The Other Diggers
An enlightening testament to the real strength of the ‘weaker sex’ who fed a nation.
Dr Gemma Regan
The 2023 Queensland Day Play The Other Diggers at Redland Museum focuses not on the forgotten soldiers but the forgotten women, without whom Australia would have come to a standstill. When the men went off to fight in World War 2, many Aussie women pulled up their sleeves and dug deep, volunteering for the Women’s Land Army to maintain the abandoned rural industries by producing food and fibres for textiles.
Local bohemian and The Other Diggers writer and director, Jan Nary informs us of the hard yakka and sacrifices made by the woman who left the cities to help till the land around Brisbane. She focuses on six fictitious women working in the Land Army between 1943–1945. The diverse characters were conjured from Nary’s imagination, but she has used historical records to detail their experiences.
To get everyone into the wartime mood, a homely but delicious two-course meal of Pumpkin soup and Apple Pie with custard preceded the play. An absolute bargain at only $39 for the meal and entertainment! Surprisingly, they even catered for the vegans amongst us with vegan bacon bits to sprinkle on the soup, rather than fried bacon. The food is served by friendly museum volunteers to tables scattered throughout the museum, creating an atmospheric anachronistic meal to remember.
Each table was decorated war-time style with a centrepiece basket of fruit and veg as examples of the food that would have been grown and picked by the Land Army women in Redland Bay. Described as the fruit bowl of Brisbane.
Four important historical women opened the show and set the scene. Emma Miller, a staid Suffragist (Barbara Collyer); Dame Mary Gilmore (Tracey Mann); a CWA Member (Eve Wheeler); and the original woman, a mature version of Eve played by a very amusing Tina Cotis.
Audio Visuals were also used throughout the play setting the time frame and even showing original footage and photographs from the period. Modern photographs of the characters in rural poses with farm machinery taken at Capalaba Produce had been cleverly scattered throughout. to add to the authenticity
Playwright and director Jan Nary describes how she was inspired by a talk given by Cr. Paul Bishop on the Australian Women’s Land Army. Their story is rarely told, evidenced by many of us being ignorant of the group's existence! Nary described how once sat down at the computer to write the tale, each of the six fictional characters just showed up clammering for attention within her head, desperate to have their stories heard. Perhaps, Nary was channelling the real women through a portal from the afterlife!
No matter their origin, Nary related how six fascinating characters arrived fully formed like conjured homunculi, each with their particular foibles and traits. Marie is a loveable character, as a forgetful ditsy blonde played comedically by Debbie Spearritt. She is seeking refuge from heartbreak and always leaves something behind in each scene that has to be retrieved.
The mature Bev (Helen Rowe) has fled the world of high fashion to get into the open air and work the land whilst she puts her dressmaking talents to good use in the evenings. A love-sick Kath (Kathy Manning) longs for the war to finish to get married and have a family with her beloved sweetheart. Soon-to-be lawyer Bronwyn (Jackie Wiley), is the activist and tom-boy Bobby (Sharon Vasallo), makes herself useful as she the only one who grew up on a farm, knowing the difference between a dag and a dingleberry (none!).
Most of the actresses were a little more mature than you would expect, with the exception of the young naive Elspeth, played by the sweet Kya Munro, who left home at the tender age of 16 for maturity and independence.
The Other Diggers illustrate how the Land Army women were transformed from cosmopolitan city gals into strong, dependable country folk through their many experiences. All of which were real historically documented takes sourced by Nary. With humorous interjections from prime ministers Curtin and Churchill and the odd war-time song from the two Land Amettes accompanied by Cheryl Christie on piano, it was both enlightening and entertaining with the bonus of a filling free dinner.
Nary’s extensive historical research and creative writing, combined with the talents of local Theatre Redlands performers and museum volunteers, encapsulated the memories and emotions of the Australian Women’s Land Army and is a testament to the real strength of the ‘weaker sex’ who fed a nation.