Anna Henry (centre) from Melbourne came to watch her father, Graeme Henry, perform in ‘Looking for Wonthaggi’. Graeme’s grandchildren Murray and Ivy Hill also came specially to watch their grandfather perform. tm12_1021

Lyra Lockhart surprised the audience by being in the crowd and singing ‘There’s a part of my heart in Wonthaggi’ to finish the show. She is with fellow cast members, reader Karen Milkins-Hendry, director and writer Gill Heal (left) and Cape Paterson historian Ron Gilmour. Lyra, a Wonthaggi Secondary College student, who has a promising career in singing, is trained by her mother, Kerryn Lockhart – a music teacher at Wonthaggi Secondary College.

‘Looking for Wonthaggi’ brings unexpected surprises. In an afternoon at the theatre, John Gilliland was amused to hear himself taking a towering mark at the 29-minute mark of the final quarter of the 1971 footy grand final. Minutes earlier, his mother, at 92 years young, had been transfixed by an unexpected photo of her own mother, Jessie Hansen, a feisty Scot, at a meeting of the famous Wonthaggi Miners’ Women’s Auxiliary.

LOOKING for Wonthaggi’ had a third sell-out performance last weekend – by popular demand.

Performed at the Wonthaggi Theatrical Group’s iconic shed, at the State Coal Mine, the show was a series of stories from Wonthaggi identities over 100 years of town life and read by actors.

When John Gilliland took his mother to see Looking for Wonthaggi, they didn’t know what to expect. They knew it would be about the town’s past. It was, but it also asked: Is there anything of the old Wonthaggi character that exists today? And if so, can that character help us in the future?

John’s mum, at 92 years young, was moved to tears to see a photo of her own mother, Jessie Hansen, at a meeting of the Wonthaggi Miners’ Women’s Auxiliary.
The play was a reminder of the legacy the town had once shared. The mother and son were swept away by the performance. It was a reminder of the meaning of community.

“It made me feel connected to the town again,” John said.

Frank Angarane had a further perspective.

He believes Wonthaggi’s always been a town with “attitude”; he knew most of the stories. But he also learnt a lot. He came away with greater admiration for the town’s commitment to cooperativism. The family connections were another means by which a sense of community was fostered “and still is”, he said.

“It’s really important to know where we come from. That way you remain connected,” Frank said.

Looking for Wonthaggi, written and directed by Gill Heal and produced by the Wonthaggi Theatrical Group, is the first part of a community project which hopes to prompt a conversation about how Wonthaggi can accommodate and benefit from the dramatic population growth projected over the next decade and beyond.