Just a year after their tour of regional Victoria, 2019 Creative Engine grant recipients The Space Company’s Joel Carnegie and Tom Molyneux, are getting ready to take their stirring double bill, Stardust and The Mission, to stages across Australia.
“Stardust has been in my ether now for six years, and a significant amount of time for The Mission as well. So, these shows are part of us, part of our joined story, as much as it is a show.
“It’s another layer of exploring the two different sides of our family narrative to understand more about who we are as individuals today,” explains Joel Carnegie, performer and artistic director of Geelong’s The Space Company.
Told through a mixture of documentary theatre and cabaret, Stardust and The Mission tells two remarkable Australian stories about love, music and war, and all the things people leave behind.
“Back in 2014, I was working on a radio documentary for ABC Radio National about my grandfather, Col Brain, and this wooden dresser that sat unopened in our family garage for over 25 years.”
“When we finally decided to unlock it, we uncovered all these things that he had left behind; Old sheet music from the 19th century, musical instruments and diaries.”
Inspired by the parallels of the paths he and his grandfather had taken, Carnegie began piecing together the life of a man he had never known through the music that remained untouched in that wooden dresser.
Col Brain had been one of the most well-regarded Victorian musicians of his generation. As a trumpet and cornet player, he led swing and dance bands across the state and performed with some of the finest Australian musicians of the day.
Stardust: The Col Brain Story premiered at Geelong Arts Centre as part of Geelong After Dark, supported by a live brass band, to three full houses.
“It was a radio cabaret show broadcast live, so everything had to be transportable back to the radio format. There could be no visual gags or anything that would make it unclear to the listening audience.”
Not long after the premiere, Tom Molyneux, Carnegie’s partner and Stardust director, was on a journey to explore his own family history as a Gunditjmara man, and stumbled across a fragment of the story of Allan McDonald, his great great uncle.
McDonald had been one of the state’s first Indigenous soldiers to enlist for war, fighting at some of the most famous campaigns of World War One, including Gallipoli and Beersheba. Despite his service, McDonald would be denied a soldier’s settlement on his return to Australia and was forced from his traditional land at the Lake Condah Mission.
With both stories exploring the notion that the people of your past play a part in fully understanding who you are today, it only made sense to Carnegie and Molyneux to bill the two shows together.
“By putting them both together, it provides a commentary about what life was like in Australia, particularly during war time from a non-Indigenous and Indigenous perspective. Two very different experiences of the war.”
“It’s just the way these things happen. It all unfolded organically.”
Carnegie and Molyneux have since toured the double-bill to 13 venues across regional Victoria, joined by local brass bands at every stop. Each band plays an essential role in capturing the nostalgia of the time period and celebrating our ANZAC soldiers.
“That, in itself, is an enormous piece of work to coordinate; the number of bands and musicians. But, that’s part of the charm of the show, the local flavour and connection to the two stories.”
“It’s also an opportunity that doesn’t come along that often for brass bands, who don’t get an opportunity to perform beyond the usual ANZAC day services and ceremonies.”
Having laid the groundwork, Carnegie and Molyneux are now planning their ambitious 18 venue tour across Western Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria. The small ensemble will be joined by over 150 musicians over the stretch. A mammoth logistical undertaking that will undoubtably demonstrate a wealth of talent that exists across the country.
“It’s full on. We’ll be on the road for 7-8 weeks, visiting 3 venues a week. So, that means we’ll be working with up to three different bands a week.”
“The musicians are provided with the music as early as possible, so they can do their own independent work and we’ll support them from afar to make sure they’re on track and know what they’re doing, and how they fit in to the overall picture of the show. Then we’ll get to meet them face to face the day before. We’ll do our last rehearsals together and then we’ll put it on.”
The Space Company are currently fundraising to produce new musical arrangements, backing tracks and videos to support the brass bands in their learning, as well as to supplement artist fees.
Their fundraising campaign is supported by Creative Partnerships Australia’s Australian Cultural Fund’s Boost program that will match donations dollar for dollar up to $3,000.
To contribute, visit https://australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/stardust-and-the-mission/