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Waterfall rail tragedy remembered on stage

Dead Man Brake commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Waterfall rail tragedy. PHOTO: Heidrun Lohr.

Dead Man Brake commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Waterfall rail tragedy. PHOTO: Heidrun Lohr.

TO commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Waterfall rail tragedy, Merrigong Theatre Company has commissioned and produced a new work from critically-acclaimed playwright Alana Valentine, with the world premiere season at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre this week (August 28 – September 7).

Using verbatim sources including the Special Commission of Inquiry transcript, as well as original text, Dead Man Brake explores the impact of this tragedy, not only on the individuals involved, but on the community as a whole. At the heart of the work is an acknowledgment of those who, after tragedies such as Waterfall, are brought in to counsel survivors and the families of victims. Through the words of these extraordinary individuals, the work explores profound questions about the nature of tragedy, offering a compassionate insight into the human condition. Dead Man Brake is ultimately an uplifting and powerful examination of human resilience in the face of tragedy.

Alana Valentine wrote the play after interviewing chaplain and trauma manager, Lieutenant Colonel Don Woodland, who has attended almost every man-made and natural disaster of the last 30 years in Australia.

“It was one of the most memorable, astonishing, humbling and inspiring interviews I have ever done. Believe me, you will want to hear the incredible wisdom that this man so touchingly and humorously and persuasively imparted to me and will be recreated in this play,” Valentine said.

“What I hope will inspire our audiences is the opportunity these man-made disasters give us to reflect on the generosity of the emergency personnel, the wisdom of the trauma managers, the suffering of the families of those killed and the potential for recovery and remembrance for those who were injured and traumatised.

“This will not be a maudlin or depressing night in the theatre – quite the opposite – because the circumstances are so tragic and painful, the characters find ways to rise above the heartache and really reach for something both deep and very inspiring. It will renew people’s hope in the generosity and beauty of the human spirit.

“[Director and Merrigong’s Artistic Associate] Anne-Louise Rentell and Artistic Director Simon Hinton have a passion for telling local stories that is genuinely empowering to me as an artist. Waterfall may have happened ten years ago, but with Simon and Anne-Louise’s guidance, this is not just a play for people of Wollongong right now, but will have an impact on how it sees itself as a community – resilient, generous, active and engaged with local stories.”

Valentine’s writing has been nominated for 2011 Queensland Premier’s Award for Best Drama Script, 2007 Helpmann Awards for Best New Australian Work and Best Play, awarded the 2004 Queensland Premier’s Award for Best Drama Script, the 2003 NSW Writer’s Fellowship, the 2002 Rodney Seaborn Playwright’s Award and an International Writing Fellowship at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and more. Valentine is well known for her rigorous use of research within the community she is writing about.

Venue: Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, Burelli St, Wollongong.

Performance times: Wed 28 & Thur 29 Aug 7.30pm (preview), Fri 30 Aug 7.30pm, Sat 31 Aug 2.30pm & 7.30pm, Tue 3 Sep 6.30pm, Wed 4 Sep 7.30pm, Thurs 5 Sep 11am & 7.30pm, Fri 6 Sep 7.30pm, Sat 7 Sep 2.30pm & 7.30pm. Post-show Q&A: Thur 5 Sep 7.30pm Audio-described performance: Sat 31 Aug 2.30pm.

Prices: Adult: $49; Adult early week (Mon-Thurs)/Conc/Group 8+: $44; Conc/Group 8+ early week: $39; Under 30s: $29; School groups 8+: $20 (Transaction fees apply to phone and internet bookings).

Tickets: Call the box office on (02) 4224 5999 or visit Merrigong Theatre website.

About Mick Roberts

A newspaper journalist, writer and local historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in the Sydney and Illawarra regions of NSW for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides authoring a number of history books, Mick has owned and operated several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limted), Sydney based, City News, and is now with Torch Publications.

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