The Travelling Years Pt 2. – The School in the Sugar

From 1989 – 1992 I toured with the Queensland Arts Council to primary schools around the state with a production called “World Games”. The company- Footloose Theatre Company was mine and was named after a suggestion from my father “Two young unmarried blokes touring around the state, what else could you call it?” It was an apt name. A two-hander production “World Games” had a quiz show format and relied heavily on audience participation and lent itself to a good deal of impro.

Looking back these were some of the happiest days of my life. I loved life on the road and the guys I toured with were awesome both as people and performers. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

1989 – Anthony Simcoe
1990/91 – David Feeney
1991 (third term) – Peter Marshall
1992 – Matthew Corbett

The School in the Sugar

On tour in country Queensland, it could be challenging to simply find the venue where we were to perform. On this occasion we were heading to Tully . The Arts Council provided us with a physical address – as they did for every venue. These were the days before GPS, these were the days before mobile phones even. These were the days of the refidex (for Americans – its a street atlas) and 20 cents in the car (the fee to make a phone call from a public phone booth – if you could find one).

Once we’d arrived in Tully we found the street directions pointed us directly into the cane fields that surrounded the town, there were no street signs, nothing to indicate the existence of a school out there in the endless and bewildering fields of cane that stretched as far as the eye could see. They weren’t so much roads as furrows between the fields of cane, just wide enough for a single car to fit through – God help you if a car should come in the opposite direction.

Tully canefields

We were late for the show with no idea where to go. There were 5 schools coming to the show, each school having 20 or 30 students. We attempted to call the principal of one of the schools, but they had apparently already left for the show. This was not good. It looked for all the world that we were destined to miss the show.

In an act of pure desperation I approached a local storekeeper in town and asked if he knew where we were going. I passed the address to him; after studying it for a while he said “Oh yeah maaaate, I know where you’re headed. Go down 5th street into the cane,” 5th street was the address we had, ” go down four rows turn left, then ahhhh lets seeee, two more, naooo, three more rows turn right that’ll dead end, five mooore rows another right, three moooore a left and you’ll be there.”

“You’re joking aren’t you?”

He looked at me like I was very slow. To enable the poor unfortunate in front of him, he slowed the already painfully slow delivery of his country cadence even more.

“No maaate……its eaaasy….. go into the field … four then left… three then right,” he paused to make sure I was following him, ” you’ll be at a dead end… you wont have a choice except to turn…”

“… right?”

His worst suspicions were confirmed. I was slow. His drawl drawled to a near complete stop. “Yeaaaaah thats right….riiiiight, five rows,” he held his hand up to show me exactly how many five was, “Fiiive rows right… threeeee rows left …it’ll be there on the corner”.

“The school?”

“The schoooool?”

“Ummm yeah. The school.”

“Naooooooooo maaaate. Theres not a school within miles of there.”

“Right. Then where are we going?”

“Carnt you follow directions maaate?”

“Yes I think I’ve got that bit.”

“Goood, then just follow them…. alriiiiight?”

“Okay. Just follow the directions?”

His eyes rolled. “Yeah maaaate, that’d be the go”.

“Well thanks very much for your help.”

“Yeaaah. Riiight.” and almost as an afterthought, “Good luck.”

I tore back to the car and raced down into the cane fields leaving a billowing dust trail behind as we rallied through the narrow openings between fields. Following his instructions we came across a small corrugated iron roofed shelter with 100 kids sat beneath.

“Where’ve you blokes been?” A teacher/principal asked.

“We got lost”

“What address did you have?”

“54b 5th street?”

“Yeah thats it… and you couldn’t find us?”

“No, we had a few problems, we were actually expecting a school”

“No mate, no school around here… El Arish is the closest and they drove for 20 ks to get here… Maybe you should set up?”

Imagine this shelter surrounded on four sides by cane

We erected the set in what little space remained under shelter and about five minutes into the show the heavens opened. If you’ve never heard a tropical Queensland summer rain on a corrugated iron roof, the only word to describe it is deafening. The rain heaved down – the show was a complete wash-out.

In the years to come there were many such challenges when attempting to access venues, especially in country areas. There were many, many instances of the hall key “being at Mrs.Wilsons house at number 43” or “if you lift the third brick at the front of the hall, the key should be under there” or “once you put the key in turn it to the right then lean back on the door as you lift it… that’ll open it for ya” or ” Brownie’s got the key… oh shit he’s gone to Brissie… in that case pry the second window on the right as you face the hall… ya got a crow-bar? No? Then use a good strong key… its pretty heavy… then crawl through” or ” Careful when you go in… theres a goanna likes sleeping in there… and they can be pretty aggressive if you disturb ’em. Hes not big… only about 3 foot long… but they give a nasty bite… ya don’t want that.”

Hes not big... only about 3 foot long

For all of its oddities my favorite areas to tour were always in the country. The people were so hospitable and the days were never ever boring.

About Simon

Simon Houghton creator of The Bloke Show started life as a baby, going on to become a boy and then a man, at which time he became an actor. As time passed he went on to be a director, later still he became a sales guy, then a business owner. Most recently he regressed and became a writer. Then a driver, then an actor again. Decisiveness is not one of his strong suits.
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