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'River' - A Folk Opera

Town Hall, Armidale - September 1980

Stage Direction by Janis Laurs
Musical Direction by David Reeves

Story by Jim Graham. Music by David Reeves.


River is the first attempt, as far as we know, at an Australian Folk Opera. Its story grows out of the Cedar cutting communities of the Richmond & Clarence Rivers and is set in the 1840s. The leading characters and the events which befall them are fictitious, but are nevertheless based on historic personalities. There was for instance a woman cedar dealer on the Richmond in its early days... Granny Greenhalgh. This provides the idea for Caroline Gordon, whilst the idea for Adam Young springs in some way from the person of William Yabsley, a free immigrant who sought to make his fortune in the cedar trade. The names of the lesser characters are actual names of members of the cedar cutting community of that area in the 1840s.

The cedar cutters themselves were an assorted lot. Some were emancipists, but the bulk were escaped convicts, sailors who had jumped ship, or men wanted by the law for one reason or another. For this reason their present status was anonymous and they chose only to be known by their colourful nick-names. They lived outside civilisation and beyond the law. Their life was rough and hard, and they lived it according to their own basic ideals and values. The river was their highway and rum was as important a commodity to them as flour and salt beef.

Their pleasures were few and consisted mostly of wild and reckless orgies, which usually ended up in fights, around a keg of rum when they sold their cedar logs.

Although they were required by law to have a licence to cut timber, few if any possessed such a document. Indeed, because of their illegal status they would not have been granted one. They lived deep in the thick scrub, where they cut and felled the giant cedar trees. The logs were stacked by the bank of the creek to await a sufficient flood to float them down to the small settlement at the mouth of the river. Here the logs were sold to a merchant, who in turn sold them to merchant in Sydney. They were conveyed there by boats which called at irregular intervals at the river.

Unlike the squatters who came later the cedar cutters lived peacefully with the local Aborigines, since they did not come with flocks, which necessitated the driving of the Aborigines off their tribal lands and disturbed their hunting rights.

As settlement and development came the cedar-cutting community disintegrated and dispersed. Most of these anonymous pioneers were never to be heard of again.

River is an opera, a musical, call it what you will, about a part of Australian history. It is based on fact rather than fiction, it is historic rather than romantic. It deals with the rather pathetic lives of a group of pioneers, their hopes, joys and sorrows.


Act 1

'Prologue' - Krinka
'Cedar Cutters Town' - Chorus
'Colonial Dance' - Chorus
'I'll Survive' - Caroline Gordon
'Build for To-morrow' - Adam Young
'No Future and No Past' - Thorn
'I Knew That You'd Come Back to Me' - Krinka
'River' - Krinka, Thorn, Sophie and Adam
'Recit' - Sophie and Adam
'Running-out Day' - Chorus
'There is a Time' - Adam and Chorus

Act 2

'New Year's Picnic' - Chorus
'Recit' - Thorn and Adam
'Let me Hear you Say' - Adam and Sophie
'River' - Chorus
'Beauty Don't Depend on Colour' - Krinka with Dublin Jack and Steve Withers
'Laws and Justice' - Commissioner Oakes
'Cedar Cutters Town' (reprise) - Chorus
'River' (reprise) - Company


Act 1

Scene 1: Front of Caroline Gordon's 'shop'. Richmond/Clarence River area late 1848. Night.

Scene 2: Near the river, later the same night.

Scene 3: Front of Caroline Gordon's shop, a couple of months later.

Scene 4: Thorn's camp.

Scene 5: Near the river, a few months later.

Scene 6: Cedar cutters camp, six months later.

Scene 7: Front of Caroline Gordon's shop, a few days later.

Act 2

Scene 1: Adam Young's boat-shed near the River, New Years Day 1850.

Scene 2: Inside Caroline Gordon's house, a week later.

Scene 3: Thorn's camp.

Scene 4: Adam Young's boat-shed, a week later.

Scene 5: Cedar cutters camp, a few days later.


Krinka: Dorothy Williams, Dublin Jack: Rod Sharp, Jimmy Pearce: John Hamel, Steve Withers: Tim Scott,Moreton Bay Harry: Brett Gedge, Thorn: Colin Grigg, Caroline Gordon: Dorothy Bell, Sophie: Trish Keoghan,Adam Young: Raymond Day, Mary Pearce: Beryl Hamel, Lardner: Alan Wilkinson, Jane Withers: Robin Godwin, Commissioner Oakes: Fred Dore

Cedar Cutters and Their Women: Tim Hughes & Trish Campbell-Hardwick, Keith Taylor & Virginia Smith, Adrian Smith & Eirlys Spencer, David Tilbury & Trish Reeves, Alan Wilkinson & Lin Portell, John Hamel & Robin Godwin, Richard Brett & Lyn Forbes, Neil Farmer & Noeline Woods, Simon Leaworthy & Robyn Peacock, Pat Smith and Leonie Keoghan


Director: Jim Graham
Musical Director: David Reeves
Conductor: Janis Laurs
Design: Debra Hunt
Costumes: Sylvia Pink, Frances O'Brien
Makeup: Robin Busby
Properties: Lou Calvert, Heather Penman
Publicity: Pat Smith
Front of House: Peter Robinson
Construction: Charlie Granfield
Stage Manager: Peg Leask
Stage Crew: Stuart McKern, Tony Marjoram
Lighting: David Toppin


Armidale High School, The Armidale College of Advanced Education and The Armidale School for rehearsal venues, The Armidale Orchestra

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