Assembly of Elephants just produced the AWGIE-nominated My Father’s Wars… as a digitally-captured full theatrical production.
My Father’s Wars began life as research through a QANZAC100 Fellowship in 2015/16. It came to life as a limited podcast series – a vivid and compelling exploration of a young man’s journey to adulthood in the crucible of war – and the intergenerational impact of that.
It’s possible I romanticised, a bit. Theatre is, of course, ‘show, don’t tell’ – but I implied rather than showing. That young man was my father, who died when I was young. I was trying to put together what happened to him ‘over there’ by reading the letters home and diaries of other young men who had fought with him – and, as you’d expect at the time, these young fellers didn’t tell their mothers and sisters everything. Somethings I had to learn elsewhere – what damage could be done by 18 pounders and whizz-bangs and Mills bombs, and gas (several kinds), I learned from the reports of the Infantry’s surgeons, or inferred from the casualty figures listed at the end of every unit war diary’s battle report.
And I have to admit, a part of my brain probably didn’t want to go there. It’s hard to think of your elderly father (he was late 60s when I was born) experiencing that.
Except it wasn’t.
In his 70s, my abiding memory of my father is one of strength. A cool head. Assessment. Selfish? Yes. But the kind of selfishness that is about staying alive – and keeping those around him alive. I could say that he was a ‘tough old bugger’ who had no patience for fools – and that would be right – but he loved his family and kept his friends close. And I think all of that – and his insistence on his children’s toughness – it all came down to 1917, and ‘the Front’. Given that, I’m pretty sure he came back with some degree of PTSD – ‘shell-shock’, then. But I think closer would be an older description of the condition – ‘soldier’s heart’.
For it seems to me – and I have no personal knowledge, I freely admit – but it seems to me, given how my Dad was, it seems to me that it is the loss that hits hardest. And that is about the heart.
As I developed the script during 2015/16, there were multiple Anzac Centenary requests from SLQ for public script readings, and a very humbling realisation that this story was one shared but many families. That the questions I had were the same questions many people had. People came up after a reading, talking about their family. And we all understood, again, how connected we are, regardless of continent or skin colour.
QPAC heard the podcasts and supported the development of the theatrical script, as did the Tivoli, Flipside Circus and Assembly of Elephants (my company).
Then, I received funding to stage the theatrical production. And the rest is where we are…
Not history, exactly, but history, memoir, drama, and so much respect.
For all our fathers…
The project is supported by the Queensland Government, through Arts Queensland.