My Father’s Wars, as I Found Them… the development of the podcasts for live performance

Okay – there’s a new thing in play: My Father’s Wars as a live theatre performance.  And this current development – My Father’s Wars, as I found them…  is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland, and by the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and by the Tivoli.

My Father’s Wars began life as a series of podcasts about the experiences of a young lieutenant on the Western Front in 1917/18 (my father) and how they impacted him, and us, later, in family life.   My Father’s Wars, as I found them is the live version of this story.

The podcasts were released in 2017 and were nominated for best writing in the 2018 Australian Writer Guild awards (AWGIES, Radio/Audio) – but even before then, we kept being asked to do live readings of the script as it stood, and to talk about it, about why I wrote it, why a family story of war was important…

The research for the scripts was funded through a Queensland Government Fellowship program for the Anzac Centenary – the Q Anzac 100 Fellowship: Memories for a New Generation program. I was awarded the Fellowship in 2015/16 by the State Library of Queensland (SLQ). As the script developed SLQ kept asking me to arrange readings – supporting Q Anzac events, family history events, GLAM symposiums, ‘find your soldier’ days… and it was lovely and humbling and emotional to have people come up after the reading – or section of reading – and tell us about their uncle, or grandfather, or great-uncle who had fought ‘over there’. 

And, it was a bit overwhelming to speak to some middle-aged dads who brought their early-teens sons and daughters to hear the stories of young men who were not much older than the boys when they went to war, in a distant country, for a King they’d only ever seen on a postage stamp. In conversation, after the reading, it usually turned out that those Dads had a father or grandfather who fought, and they wanted their children to understand what a war really was.

So – there was a lot of interest in the story and the world – and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) said they were interested in seeing it go into schools for young audiences and communities for older Australians… the idea of a national story that spoke to both the very young and very old, and could create audience interest and identification across age ranges – that was uncommon. And, suddenly, very hopeful.

For me, in a time of increasing tribalism, it seems important to share stories that are universal, really. The ANZAC mythology is pervasive – anyone coming to this country must interact with it at some point – there’s no way to avoid it. But that’s good. It is actually a story of great love… idealism, stupidity, humanity, the idea of adventure, loyalty and mateship, fear-mongering and propaganda, courage and cowardice – and the huge question of who we are, and why we do what we do as humans… and the more I learned of the experiences of those young men on the Western Front, the more I saw its universality.  We’ve made the ANZAC mythology an expression of a particular kind of nationalism in Australia, and it is that – but it is not only that. It is the story of the universal experience of war, hope, courage and loss.  It is the story of a small force becoming greater than they ever thought they could be. It is the story of a nation achieving cohesion behind a single idea – the idea of fortitude under pressure.  It is the story of a nation coming to believe in itself – without the help of others. And that story is universal.

So, Assembly of Elephants is looking to develop the podcast scripts for live performance – and we go into creative development on that now.

More to come in the blogs…

12 October, 1917, after the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge, a railway cutting near the ridge. Official war photographers George Wilkins and Frank Hurley met up with these men. AWM E03864.

Images – AIF troops at Polygone Wood 21 Sept 1917 – composite image from an unknown official Australian War Photographer held at the AWM E00971A

My Father’s Wars podcasts were funded by the Queensland ANZAC Centenary Grants program and supported by the State Library of Queensland’s QANZAC 100: Memories for New Generation project. 

The creative development of My Father’s Wars, as I found them is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland, and by the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) and the Tivoli. It is is also supported by Flipside Circus, and Hunting Ground Studios.