Australian Theatre History. The Australian Performing Group at the Pram Factory

George Dreyfus


I was an outsider. I was never a real Pram Factory person. I occasionally served coffee, occasionally.


I joined for a very selfish reason. Tim Robertson had been very successful, one of the main inputters of ideas at the Pram and he and I were brought together by the then director of the South Australian Opera Company, a man called McDonald - who’d felt I’d got a rough deal from the Australian Opera for my opera, ‘The Guiltedged Kids’. (They’d commissioned it and then rejected it.) Anyway, it was the seventies and Tim was in Adelaide where he actually had a job, unbelievable! And McDonald, not Donald McDonald, brought us together there with a offer. Note that I’d work with anybody if you offered money. I’d work! Usually I waited for people to approach me. So, later Tim and I had lunch in Lygon St- and he paid for the lunch-  I’m great buddies with Tim, I paid for the lunch the other day! We care for each other’s welfare. Anyway, here was a commission from the Adelaide Festival for ‘The Lamentable Reign of Charles the Last’. We worked on it in ‘75. Then Tim was living in North Melbourne. I’d arrive there and I’d have to screw each line out of him ‘cos he’d be there stretched out, sunbaking in the nude. The opera went on in  ‘76. It was no worse than the companion piece, by Larry Sitsky. The Lampshade Song was the best thing in it. The Musical Director hated it, the Director hated. It sent up royalty most unmercifully, and the Adelaide establishment- whatever that is, I’ve never met the Adelaide establishment, hated it! It was actually quite a poor piece. It had Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser and Princess Anne, Prince Charles and the Queen. Musically, it was very badly done.


I became a member of the Collective in ’76, Tim had arranged it. I went to all the meetings. You just had to look at the other companies, they were doing bugger all then, they’re doing bugger all now. I used to drink at Stewarts and do nothing. I liked the Stewarts’ atmosphere, we sat around and talked. I never said very much. I actually liked John Timlin, I mean I shouldn’t have. He was tall and big and I was a titch. He was a football player! I quite liked Jack Hibberd, he was always putting you down, but that was his style - ‘Mock Ocker’. I liked the collective meetings, outings. I remember I used to drive up in the old Holden and that was wrong and then I had a suit on, I didn’t have a tie on but I didn’t seem to have the correct look and I remember distinctly that sometimes I’d call out, ‘hear hear’ and that was all wrong. It was all wrong! I was too old. I was older than anybody else. I was older than Timlin and Jack, at the end John Bryson came in and I thought he might be older than me but he wasn’t. I never really believed in the collective process, even if I think back to the things I did there, cos nobody was doing musicals.


I was the wrong person at the wrong time but I stayed there. I liked the meetings. I liked the freshness of it. I thought at that time of the music I’d set up in the 60s- what I did for composers in the 60’s- nobody ever said thankyou, nobody ever played my music.


The composers of the sixties never did anything for me, never.


Tim and I put up an idea for consideration but nobody turned up for the discussions. I was a nobody and Tim wasn’t much higher up the ladder at that stage, we weren’t where the action was, whatever the action was I wouldn’t know, but we weren’t there, so it never got put on. Then I hung around in the hope there’d be a bit of interest.


I’m sure it was John Romeril who said ‘do something’ and so I did a couple of pieces with John which were no better -we’re talking about people with a minium of talent. I did Mickeys Moomba, with the famous Jane Clifton, I like her. I think she’s a survivor. There was never any writer’s block for me, Romeril would be sitting down there in the little office in the stable (panel beaters), still writing his dialogue and I’d be finished. I had all these chords for the guitar but nobody could read music. I’d say ‘do this, do that’.  Mickeys Moomba was the right thing for the right time. Then I did something even worse for Bruce Spence- Carboni. I never went. Bruce Spence- well he was so- tall!- and a  major contributor. In that day I was working like a maniac doing film and plays. I did the Dimboola film in ’78 and ‘Smash Hit’ - it was never finished. I never took off.


The one thing I did with Jack Hibberd was really me asking Jack, and that’s a mistake. Jack can only do things out of his heart, out of his intuition, he’s not like me, A COMMERCIAL PERSON, you dial my number and next morning you’ll have the music! But Jack can’t do that. But then I never had another profession. I had to do it, you want to remain alive and eat and be a man of property.


I rang Jack, rang and told him, ‘I’ve got this grant to go to Israel and I gotta write a bit of music there in return for this ticket and accommodation’. I didn’t want to write an Israeli string quartet, they’d already done it and failed. I mean what would I be doing writing mock arab music? I said, ‘write me a play for Evelyn, being Jewish’. The Pram had gone by then but Timlin had a cellar somewhere round the corner, it was the dying gasp but it bombed, it lacked any reason. Jack never finished it and I ended up selling copies of my score, it’s in my collection, to the libraries. There’s three libraries where you can study the works of George Dreyfus- the point of putting it there was to make my music fireproof.


Tim’s is an indestructible friendship. He comes to town and rings me up and says ‘lunch?’ and we have lunch, (I pay) it’s built on real mutual admiration of each other.

Friendship was everything for Tim. He’d want his friends in everything he did.


Of the first things I saw there I remember Max Gillies. Max and I always liked each other.  I remember seeing him in the early seventies. I was doing something with Christine Mearing, ‘ The Emperor’s Nightingale’ at Monash University in the Blackwood Hall- there was a bit of money going there. I got the group together, forty-five musicians!  Christine mentioned how terrific the Pram Factory was. But it wasn’t for me. First show I saw was ‘Sonia’s Knee and Thigh Show’, and then the Barry Dicken’s things - we must work together he said, he wanted to do a musical- but nothing happened.


I thought by the time I got there which would have been 5 years after it started, I could probably see that the skids were under it. That was when that Peter Oysten had a say, he was with the Ministry for the Arts; we had these meetings where Peter was there, and it seemed to be he was a deciding factor, whether the money was coming or not. Before that there was Graeme’s dreaded (future) wife, she was Jewish, from Manchester, Margot Hilton. She was friends with nobody and she was at the Ministry, the meeting was full.


I’ve always been very naive all my life. I never thought the Pram was going to die but I always thought that if it needed money to survive it shouldn’t. This sort of art only survives by real need from the person to do it.  If it’s money then there’s no real need. First comes the desire to be an artiste.


My final crowning glory was The Sentimental Bloke by C.J.Dennis at the Melbourne Theatre Company. I could not have done that without those years at the Pram Factory. For me it was the training ground. I came to the pop world late in life. I was much older.

It was my training ground. It changed me. Graeme Blundell, whom I respected very much was very inspired in that production. He was very famous when we did The Sentimental Bloke. Graeme’s Bloke was hard hitting, the second act was inspired! ‘The Bloke’ bombed in Adelaide.


The terrific thing about the Pram Factory was the urge and we bewail the fact that there are no reasons that it’s never been repeated. Sheer idealism, and as soon as money becomes an issue you should run away. Money kills that sort of art. All that’s gone and twenty years later it’s still not happening.


George Dreyfus is composing and playing.



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