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Driving Into the Heart of the Past

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Finding new ways to tell history can be challenging, but in March this year a project in Narrandera combined words, music and a drive-in experience to bring some of the town’s past to life.

With funding from Regional Arts NSW Country Arts Support Project (CASP),  In the Heart of Our Past told the stories of local girl, Shirley Bliss, (Miss Australia 1954) before she travelled to California for the Miss Universe contest; the arrival of Dr Harold Lethbridge in 1909 and a 115 year old character, named in true bush yarn tradition as Drought’n’Rain and blamed for the Narrandera’s major weather disasters over a period of 100 years.

Performed as part of this year’s John O’Brien Festival, In the Heart of Our Past presented by The CAD Factory, Western Riverina Arts and Spirit FM was conceived by The CAD Factory’s Vic McEwan, written by award-winning, Melbourne playwright, Kieran Carroll with music by Narrandera musician, Fiona Caldarevic.

While the audience sat in their cars in a car park outside Narrandera Railway Station the Narrandera Drive-In Theatre choir performed a Capella alongside Melbourne actors Paul Mercuri and Lee McClenaghan. The audience heard the dialogue through their car radios via Spirit FM.

People who missed out on tickets were able to tune in at home, from the comfort of their armchairs, and listen to the production as a radio play.

Producer and co-director, McEwan, is a composer, sound and installation artist, producer and director with an interest in landscape, communities, remote spaces and collaboration across art forms.

‘This project is an example of our belief that the more you explore the history of the town and the more you involve local people in a contemporary telling of these stories, the stronger a community can become as they have a greater understanding of their past,’ McEwan says.

For playwright and co-director, Kieran Carroll, who wrote the script during a CAD Factory residency in 2012 it was about making the work accessible and entertaining with appeal to theatre and non-theatre goers, and preserving the town’s history.

‘Beyond the preservation of history and people being together in a warm atmosphere, In the Heart of Our Past contributed a rich new facet to the John O’Brien festival.’

Composer, Fiona Caldarevic says the experience broadened her professional practice and she looks forward to further opportunities to write and arrange music for theatre.

The In the Heart of Our Past script will be given to the Parkside Museum, Narrandera as a lasting legacy and contribution to the town’s heritage.