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Collits Inn The Play

It will probably come as a surprise to many Collits' descendants that there was a live musical performed in the 1930's called "Collits Inn".

Described as the "First All-Australian Musical romance", the Play is a combination of comedy, romance and spectacular corroboree dance scenes.

As a child, I had always known of this Play, but it wasn't until I started researching the Collits that I actually realised the importance of a play written about my own Ancestors.

I started researching my family in 1980, and have devoted many hours to researching the Play also. I found the Theatrical Industry most helpful and I would like to thank the living descendants of Varney Monk and T.S. Gurr, who have helped me discover the history and background of the Play. Without these two people, Mrs. Evans and Mrs. Thompson, I would have very little first hand knowledge.

Varney Monk became interested in the story of Pierce and his daughter before the First World War, which was intensified by a visit to the Inn in 1917. She was to spend many holidays at the Inn, which I understand she enjoyed immensely.

Some 13 years later an announcement was made of a competition to find a new Operetta. Varney Monk approached her friend T.S. Gurr and told him the tale of Collits Inn. Gurr constructed a book on this idea and Varney added the words and music.

The Operetta however, was only given 2nd place. Despite this fact the Operetta was performed at the Savoy Theatre on December 5th, 1932 for one week, with Rene Maxwell and Ambrose Bourke playing the leading roles of Mary and Ensign Lake. Howard Carr edited and orchestrated the music and conducted the performances.

Due to the success of the play, Mr. Frank Thring Snr, Entrepreneur, was contacted, hoping to interest Mr. Thring in their show.

Mr. Thring was indeed interested and called for auditions. Varney Monk travelled to Melbourne for these auditions and the choosing of the Cast. It was in this production by Mr. Thring that a revolving stage was used, the first time ever in Australia.

One of the more spectacular scenes appearing in Collits Inn was the Corroboree. Whilst Varney was holidaying in Kiama in 1925, she first met Queen Rosie, the last full blooded Aboriginal of the Illawarra Tribe. It was Queen Rosie's chant, a chant "in praise of the moon and stars", that inspired the corroboree appearing in the play.

Queen Rosie passed away in 1934 said to be 100 years of age. She was well loved in her district, and was the medical adviser and maternity nurse for the scattered members of her tribe, from Wollongong to Ulladulla. Her husband was King Micky, and on State occasions wore a brass crescent on his chest proclaiming his title.

With the chant and corroboree written into the play and other adjustments made to suit certain characters, Thring engaged Gladys Moncrieff on a years contract to play the lead role of Mary Collits.

It is here that I would like to point out that the play was actually based on Amelia's life story, but Varney adopted the name "Mary" as it was a more "romantic name".

It is said that Pierce's daughter, Amelia, fell in love with a redcoat, and her father, enraged at the thought of her marrying one of the much hated soldiers, forbade her from ever seeing him again. Amelia, upset at this, is said to have stated that she would marry the first man who walked through the door.

In real life Amelia married Robert Skeen and even though reports have stated that she died of a broken heart, she lived til the age of 84, having born many children to Skeen. Apparently Amelia's "redcoat" is said to have returned to Australia when she was quite old, asked for her hand in marriage, but she declined.

Robert Chisholm was to play the lead role of Ensign Lake, George Wallace to play the comic Dandy Dick and Claude Flemming to play the role of Robert Keane, the Outlaw.

The Opening Night for Collits Inn at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, was December 23rd, 1933. The reviews were very encouraging and overall Collits Inn was a great success.

After 4 months in Melbourne Collits Inn had a Gala Opening at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney on June 22nd, 1934.

On Tuesday 10th July 1934 at David Jones, a "Collits Inn Ball" was given in aid of the Women's Hospital, Crown Street, Sydney.

Mr. Frank Thring had ideas of filming Collits Inn, however, this was not to be, as he sadly passed away and with him went the last chance to see Collits Inn on film.

However, the Play was not forgotten entirely, as many amateur Theatrical Societies have produced the Play since the days of Frank Thring and Gladys Moncrieff.

The Nepean Musical Society re-enacted the Play in 1963, Canowindra and District Historical Society in 1970, Campbelltown Theatre Group also in 1970, Sydney Boys High School in 1951, Mosman Musical Society in 1951.

The Play has also been broadcast on Radio by the A.B.C. in 1933, 1943 and 1951 with great success.

Perhaps one day our current and hopefully future generations will be given a chance to see the Play performed, a Play about "our" ancestors.