stories, photos, anecdotes….. sharing the past
1994 Was a significant year for many reasons
At the movies we were watching the Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump.
As a country we were celebrating our first medal at a Winter Olympics – the Australian short track speed skating team winning bronze in the 5000m relay at Lillehammer in Norway.
And in Parkes they were getting ready to celebrate the second Elvis Festival.
But most significant for the townspeople of Parkes was a visit by HRH Prince Charles on 27 January.
The day was predictably hot, with a signature clear blue, cloudless sky.
Quite the crowd had rallied to catch a glimpse of the Prince on Bushman’s Hill (the site of the first Gold Mine in Parkes).
After a stirring rendition of the National Anthem performed by Angelique Symington, proceedings lent themselves to a potted history of Parkes and the subsequent re-naming of the town from Bushmans to Parkes by Sir Henry Parkes himself. And what better way to re-tell this than through a skit. Members of the local Musical & Dramatic Society rose to the occasion with Warwick Tom being cast as Sir Henry Parkes himself, John Short as an inebriated miner and Jenny Hawke as his wife. The cast being ably directed by the late Lizzie Matthews.
The plan was for the skit to be performed for the Prince and invited dignitaries, on a temporary stage located in front of where they were seated. The players would all enter from stage left and leave the stage from stage right at the completion of the skit.
To add a little veracity to his role, John had purchased a small flask of brandy and poured a little over himself, carrying the remainder in the pocket of his waistcoated costume. He furthermore decided it simply wasn’t believable that he would enter the stage from the same side as his ‘wife’, so he ducked around the back of the stage to enter from the opposite side than originally planned.
And that is where everything turned to custard!
The security detail still a little anxious from the previous day when a would-be assassin had run on to the stage in Sydney with a (fake) pistol and waved it at the Prince before being rugby tackled to the ground by the then Premier, the late John Fahey. When met with John reeking of booze and being somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be they said,
“And where do you think you are going, sunshine?”
John’s response was of course that he was about to go onto stage to perform a skit; the two burly security detail responded with “Well no one told us about that” and with one either side of him the beleaguered actor was frog-marched up the hill to an awaiting Police van.
Fortunately, a nearby local had caught sight of the entire episode and realising the gravity of the situation had quickly alerted Lizzie that they had just arrested John Short.
Lizzie, in her signature style of utter fearlessness, bolted up the hill in hot pursuit, calling for them to stop. When eventually the breathless Lizzie reached them she was able to explain the situation and John was returned to take part in the skit, entering from stage left as originally planned.
Meanwhile, with Lizzie negotiating the release of John, back off-stage John’s ‘leading lady’, Jenny Hawke, was working herself into quite a frenzy. Unsure where John was or if she should just go on without him and ad lib. In the end she did just that, making it up as she went along. Her relief when John finally stumbled onto the stage was palpable.
The skit continued without further incident with the crowd knowing nothing of the incident until Lizzie later apologised for the delay but that an attempt had been made to arrest John. There was a gentle ripple of mirth through the assembled crowd before, as they say the show went on.
Later, when fortunate enough to speak with the Prince, he shared a joke with John commenting that he was indeed in good company as Sir Barry Humphries had been ‘arrested’ in a similar fashion during a performance for the Prince.
The 27 January 1994 will long remain in the memory of all involved.
written by Mrs. Jenny Short, nee Hawke.