Marooned in Corowa

Shot from the wings. The second night

The great river was alive and hiding behind the Golf club’s, two story hotel and as on the greens the men, out of ear shot of their politically correct controllers, they drank popular beer and bravely filled the warm October air with their freed locker room talk.

But the river was making an endless statement. As I stood on its banks its current warned me that if I tried my luck it would swallow me up and carry me away to where it was heading. I threw in a few sticks and a golf ball and it devoured the lot, adding them to the secrets of its journey. A story it had no desire to tell me. A story not even written for me.

When I was coming into town, the first thing that caught my eye was the monument to the Wars.

I don’t know how many Corowa have lost to The Great War but I was told that in the last eighteen months the town had lost fourteen people to suicide.

Jaimes Walch & Brad Plum

Jaimes Walch heard about my play from a facebook post. He got in contact with me and asked if there was any way to bring it to Corowa. So as I do with anyone who enquires, I sent him the script. A few days later, Jaimes, a boat builder, a mechanic, human rights activist and a separated father estranged from his daughter was back on the phone already a few steps along the journey to become the play’s Corowa promoter.

Soon he would have banners hanging from the balcony of the pub and he would sit for hours at his table with his posters outside Woolworths and even at a car show.

There he would speak to anyone who wanted to talk. He told me how he’d hugged one man who had told him it was probably best not to go near. A man who came up to him and then hugged Jaimes and cried.

Corowa War Memorial

Jaimes convinced the council to give him Cowora’s Memorial Hall for free. He raised some money from Rotary and other clubs and organizations. But then disaster happened. Down the determined river another town, Yarrawonga had also decided to put the play on, but they were doing it for free. A community event.

By then, weeks out, Jaimes had only sold ten tickets. He was learning how self-protective the great silence can be. But instead of cancelling the show he persevered and asked for more help, which he received. A generous grant that allowed him to make Corowa a free event.

The Hall looked like it had been built in the sixties. Jaimes had it set up in cabaret style. It’s how the locals like it. He wanted the actors to wear headsets and on the second night they gave in and did. When in Rome.

And then the crowds came. As with all promoters Jaimes was hoping for lines out the door but as I suspected the braver ones turned up on the first night, which went well, then the second night, as I’d hoped, more came. Did the word spread?

I’m now an apprentice producer. I’m learning to learn quickly. To think, how can I fix or manage problems now. And there are always problems. Or better still how can I turn this new negative into a positive.

I am now a promoter touring a play where every single recognizable character has committed suicide. Four souls now stuck in a silent waiting room in the afterlife. One after the other they all regret their decision until all of them eventually want to go home. But how do they get home? What is it they must do? All they have in here is each other.

Even as I write this piece the entire undertaking sounds crazy. Selling a play like this to these towns. But afterwards the audience members come up and after warmly congratulating me they start telling me about how many they have lost. Three is an average number. A few other women talk about their kids’ school. They said they’d been sitting there trying to collate the amount of teenagers that had been lost.

The Corowa Set

And as they tell me this I can see the river in their eyes and in the street outside the monument stands quietly as the headlights of approaching cars illuminate those words proudly chiseled into its stone, “The Glorious Dead.”

I’m in a war zone. I hoped I was here to stage a suicide prevention play, but instead I fear that we are a small touring show trying to entertain these weary troops, these survivors of another war no one understands, these good people.

The feedback came from Brad Plum, a man who’d been helping Jaimes. He told me it was from a woman, and she'd asked, Where and when can I see it again?

It was a relief to hear and reminded me of another man standing with his wife. It was at the end of the second show and she had already told me about the three men she had lost.

Tall, and clearly a man of some means he was shaking my hand and he shook it firmly and said, I doubt you would find anyone in a regional town from here to Queensland who hasn't been touched.

Then after a quick nod his wife told me, Take it everywhere, and her practical tone, necessary out here, was clearly stained by something irremovable. Take it everywhere!

Michael Gray Griffith

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