script written for and performed by Sandgate Amateur Dramatic Society

1931 – Wins Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society’s (BRTS) competition with In Beauty it is Finished national competition with 94 entries, prize money of fifty guineas.  Media outrage about the play including a relationship between a female character (of questionable morals) and ‘half-caste’ Aboriginal man.  This meant the play was well attended and in the end most felt that the play was not as unseemly as they had been lead to belief.  The play was staged at His Majesty’s theatre and directed by Barbara Sisley, play premiered July 16.  Letters of congratulations from Vance and Nettie Palmer, Sybil Thorndike in 1932.

Sister Dorothy Rose marries Vivian Livingstone, Isabel was a bridesmaid, George gave her away although the father attended (Courier Mail 30 April 1931).

1932 – 7 April–14 May, trip to Hamilton Island – diary addressed to ‘Jim H’, this is where he has a crisis and decides to live an ordinary life.

Entered play Oh! The Brave Music to the BTRS play competition but was not selected.  (Comans thesis, p 61, FM 65/A6)

His sister Isabel died aged 30 (23 Dec 1932 – Cemetery Record)

1933 – Submitted ‘The Day of Roses’ to Queensland Eisteddfod BRTS sponsored competition. George won along with Alexia Drake for their one act plays.  (Comans thesis p 62)

1934The day of Roses wins first prize at the Qld Eisteddfod, directed by Jum Pendleton

Monday Morning staged by Adelaide Repertory Theatre (A 39)

1937 – His mother Mildred Challis Dann dies (buried at Baldhills/Sandgate cemetery now Brackenridge. Sisters Mildred Matilda and Isabel Challis are also buried there)

1937-8  Wins Dramatists’ Club of Australia playwriting competitions for No Incense Rising (A15)

End of 1937 must have gone to Sydney to do research for Caroline Chisholm play. Ticket for the Mitchell Library reading rooms Nov 25/37 (box 3 65/G1)

1938  Brisbane Repertory Theatre stages No Incense Rising directed by Barbara Sisley. This play won Sydney Independent Theatre and Australian Dramatists Club prize (65/A15 letter) winning 10 pound.  Play produced in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth and was on the Playwright’s Advisory Board’s list of recommended Australian plays.

Barbara Sisley very encouraging after reading a version of A Second Moses the play about Caroline Chisholm (Letter ! 35, Box 1, UQ 65)

1939  A Second Moses later renamed Caroline Chisholm produced by Brisbane Repertory Theatre with Barbara Sisley directing it.  Radio series on 4QG ‘Let’s Try to Write a Play’ for ‘Broadcasts for Schools’ but were also printed in the newspaper as well.

1940  Caroline Chisholm staged at the Bryant Playhouse in Darlinghurst, ‘A Second Moses’ staged by Toowoomba Repertory Theatre Society (March)

 Funerals for Field-Mice wins ABC Play Competition for radio play.

Presentation to Queensland Authors’ and Artists’ Association. Letter of appreciation thanks him for addressing their members (Letter of 22 May 1940, 65/A9) wishing him well as “our ‘elder playwright’”.

1941 – Submitted manuscript to WA Drama Festivals Inc (A45)

1942Fountains Beyond staged (New Theatre League, Sydney) and broadcast. Wins second play in ABC Radio Drama competition  (Play inspired by visit to Fraser Island, character of Freddy Ross who had been a runner and whose wife was sister to Eddy Gilbert).   (1944 letter from Edith Anders,  65/A18 indicates she has also written for the ABC, she talks about  him living among the people he wrote about that that he intends to go back, which is a fine thing.  She talks of seeing him at an A& A event and him sitting modestly tucked away in the background somewhere as though he had never written a thing.)

April 13 1942 – Enlists in the Australian Military in the Valley. Lists father as next of kin, with address for both as Coward St, Sandgate. Lists profession as draftsman and author.  Height 5 foot 5 ¾ inches, hazel eyes, brown hair.   (National Archive,  item number 4871730). Says later he did so to escape, not out of patriotism. Was in the Mobile Concert Party Unit  – entertained men in hospitals and convalescent units.  Promoted to Corporal.

1943Caroline Chisholm published  (letter from Barbara Sisley which indicates interest in film for one of his plays, the mention of historical content indicates probably was Caroline Chisholm) . She mentions a 1943 talk where she recommends ‘The Touch of Silk’ and ‘Fountain’s Beyond’ as two play most typical of Australia.

Ailsa Grahame who was in Fountains Beyond in the ABC broadcast, asks about where she can buy it, wants to send it to Tyrone Guthrie, director of the Old Vic in England. (21/1/43, 65/A22). (George has written on her letter that she played Miss Harnett in the first radio broadcast).  Later in the year she sends a letter outlining the response from Tyrone Guthrie which was encouraging but that they would not be producing the play.

1944Fountains Beyond published

1945-6Ha Ha Among the Trumpets shared 100 pound prize with Lyn Foster for the Playwrights’ Advisory Board Competition. He sent it to the New Theatre in Melbourne for consideration. They rejected it saying that it would be difficult to do with such as large cast and that it was too long in it’s current form (65/A19) but they liked the theme (signed by Hilda Esson).

1945 – 6/9/45 – discharged from the armed forces.

17 November, Barbara Sisley dies as a result of a road accident, by a taxi-cab as she was crossing Adelaide St (accompanied by long-time friend Mamie Stokes). Died at Brisbane General Hospital.

1946 – BRTS staging of Caroline Chisholm in honour of Barbara Sisley (directed by Clare Clark)

Shared first prize for Playwright Advisory Board competition for Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets 50 pound each)  (PAB correspondence in Leslie Rees file 65/A31)

1947 – Brisbane Repertory Theatre stages Fountains Beyond directed by Clare Clark staged at Albert Hall late March.  George listed as being on the BRTS council.

His sister Dorothy Rose is divorced from Viv Livingstone  (Courier Mail 21 Nov, 1947).

Letters discuss possible film about Caroline Chisholm being made. Colin Simpson warns though that because she was a historical figure that others might make the film without acknowledging George’s contribution (65/A34)

1948 – His father George William Dann dies – buried in separate grave at Baldhills/Sandgate cemetery with his brother and father.

1949– Rejection letter for staging ‘Fountains Beyond’ (Alec Clunes for London Arts Theatre Club) talks of it being an excellent play in many respects, but that it would be difficult to find an audience there.  Feels the killing of the girl at the end is melodramatic and needless.  Appreciated reading it and open to reading other work by the same author.  (65/A10).

1950 Production of Fountains Beyond at the Cardiff Unity Theatre and later toured to festivals (65/A8), first performance in the country “we are working hard to see that the urgency of the Australian Aborigine’s need is so stressed that, as you intended, your work will inspire, stir people to interest and action.” (John Ford, 19/4/50,65/A8). Other letters following the production indicate that the play was ‘quite’ successful, though some reviewers were hostile to the introduction of social commentary into drama. Mention of interest in the play from other amateur groups in Stafford and that if it picks up in the Industrial North it should do well as “Social themes are more popular among that working population, than, say, at Llandrindod.”

1951 – Elected as Life Member of Brisbane Repertory Theatre (65/A6 Letter A6, FL 65, Box 1).

Catherine Fenton of Whitehall Productions (Potts Point) talks of the success of Caroline Chisholm and the positive reception from the Department of Education. Mentions his suggestion of it being circulated in Queensland.  (65/A20)

1950s built his house at Coolum (designed by Tom MacMinn),

1953 – Letter from Francis Amos thanking George for aid to Revel Cooper, Aboriginal prisoners in Fremantle Gaol (A40) George sent 2 pound for buying amenities.

Letters from Nettie Palmer, talking about meeting him, Fountain’s Beyond, his being in Coolum, wanting to show his work to Vance (65/A28)

1954 correspondence from a Mary. W. Bennett (Aboriginal welfare worker in Western Australia) from Mt Hawthorn WA which supports George’s work in terms of raising issues about the plight of Aboriginal people. (FL 65/A3)

Retired and moved to Coolum to live full time. From 1958-1968, listed on the electoral records as living at Coolum.

1955 – Letter re royalty check for use of Fountains Beyond excerpt for ABC radio (Gwen Meredith, A46).

Letter from Ailsa Grahame re How Far Returning  (65/A22) she thinks it is too cinematic.

1956 – Playreading for ‘How Far Returning’ – Monday Night Theatre produced on March 5 at 7.30 pm on radio 4QR

1957 – Letter from Jean Devanny indicates George’s intention to travel through Townsville, inviting him to visit to share Brisbane news of literary doings and engage in some intellectual discussion (25/10/57 65/A14)

1958 Resurrection at Matthew Town – Letter from Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust indicating it was commended in the General Motors Holden Theatre Award Australian Play Competition 1958

Fountains Beyond staged at Toowoomba (65/A30).

The Orange Grove radio play produced by the ABC , (Orange Grove’s main  character based on real woman from the Maroochy region – see Alrene Sykes script) . Letter from Leslie Rees indicates George was wanting to approach overseas broadcasters about production of “The Orange Grove”. Rees, now at the ABC asks him to wait as they are submitting it for the ‘Italia contest’.  Sept 1958 (65/A31)

1959 Ring Out, Wild Bells staged in Stanthorpe (correspondence)

1961 – Invitation to submit one-act play to Qld Writer’s Guild for inclusion in a collection to be published (A13)

1964Ring Out Wild Bells taped at the ABC Toowong studios and broadcast on Channel 2, November 11 (Courier Mail, 15/10/64) 45 min production.

1965 – Guest speaker for The Fellowship of Australian Writers meeting, discussed Australian drama. (May 1965, Redcliffe Herald)

1972 – Listed on electoral records for Lake Weyba Drive from 1972-1977. Confirmed by letter in 1977 that says he has lived there for five years (Deborah Rasmussen n.16)

1975Rainbows Die at Sunset highly commended in Newcastle competition, second to Romeril’s ‘The Floating World’ and Compton’s ‘No Man’s Land’.  This play was also based on Indigenous issues (riot at Nambucca Heads in 1958 when white residents prevented sale of house to Aborigines).

1976 – Deborah Rasmussen meets with him and corresponds about her Honours thesis. Has a visit from Alrene Sykes and Katherine Brisbane. Trip for 6-7 weeks to King Leopold Ranges, Gorges etc. Travelled to Town of 1770 (Qld), and to Cape York, Cooktown, Daintree, Cairns, Coen & Thursday Island.

Submits play The Fortress which was a stage version of ‘The Orange Grove’ (see A25 Adjudicator’s report which is not complementary).

Deborah Rasmussen sends her thesis to him in December and he is very moved, appreciates the idea of his name living on.

1977 – March – Restaging of In Beauty it is Finished with a memorial performance for Barbara Sisley and dedication of a clock in her honour at La Boite Theatre.  George gave the speech.  Performance directed by Rick Billinghurst.

George dies. Alrene Sykes says he fell sick prospecting and died within days. Died in Eumundi at the house of the people who had been looking after his dog.   Ashes distributed off the cliffs at Coolum.  Leaves the copyright for his work to his friend Gwen MacMinn and the Anglican Archdiocese. His remaining relatives are his sister Dorothy and his nephew Graham.

1979 – Radio features about George Landen Dann broadcast in 1979 – written by Alrene Sykes.

(Compiled by Sue Davis from a range of documentary evidence at the Fryer Library and online material including newspaper clippings and archives)


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I began this series of blog posts with questions about the playwright George Landen Dann, wondering how he came to die in Eumundi, what his connections had been with the Sunshine Coast and what influenced his work.  I was also interested in his writing, was it only of interest historically, or was it work that still has resonance today?  What was published, what wasn’t and how could it be accessed?  My explorations were prompted by an article I originally read online, but much of what I have found out has been discovered through going to places, meeting with people and talking to them.

The latest development in my research combines the virtual and the personal in a rather serendipitous way.  A while ago I blogged about discovering that George had left the copyright of his work to the Anglican church and his friends the MacMinns.  I mentioned Gwen MacMinn and her involvement with Brisbane Repertory Theatre (now LaBoite) and wondered if this was the right MacMinn connection.  The mention of Gwen in that blog post was picked up by her grand-daughter who has been conducting research about her own family history. So the blogosphere answered my call (or plea really, as I had been discussing the difficulties of negotiating copyright for George’s work) and Gwen’s grand-daughter then tracked me down through the wonders of google.  She has since made contact several times and been kind enough to provide me with the link to her father.

The good news is that her father is one of the custodians for George’s work (along with the Anglican church), and where does he live – why, just down the road in Noosa…. probably about five minutes away from where I work.  He is more than happy to help enable George’s work to be published and performed and to assist getting the permissions through.  It seems there might have been some staff changes in other organisations involved and that may have been what was slowing the process down. John has now contacted them and made sure they are all up to date with his details and so hopefully the approval processes might speed up from here on in!

I’ve also found out a little more about where George died and the Eumundi connection. George’s nephew Grahame says that after George died he recalls travelling with his mother to a house outside of Eumundi in the ‘bush’.  George had left his dog with these friends when he left on one of his trips, but he had become ill and returned early.  When he reached the friends’ house they insisted he stay there to recover. However George was obviously much sicker than they all realised and sadly he died at their house.  As for his burial, he isn’t in any of the family graves in Brisbane or any grave at all…  but rather he was cremated instead.  Both Grahame and John say George’s ashes were scattered near the house he had built at Coolum, in one of the bays near Point Perry.

So a few more answers found and connections revealed.  Of course there are still so many unanswered questions …  I have to accept that some of them will never be answered, and may not have been even if George were still alive today. I have become much more aware though of how ‘alive’ history is, and how the blogosphere can answer the call at times.  At other times though it remains silent … and then it really can help to just travel to ‘place, track down people and make connections.  There is still so much to learn, but I have found a whole group of people who are helping me out!

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