The Wolanski Foundation Project


Paper no 10









List of papers









The Birth of Australia 

Australis or the City of Zero was written expressly to usher in the new political reality of Federation. 

The show’s principal architect, JC Williamson, was the biggest name in Australasian theatre and a major player in the movement towards Federation. He was partly responsible for creating the spectacular  week-long Inaugural Celebrations of the Commonwealth from 31 December 1900 to 7 January 1901

Australis was multi-layered and larger than life. The play’s eccentric characters operated within the social and political context of the time and took sharp witted and sarcastic tilts at topics as diverse as the mother country and the empire, trade unions, and street crime. The cast numbered around 80 with a twenty piece orchestra and featured some of the brightest stars in the theatrical firmament’.

The synopsis

New Years’ eve 2000. Australia (including New Zealand as the seventh state) is at peace. The rest of the world is at war.

The benevolent Boss of Australia is in Sydney at Semi-Circular Quay for the celebrations of the hundredth anniversary of Australian Union.

Border duties have been adjusted, tariffs settled and women’s suffrage introduced, but the States are still bickering about where to put the federal capital. Society is still coming to grips with new-fangled inventions like electricity, telephones, the motorcar and flying ships.

In a grotto deep in the Jenolan Caves, the evil Wizard Azeemath releases Dionne, the Princess of Zero, a city hidden deep in the wastes of the South Pole, from her century long entombment in ice. Azeemath knows that if she falls in love with him he will regain his mortal soul. He casts a spell that will make her love the first man she sees. But his plan goes awry and in a vision she sees Valentine, a young troubadour, and her hearts goes out to him.

Dionne escapes the case and finds herself in Sydney at the centenary celebrations. She meets Valentine and falls madly in love. Together they plan to return to the city of Zero in the Antarctic and claim Dionne’s throne. The Boss and his entourage of eccentric characters offer to join the expedition and help them in their quest. The airship Australis is pursued buy Azeemath and his evil spirits. It crashes on the Antarctic icefields. Valentine, Dionne and the rest of the party struggle to reach Zero on foot, encountering wild adventures with hungry polar bears and shifting ice floes.

They are in sight of the magical city when Azeemath and his spirits kidnap Dionne and throw her into the deadly whirlpool.

Valentine rescues Dionne and the party finally reach Zero where the population give their long lost princess a rapturous welcome. Dionne is crowned Queen of Zero and the Boss declares that, as the city is more than a hundred miles from Sydney, the Antarctic should become the new Federal capital of Australia.  

Production revival 

Despite general enthusiasm for the project, an attempt to mount a revival of the Pantomime by Newtown Theatre Director Mark Cleary, Independent  producer Mark Ford and producer and actor Peter Sumner was abandoned in June 2000 after it failed to attract a target of $2 million investment, partnership offsets and sponsorship in time to ensure its presentation during the Centenary of Federation celebrations in 2001


An exhibition, originally planned as a satellite event to the production and less dependent on a link with the Federation celebrations, is continuing to be developed by Peter Sumner and Paul Bentley.  

The exhibition will tell the colourful and intriguing story of our theatrical past to the year 1901; demonstrate stage technology that, at its most spectacular, turned round the sinking fortunes of the world’s largest entertainment company, JC Williamson Ltd; highlight the primacy of the visual experience in the age shaped by the Industrial Revolution; and reflect on the evolving Australian character and aspirations to the year 2001.

An exhibition schema, master list of exhibits, design brief and supporting documentation are well advanced. Design options and more detailed cost projections will be completed after further research and consultations with possible presenters and content providers.


We want to stimulate research, cultural heritage management and information distribution. 

We therefore hope the exhibition will serve as a catalyst for the development of products and services of lasting benefit to the performing arts industry, scholars and  the general public.

Our concept of an Australian Stage Project has been created to address scattered, elusive and lost resources, evolving standards and systems, piecemeal approaches and duplicated effort in the performing arts industry, academia and collecting institutions.

As a very modest starting point, a bibliography of sources on 19th century theatre is published on the Wolanski Foundation website

Paul Bentley

with material by Mark Cleary

2 September 2000


 About usWhat's newSite map | Searching  | Managing  | Learning  |  Library |  Research 

  Contact us | Home  

© 2000 The Wolanski Foundation Project

 Email web manager.  URL:

Page last updated: 2 September 2000