The Other Diggers is the title of a new play soon to take stage at the Redland Museum.
A fictional recreation of a group of Australian Land Army women, it was written after the playwright, Jan Nary, heard a talk given by Redland Councillor Paul Bishop.
Fascinated by a subject of which she had only a passing knowledge, Jan says that she found herself caught up in a compelling part of Australian history that consumed a large part of her life for more than a year.
“Initially I thought to track down any ex-Land Army women I could find, interview them, do some basic research and create a short play along the lines of ‘a day in the life of a Land Army girl’. I had no idea what a treasure trove Paul had opened for me.”
Finding the Land Army members was the first hurdle. Extensive media appeals in local print media and on various Brisbane radio stations brought in some valuable contacts.
Redland Museum is the proud possessor of a Land Army uniform donated by the late Beryl Price and fortunately her daughter Lorraine Newton has her mother’s immaculately preserved Land Army records.
“Lorraine was more than obliging,” Jan said, “and she shared a wealth of information about her mother. Community-based archivists are worth gold for a project like this.”
Another valuable contact came from a chain of contacts triggered by an interview with 612 ABC Radio. Granite Belt-based Auria Nixon, now a woman of gracious years, had a wealth of material and memories from her time in the Land Army.
“On a few occasions Auria’s daughter Jill raised her eyebrows and said “I haven’t heard that one before, Mum.”
In Queensland, Land Army records were destroyed under government instructions in 1949. Jan says that most of her research material came from the Queensland State Library, Federal research bodies, personal contacts, a small selection of books and one film. The creators of research material were often hard to track down.
“The hardest trail to follow was the book The Fourth Service, by ex-Land army woman Mary Macklin. It took nineteen attempts – ‘phone calls, e-mails and Snail Mail, but I was eventually connected with Mary’s granddaughter,” Jan said.
An easier source was Patsy Adam-Smith’s book, Australian Women at War. Her only son, Michael Adam-Smith, is a New Theatre colleague from decades ago – who is, appropriately, lighting up The Other Diggers.
The Other Diggers opens at the Redland Museum on June 2, 2023. More information at redlandmuseum.org.au/whats-on/events.