The year 1994 was significant for many reasons.
At the movies we were watching the Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump. As a country we were celebrating our first medal at a Winter Olympics, and in Parkes we were getting ready to celebrate the second Elvis Festival.
But most significant for Parkes was a visit by HRH Prince Charles on 27th January. Quite the crowd had rallied to catch a glimpse of the Prince on Bushman’s Hill, the site of the first gold mine in Parkes.
After a stirring rendition of the National Anthem by Angelique Symington, proceedings lent themselves to a potted history of Parkes. And what better way to re-tell this than through a skit. Members of the local Musical & Dramatic Society rose to the occasion with Warwick Tom being cast as Sir Henry Parkes himself, John Short as an inebriated miner and Jenny Hawke as his wife. The cast being ably directed by the late Lizzie Matthews.
The skit was to be performed on a temporary stage with the players entering from stage left and leaving stage right.
To add a little veracity to his role, John had purchased a small flask of brandy and poured a little over himself, carrying the remainder in the pocket of his waistcoated costume. He decided it simply wasn’t believable that he would enter the stage from the same side as his ‘wife’, so he ducked around the back of the stage to enter from the opposite side.
And that is where everything turned to custard!
The security detail were still a little anxious from the previous day when a would-be assassin had run on to the stage in Sydney with a fake pistol and waved it at the Prince before being rugby tackled to the ground by the then Premier, the late John Fahey. When met with John reeking of booze and being somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be they said: “And where do you think you are going Sunshine?”
John responded that he was about to go onto stage to perform a skit, the two burley security detail responded with “Well no one told us about that” and with one either side of him the beleaguered actor was frog-marched up the hill to an awaiting Police van.
Fortunately, a nearby local had caught sight of the entire episode and alerted Lizzie.
In her signature style of utter fearlessness, she bolted up the hill in hot pursuit, calling for them to stop. She was able to explain the situation and John was returned.
Meanwhile, John’s ‘leading lady’, Jenny Hawke, was working herself into quite a frenzy not knowing where John was. She went on without him making it up as she went along. Her relief when John finally stumbled onto the stage was palpable.
The skit continued without further incident with the crowd knowing nothing of the incident until Lizzie later apologised for the delay, but that an attempt had been made to arrest John. There was a gentle ripple of mirth through the assembled crowd before, as they say the show went on.
Later, when fortunate enough to speak with the Prince, he shared a joke with John commenting that he was indeed in good company as Sir Barry Humphries had been ‘arrested’ in a similar fashion during a performance for the Prince.
The 27th of January 1994 will long remain in the memory of all involved.
By Jenny Short