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Argy-bargy over nation's capital laid bare in drama

(L-R) Actors, John McGlynn, Georgia Pike, Dale Stam, and Phil Perman, will perform in "The Battle of the Sites" at St Johns Church in February and March.

(L-R) Actors, John McGlynn, Georgia Pike, Dale Stam, and Phil Perman, will perform in "The Battle of the Sites" at St Johns Church in February and March. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Dalgety was a leading contender; Wagga Wagga was also considered. We are celebrating Canberra's centenary in 2013, but it was by no means inevitable this place would be the national capital.

The Canberra Times' Ian Warden has dramatised the process by which a location for Australia's capital city was chosen in The Battle of the Sites.

The melodrama was commissioned by the Schoolhouse Museum at St John's Church, Reid to commemorate the centenary of Canberra, and will be performed by the Queanbeyan Players at the church from February 21.

Warden said he became interested in the story about four years ago when he was asked to write a book on the subject for the centenary of Canberra. Then came the idea to dramatise it, drawing on the rich array of primary sources including parliamentary debates, newspapers and propaganda material.

The actors will play various real-life figures, reciting from their speeches and writings, and Georgia Pike will narrate the story. The production will incorporate video footage and period music to add flavour to the occasion.

''One of the things I really liked was all the champions of the sites arguing with one another about what was wonderful about their site,'' Warden said.

And it wasn't just the politicians: The Bulletin, he said, was ''passionately pro-Dalgety and passionately anti-Canberra''.

The play's director, Patrick Helean, said some things haven't changed: even then, politicians were combative but the language they used tended to be more imaginative.

He quoted one partisan as saying: ''Take the sons of some of the greatest men in the world and put them in a hot climate like Tumut or Albury and in three generations their lineal descendants will be degenerate.''

And Canberra, as we know, never gets hot.

The Battle of the Sites is on at St John's Church, 45 Constitution Avenue, Reid on February 21, 22, 23, 28 and March 1 and 2 at 7.30pm, and February 24 and March 3 at 2.30pm.

There will be no seat reservations. Tickets $25 adults, $20 seniors/concessions, $10 full-time students. Tickets may be ordered from Diana Body on 6295 8732 or Jennifer Garden on 6249 8392 (cheque or credit card is acceptable but payment must be received before the tickets are posted), or at St John's parish office, Monday to Friday, 9am to 3pm or online at stjohnscanberra.org

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