Monday, February 20, 2012

Connecting with the community

One of things that interests me about this project is contrast. Contrasts between rich and destitute, between satin pyjama clad city gals and sensible rural ladies in cotton shifts they'd sewn themselves, and most fascinating of all, between headlines and reality.

Albury was a town that became the dumping ground for a notorious murder, the mystery of which caused rifts and for some, damage to their family reputation. At the same time, it was an event about which little was said. Locals didn't want to take ownership of it, to be associated with a brutal murder.

Instead, it would rather be remembered for another significant local event--which also took place in 1934. The Uiver

*Not the Albury Uiver... This is a Dutch postcard advertising "Ovomaltine". Like eating crusts will grow hair on your chest, this malted milk drink must make you man enough to fly a plane.

Picture it... An iconic Dutch aircraft, flailing about in electrical storm, in need of an emergency landing.

The hero? The local community, who, responding to a radio broadcast, jumped in their cars and drove to the race course. Lining up their vehicles with the headlights on (in a way vaguely reminiscent of James Dean's chicky run in Rebel Without A Cause), they created a makeshift airstrip... and a safe landing for the Uiver.

You can listen to John Walker's excellent radio play thanks to the local ABC here.

The point though? Is that when communities come together, they can do wonderful things. I've started poking around, finding people to meet and speak to for this project. The people I've contacted have been receptive and helpful. The historical society even went to the trouble of deleting a section of their newsletter so they could include my call for stories!

I've also got another exciting lead to follow, but in the meantime, I'm sleuthing away, connecting links, and looking forward to beginning conversations.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jumping in with both feet

Soon, I'll write something more coherent about this play, but now I'm focused on phase one -- mad research.

I'm trying to look into as many different angles as possible, before I head out and start conducting the interviews that will make up the text of the play. Thematically, I'm interested in connections and contradictions. There are plenty of both so far. But some of the connections and coincidences I've found in the last few days have been so exciting I told my wise mentor Colette that I'm tempted to create my very own serial killer-esque photo wall and connect common threads with a spider web of red wool.

It's, yes, a story of murder and mystery--but also of communities in turmoil, poverty, fascism, mobsters, planes, trains and automobiles. Beyond that it's a story of broken women: flappers, hookers, drunks and runaways.

This was the era of Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, but Darlinghurst was a very long way from Albury NSW, although Big Bill Mackay is a key character here too, managing to apparently solve the Pyjama Girl murder, all while enjoying a free lunch from his favourite little Italian place. If you believe the statement of confession, all it took was for the hulking Irishman to ask the diminutive Italian waiter -- 'Why so glum Tony?' And after 10 years, Antonio Agostino uncorked as easily as a bottle of Lambrusco.

But was that really the end of the story? And as for the beginnings... well, that's where I am right now.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The girl murdered in her pyjamas

Albury, New South Wales. 1934.

A murdered woman, wearing silk pyjamas, is found by a road near Albury, and her body is preserved and displayed for 10 years.

She is eventually identified as flapper Linda Agostini, and her husband is arrested. But his prior connections with police officials and other inconsistent evidence raises the possibility that he was a simply a scapegoat for a crime that remains unsolved.

Then there’s the fact that the body’s eyes were a different colour to Linda Agostini’s.

This iconic murder mystery is the subject of a new play I'm working on, thanks to a JUMP mentorship.

Using Verbatim techniques, my focus will be on themes of connections and contradictions, from the enduring effect of the murder on the local community, to the sensational, fictionalised headlines and newsreels. I hope the finished play will interrogate these myths and possible solutions to the mystery, while reflecting the broader Australian and local context of the time.

It's the early stages, but I'll soon be getting out there with a recorder and interviewing people. Let's see what I'll dig up!