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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Stardust + The Mission (The Space Company) at Chapel off Chapel - 100 minutes plus interval

A brass band is the connection between two fascinating and compelling unrelated personal stories that are part of a double bill known as Stardust + The Mission.

First up is the tale of Victorian trumpeter and bandleader Col Brain, as told by his grandson Joel Carnegie.

Joel, who was only two when Col died, chanced upon a treasure-trove of memories in a box in a cupboard.

As part of Stardust, he assumes Col’s identity and the identities of others in his life.

Photos by Theresa Harrison

Then, with the aid of the voice overs from Col’s wife and daughter, Joel pieces together the life of a journeyman.

Col had a less than ideal upbringing, insofar as his mother died and his father sent him to an orphanage (St Augustine’s in Geelong) at the tender age of seven.

At the time, the school held the title of A-grade brass band champions and Col liked what he heard.

He learnt to play the trumpet under skilled instructor and musician Dr Percy Jones.

He had band practice twice a day and when he eventually left the orphanage to return home at the age of 14, Dr Jones gifted him a trumpet.

But circumstances saw Col depart just as quickly.

Col picked up a series of jobs – one resulting in a meeting with the woman who became his wife.

All the while, he was inevitably drawn to music, even though financially it often failed to pay the way.

Home was a series of locations across the state.

Col became a railway man and a band leader, competing in the prestigious South Australian brass band championships.

Joel is a wonderful talent. He spins a fine yarn, while playing the trumpet, the piano and singing with aplomb. I was mighty impressed by his sincerity and showmanship.

Accompanied by a six-piece brass band, Joel regales us about a life of one of his forebears, a life full of ups and downs, the constant being music.

I was totally absorbed.

After interval, with the band once again on stage, it is the turn of Tom Molyneux who, with the aid of evocative sound effects, relays his family story.

It is mired in racism.

A proud indigenous man, his is a tale of displacement and heartache that dates back tens of thousands of years.

The primary focus though is on his great, great uncle Allan McDonald, a fighting Gunditjmara man.

McDonald enlisted and saw no shortage of action during the Great War, action he and the light horsemen were ill prepared for.

He fought at Gallipoli and in the Battle of Beersheba, witnessing many of his comrades fall. The death toll was devastating.

He also got mighty sick, but when he applied for a military pension, there was knocked back.

In fact, the reception Allan received when he arrived back home was not what he expected.

It was 1967 before Australia finally recognised indigenous Australians as equals, following a referendum on the issue.

Injustice is a common thread through the historical events Allan describes, stepping into Tom's shoes and seeing them through his eyes.

The brass band intersperses the narrative as his tale unfolds.

Like Joel Carnegie before him, Tom Molyneux is an accomplished performer who keeps the story of his family and his mob moving.

The shattering moments can't be expunged. The shame at the unwarranted treatment of indigenous Australians sits in the air and stings.

Allan's history – just like Col's before his – needed to be passed on for his legacy is powerful and enduring.

At 45 minutes, Stardust and at 55 minutes, The Mission, directed by Daniel Lammin, is playing at Chapel off Chapel until 26th February, 2022.


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