FROM THE NEWSPAPERS - 1953 - Dramatic Arts in Yallourn - Little Theatre Group, Thespians and more...


Saul Rubinek once wrote…
“In the theatre, as anyone knows who's even done amateur theatre all their lives, you immediately find a family.”

It is true that the collective action of people involved in dramatic arts has the potential to forge lasting friendships, create harmony and lift the spirits of communities; and, in that regard, the Yallourn amateur theatre groups were no exception.

The origins of the dramatic arts in Yallourn can be traced back to the late 1920’s ; but it was the emergence of the ‘Methodrams’ and the St John’s Amateur Dramatic Club, in later years, that gave rise to the establishment of several very well -organized and patronized drama groups in the town.

After World War: II, the dramatic arts flourished in Yallourn; and research indicates that there were many highly creative people to ‘share the limelight’ and assist ‘behind the scenes’ in local theatre productions.

The following article ‘Drama has its devotees’ was published in the Melbourne-based newspaper ‘The Argus’ in 1953. The news item outlined the various theatre groups in the Latrobe Valley and special mention was made of ‘The Yallourn Thespians’ and the ‘Yallourn Little Theatre Group.’
‘The Argus’ was a popular city-based newspaper in that period; and had a daily circulation of approximately 160,000 copies; consequently, such publicity was a great fillip for the members of the amateur theatre groups of Yallourn.
The extract (below) contains the names of some well-known personalities who gave their time and energies to furthering the dramatic arts in Yallourn.


Drama has its devotees
The Latrobe Valley towns have a high sense of theatre. Everywhere are to be found groups that stage plays publicly or hold private readings.
In Yallourn, the Thespians, formed in 1938, and the Little Theatre Group, inaugurated in 1949, provide impressive entertainment. The president of the Thespians is Mr. Jack Tulloch; Mrs. Lilian Bek is president and the "father" of the group is Mr. Jack Alston.

Mr. Roy Norden heads the Little Theatre Group, with Miss Marjorie Lee as secretary.
Latest production by the Little Theatre was "The Hasty Heart," the star of which was 19-year-old Ian Burns, a S.E.C. clerk, who was making his first stage appearance.
"They told me they wanted a bloke with a Scottish accent to play the role of Sgt. Lachlan McLachlan," Ian said, "Being a Scot, I took it on."
Those who saw him are convinced he will be a competent actor.

Morwell, too, has a fine drama group-the Morwell players-formed originally by Miss Ruth Wettenhall. Its president now is Mrs. Muriel Bath, and the secretary is Miss Pat Mildenhall. So far the group has produced 11 full-scale productions, and a series of three one-act plays.

One of the difficulties of the drama groups is the reluctance of young men to take to the stage. But apart from that their work is all success-and a tremendous addition to the wide and varied schedule of entertainment that the people of the Valley are offered.

Boolarra and Yinnar, two small but lively communities in Morwell Shire, also have their dramatic societies, and, within a few years, it is evident, the Valley will be producing actors and actresses of high talent.

1. Other local drama groups discussed by Prue McGoldrick in her book ‘Yallourn Was’ included:- ‘The Melodrams’, St John’s Amateur Dramatic Club , CWA Dramatic Society and it is also documented that sometimes plays were… “presented by the SEC Office Dramatic Club.”
2. Dare John (aka Jack) Alston ( mentioned above) was a luminary in the dramatic arts groups of Yallourn. Jack was credited with forming the Yallourn Thespians in 1938-9; and he appears to have been a resourceful man with incredible drive and creativity.
3. According to one source, Jack produced and directed the first-ever play of the Thespians. It is known that the earliest successes of the Thespians included a play called ‘A Distinguished Gathering’. The 1939 production of ‘Best People’ was also a hit with audience in the Yallourn Theatre. In June that year, ‘The Age’ reported that ...
“…The Thespians Dramatic Society presented the comedy The Best People in the new Yallourn Theatre, on Tuesday night, to a packed house. Proceeds will be donated to local charities .” June 21st 1939.
4. Another well-received drama, ‘Hawk Island’ was also directed by Jack Alston; and, in 1947, the Yallourn Thespians performed a popular three-act play called ‘Tons Of Money’…
“ The performance of "Tons of Money" by the Thespians in Yallourn on Tuesday night last, was enthusiastically received. The final performance of this three act farce will be on 22nd July.” ‘Morwell Advertiser’ July 17th 1947.
5. Mrs Alston (Linda) was also involved with the Thespians’ productions; and the group gained a reputation as a first-class amateur theatre group throughout Gippsland and beyond.
6. Other well-known members during the life of the Yallourn Thespians included: John Whitehouse, Austin Lynch, Lucy Bathhurst, Ned Mould, Jim Love, Joyce Sheridan, Jack Emmerson, Bruce Banks, John Drummond, Gwen Matheson, Jim Evans, Lucy Dupree, Marj Brogan, Merle Martin, Nan Humphrey, Harry Dougan, Louise Turner, Harry Butt, Gerald Fogarty, Trixie Spicer, Eileen Carolan, and Lillian Bek (mentioned above). The contribution of the Joliffe, Skelton and Bainbridge families should also be recognised in any study of amateur theatre in Yallourn.
7. Yallourn’s illustrious historian Prue McGoldrick was also a keen member of the Yallourn Thespians. Prue, who lived in Yallourn from 1951 until 1979, had the foresight and drive to write a historical account of the town from its infancy. Prue’s edifying book ‘Yallourn Was’ was published in 1984; and provides a wealth of information regarding the Thespians and the Yallourn Little Theatre Group. A recent Yallourn Association Newsletter paid tribute to Prue and the legacy of her studies of local history.
8. In the affairs of Yallourn, Jack Alston, was quite a heroic and influential figure. Not only did he lay the groundwork for the Thespians but his work, as Honorary Secretary of the Yallourn Bowling Club, had far-reaching consequences in improving the facilities for the club and its members.
9. Mr Alston was also the editor of the town’s newspaper the ‘Live Wire’ from 1933-37; and it seems that Jack not only had a ‘way with words’ but his editorial approach, to local news, lifted the standard(s) of the newspaper…
“The next editor D.J. Alston earned high regard for the quality of the newspaper under his direction.” ‘Yallourn Was’ Page: 101.
10. Investigation, by way of the World War: I Nominal Roll, reveals that sixteen Australian men, with the family name of ‘Alston’, registered for military service in that period. There may be some possibility that Jack Alston was a Sapper in the Signals Corps during the war; however, this suggestion is far from conclusive and further research, on Jack’s years of military service, is required.
11. It is known that Jack was a most influential member of the Yallourn Branch of the RSSILA (Returned Sailors, Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (aka the RSL these days).
12. When Jack Alston stepped down from the position of producer/ director in 1951, Lillian Bek assumed the key role in the organisation of the Yallourn Thespians. Lillian was a dynamic member of several dramatic arts groups; and she was respected and admired by all for the substantial contribution that she made to the cultural life of Yallourn….
“Her name was linked with CWA drama, Little Theatre and Thespians…These groups regularly staged plays, pantos (pantomimes), and revues and competed successfully in district and State drama festivals.” ‘Yallourn Was’ Page: 147.
13. As stated above, Mrs Bek was but one of many enthusiastic members of the Yallourn Little Theatre Group. From its beginnings, it was a vibrant organization and prominent members included: Tom Martin, Bernice Elliot, Joan & Babs McDonald, Mario Debarro, Malcom McLaren, Hugh McLennon, Peter Moncur, Bill Wallace, Reg Waters, Jim Vincent and other young and old townspeople who loved the ’smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd’.
14. Mrs Joan Brisco was also an enthusiastic member of the Yallourn Little Theatre Group. Joan was an extremely competent, popular and highly respected English/Social Studies teacher at the Yallourn Technical School (Newborough Campus). In the late 1950’s, Joan ushered-in a drama club at the school; and also directed various student productions and other stage items at the YTS speech nights. It is fair to say, that because of Joan’s passion and her steely determination, many YTS pupils were given an opportunity ( perhaps only fleeting) to participate in some form of theatre production.
15. A photograph of Lillian Bek, taken in 1966, can be found on this website. Other notable members of Yallourn’s dramatic arts groups depicted in the photo include: Sid Joliffe, Marj Brogan, Edna Whitely, John Phillips, Jim Evans and Penny Bowler.
16. While the primary aim of the amateur drama groups, within Yallourn, was to provide an outlet for the artistic talents and energies of interested residents; such productions were also a source of funds for various charitable causes and local community organizations…
“English migrants Lillian and Peter Bek were honoured ( for their community involvement) when Peter retired in 1967. Lillian had been a drama producer for 20 years; her wartime fundraising through musical comedies was also recognized. She was an accomplished actress herself.” ‘Yallourn Was’ Page: 175 .
17. Another brilliant stage performer who lived in Yallourn was Joan Watson; and the ‘Morwell Advertiser’ reported on Joan’s Oscar winning role in the play called ” Dangerous Corner’ in 1951…
“Miss Joan Watson, a member of the Thespians Dramatic Society Yallourn, won the Oscar award for the best performance in the women's section at the National Theatre Movement Branch Festival Competitions held recently. Miss Watson was a member in the cast of ‘Dangerous Corner' presented by the Yallourn Thespians in Melbourne. The society was awarded third place to Ballarat who defeated last year's winner. Swan Hill by one point.” October 18th 1951.
18. As mentioned in the above extract, the Yallourn Little Theatre Group was formed in 1949 and, it is believed, that the first-ever production of YLTG, entitled ‘Pink String and Sealing Wax’, was held in the St John’s Hall. Note: In later years, the town’s various drama groups had access to the Yallourn Theatre and Kernot Hall as venues for their various productions.
19. In 1950, the YLTG performed a most successful production of ‘Gaslight’ at Yinnar and later at Morwell. In the book ‘To Yallourn with Love’ it is recorded that Yallourn Little Theatre Group won a major award in 1957…
“…their players, thoroughly rehearsed in a disused stable, reached a high standard and gained them awards including the 1957 State Drama Festival.”
20. Lillian Bek’s interests extended to other areas of civic life; Lillian was also an official of the Yallourn Branch of the Red Cross…
“…the Red Cross Branch which was formed in 1945 when office bearers were Mesdames W. Johnson, V. Jollife and C. Archer…They were succeeded by…Bek, Battersby and Habich …”
21. An interesting fact uncovered in research was that members of the Yallourn Little Theatre Group were involved in coaching the inmates of the Morwell River Prison Farm in various aspects of acting and stage production.
22. Mr Roy Norden (mentioned above) was a founding member of the YLTG in 1949. He and his wife, Dorothy, were dedicated and energetic members of the Yallourn Little Theatre Group and were also lively members of other organisations within the town.
23. The Norden family was wholeheartedly involved in the Yallourn Football Club; and was unswerving in their loyalty to the club. Roy was a most popular club president for many years and in 1963 received accolades in the Annual Report of the Yallourn Football Club…
“…President…this onerous position has been occupied for the past six years by Mr Roy Norden who was again elected unopposed which justifies the faith we have in him He has fulfilled the position with his usual sound and tactful judgement. To quote our congenial trainer, Jim Harriot …”Roy Norden is a man and a half in more ways than one …..we are glad of his leadership and generous nature.”
24. Roy Norden was a dynamic member in the organisation of the Yallourn and District Youth Club. The stated aims of the club were to foster the interest of boys (and later on girls) in a wide variety of sports and cultural activities such as: weight lifting, boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, drama and also marching.
25. It is known that Roy was also Secretary of the Yallourn Storage Dam Authority Committee; the YSDAC was formed with the objectives: (i) to preserve the waters of the dam and (ii) to maintain the surrounding natural environment for people to use for recreational pursuits.
26. Roy was also an active member of the Yallourn Bowling Club. Readers may be interested to know that Roy’s father was the renowned VFL umpire Arthur Norden. Arthur umpired 185 senior VFL matches (including three Grand Finals) between the years 1905-1921 .
*Note: A story regarding Arthur’s career in umpiring will be published in the Yallourn Association Newsletter in the near future ( see below).
27. Dorothy Norden was a tireless worker for the YFC and, along with her friends (Mesdames: R. Edmonson, G. Slatter, D. Menner, C. Smith, H. Sloan and J. Botten), worked assiduously in raising funds, arranging social functions and assisting the club’s junior teams. Dorothy was indefatigable in promoting the interests of the football club throughout the town; and her friendly smile and kind words were always appreciated by players, members and supporters of YFC.
28. Mrs Norden spent many hours each week volunteering as a Red Cross Welfare Officer; and she was among several Yallourn women to be recognized for their diligent service to the community…
“…among those to receive long service honours were Mesdames L. Ashmore, D. Norden and M. Frankhauser ” ‘Yallourn Was ‘ Page: 155
29. It is impossible not to mention the invaluable help that Roy and Dorothy received, in undertaking their numerous civic duties (particularly at YFC), from their children, John and Heather. John Norden played football with the Blues and was always busy assisting Roy or other YFC committee members with tasks around the club. In 1963, John received glowing praise from the-then YFC Secretary, Alex McGregor, in his report to club members…
“This report would not be complete without mentioning John Norden, the Thirds best clubman who, every home game, carried out the important task of setting up the amplifier loud speaker system with the wireless”... Annual Report of YFC.
30. Heather Norden assisted her mother in the club canteen; and undertook other minor but important tasks that had to be completed at each home game. John and Heather Norden are keen supporters of the Yallourn Association’s Annual Reunion; and John is currently writing a story for the newsletter about his famous grandfather ( Arthur).

• For further comments, on this website, by former Yallourn residents involved in the dramatic arts …Put your cursor on ‘Groups’ and ‘click’ ; then ‘click’ again on ‘Thespians.’ Other Yallourn Arts Group headings that may be of interest to readers include: Ballet, Dancing, the Yallourn Madrigals and the Yallourn Orchestral Society’

• There were literally hundreds of Yallourn residents involved in some form of the dramatic arts over the years. All readers are warmly encouraged to forward the names of others who may have been omitted from the above footnotes.
• Further, perhaps there are people who may possess old programmes, photos and press cuttings regarding the rich history of amateur theatre in Yallourn.
• It is not an understatement to say that, very few towns, if any, throughout country Victoria, ever scaled the heights and achieved the performing excellence of the drama groups of Yallourn. Such an absorbing social history should be preserved for other generations to read and enjoy; Julie would love to add any such memorabilia to her Virtual Yallourn files. Thank you.

This story is part of a history project entitled ‘From the Newspapers’ and a full list of titles in this series can be obtained by contacting Julie George. The research, writing and posting of this article were completed by Julie and Roger Spaull for the Virtual Yallourn website in November 2016.
The above extract from the ‘The Argus’ has been faithfully reproduced. The only amendments to the original copy are the font style, font size and spacing, so as to enhance the story for the purposes of posting on the Virtual Yallourn website.

Reference Photo: 

Yallourn Thespians -Cast of "Melodrama" Yallourn Theatre 1966


Standing (left to right) - Unknown High School Teacher, Sid Joliffe, Marj Brogan, Cec Nash, Edna Whitely, Lillian Beck
Sitting (left to right) - John Phillips (High School Teacher), Unknown High School teacher, Jim Evans, Penny Bowler, Unknown High School teacher