OR THE CITY OF ZERO
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
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’.
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.
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
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.
We want to
stimulate research, cultural heritage management and information
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.
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
a very modest starting point, a bibliography of sources on 19th
century theatre is published on the Wolanski Foundation website
material by Mark Cleary