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Marion was magical

Date

Ian Warden

We keep dipping into Marion Mahony Griffin's unpublished, barely-heard-of autobiography/memoir The Magic of America.

A 1920s cinema curtain from a Queanbeyan cinema. Courtesy Queanbeyan Museum.

A 1920s cinema curtain from a Queanbeyan cinema. Courtesy Queanbeyan Museum.

With Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin so important to our city and so deserving of some limelight in this Centenary year, we keep dipping into Marion's unpublished, barely-heard-of autobiography/memoir The Magic of America.

Marion loved Australia's trees but says how when her mother visited Australia she, mum, was ''shocked'' by the trunks of scribbly gums because, so smooth and so pale, ''they looked so naked''. Marion says her mother was a little ''Victorian'' about such things.

Those of us who live in streets lined with scribbly gums may never have thought about this before but now we think about it, Marion's mum was right, Now we won't be able to look at them without blushing. With all that pallor and all those nooks and crannies and crevices they look like forlorn English nudists at the beach. If ever we get a prudish government here, perhaps with Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby as chief minister, Canberra's scribbly gums may have to be covered up.

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As previously mentioned here Marion wrote a witty song about the horrors she and Walter encountered, especially from bureaucrats, after they'd come to Australia to get to work on their dream design for the federal capital city. Stumbling across it in The Magic of America, your columnist, social-climbing at an occasion attended by Robyn Archer, the creative director of the Centenary of Canberra, put a copy of it into her hands. We pleaded with her (for she is an accomplished vaudevillian and ukulele virtuoso) to consider performing it some time during this year. We think she will.

Marion called her ditty A Brief History of the Federal Capital (a song our grandmother sued to sing - modified. It is set to the well-known tune of A Frog He Would A Wooing Go (Heigh ho! says Rowley). Marion's version is long and so here is just a little of it. All together now!

Walter B. would a city build

Marble busts of Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin owned by Parliament House.

Marble busts of Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin owned by Parliament House.

Heigh Ho! says Rowley

Even if both himself and his wife it killed

Heigh Ho! says Anthony Rowley

Thus he went to a land afar

Heigh Ho! says Rowley

With the blandest faith in his lucky star

Heigh Ho! says Anthony Rowley!

He started to work with astonishing vim

Heigh Ho! says Rowley

All day and all night weren't too much for him

Heigh Ho! says Anthony Rowley.

But just about then his troubles began

The Director of Works (Percy Thomas Owen) was a terrible man

And insisted on following his own plan

With a Rowley Prowley gammon and spinach

Heigh Ho! says Anthony Rowley

Then settled a look both firm and set

Heigh Ho! says Rowley

On the smiling face of Walter our pet

Heigh Ho! Says Anthony Rowley

He settled down with a purpose grim

His nice round flesh fell off of him

And his wife's bright eyes with tears grew dim

With a Rowley Prowley gammon and spinach

Heigh Ho! says Anthony Rowley.

CANBERRA CAME CLOSE to having by now two nice, big, white marble busts of the Griffins in a public place but instead, photographed here, are two little, white, marble busts on discreet display at Parliament House.

They (and this photograph of them) are by Clive Murray-White. In conversation with him last week he explained that he made the petite Griffins (from lovely Chillagoe marble from north Queensland) as his entry in a major Centenary anticipating art work contest created by the Stanhope government.

Murray-White's small marble versions of the bigger busts he was dreaming of were one of the three finalists and he likes to believe that they had won, notionally. But then something, perhaps the global financial crisis blended with Stanhope's understandable dread of what Canberra's seething anti-public-art Taliban and artful opposition would make of the cost of it all, saw the grand idea shelved.

Is there a Canberra-loving philanthropist out there (someone who doesn't need the Canberra Taliban's votes and so doesn't care what they think and say) who might revive this visionary idea? At the moment, to our city's shame, there is nothing here that honours Marion Mahony Griffin and only the lake that memorialises Walter, her pet.

 

Cinema curtain goes up

Boastful Canberra has tickets on itself for being 100 this year but we are only a pup compared with Queanbeyan, which is having its 175th birthday.

In connection with that celebration, one of the Queanbeyan Museum's treasures, a nine metres by eight metres cinema curtain (pictured above), has just been hung up in The Q theatre's spacious foyer (it is too big for the museum to display).

It is almost 90 years old and a relic of the long-since-demolished Triumph Theatre.

The museum's Gillian Kelly explains that it is it is a hand-painted colossus that required two men to haul it up and down by hand.

When no films were being shown, it dangled in front of the screen to protect the screen's sensitive surface. It is decorated with advertisements for Queanbeyan and Canberra businesses and, Kelly laughs, a mysterious Mediterranean-looking building that was certainly not built in Queanbeyan.

Kelly says that Queanbeyan's cinema history began in 1897 when the first films were shown in the town's temperance hall.

The Triumph began as a cinema in a paddock, but in 1913 William Freebody opened Queanbeyan's first picture-theatre building.

It was the weatherboard Triumph Picture Hall and Skating Rink (there were films three nights a week and skating all of the rest of the time) and it boasted it was ''the pleasure seekers' popular resort''.

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