Home' The Great Southern Star : October 18th 2016 Contents PAGE 16 - “THE STAR” Tuesday, October 18, 2016
PAGE 16 - “THE STAR” Tuesday, October
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Theatre fires up at coal mine
Very proud: designer and builder Tad Hendry and Gwen Derrick, members of the Wonthaggi Theatrical
Group, outside the group’s new home, The Shed at the State Coal Mine in Wonthaggi.
QUITE simply known as The Shed, the
new home of the Wonthaggi Theatrical
Group represents a whole lot more and
is injecting new life and creativity into
the State Coal Mine.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this inspiring
performing arts hub continues the “loving and friendly”
connection the performing arts has always had with the
local miners in Wonthaggi.
Passionate and long serving Wonthaggi theatre
group members Tad Hendry and Gwen Derrick are very
proud of their “Shed” and see it as a legacy for future
They are both thrilled the group has built its new
home at the coal mine and see the group’s story coming
full circle with the devastating fire in 1980 destroying
the original Miners Union Theatre built in 1924 and
now a new hub has risen at the State Coal Mine.
The Star of the day reported the fire: “The Wont-
haggi’s Miners Union Theatre in Graham Street was
destroyed by fire early Friday morning.
“All that was left of the building was the brick fa-
cade at the front and along the side-the timber area was
“The alarm was raised just after midnight and three
units from Wonthaggi, two from Inverloch, one Daly-
ston one from Kilcunda attended the blaze.
“It took nearly two hours for about 50 firemen to
contain the fire and men were still mopping up at 10am
“The Wonthaggi Borough Council was in the pro-
cess of buying the theatre from the Wonthaggi Theatri-
“It is understood the council was buying it for
$44,000 and the building was to be converted into a
community arts centre.”
Talking to The Star at The Shed last Thursday, Gwen
said she remembers the fire vividly as she lived close by
and was awoken by the bright light of the fire through
her bedroom window.
She saw the beloved theatre burn to the ground and
with it a rich history that encompassed many happy
events, including concerts, meetings, dancing, boxing
bouts, garden and vegetable shows, and in 1969 the
Wonthaggi theatre group’s first performance.
Gwen said, “We had nothing when we started and it
all began after seeing one of Leongatha Lyric theatre’s
productions, Naughty Marietta (in 1969).
“Bill Mitchell, our only constable and artist, and I
both thought Wonthaggi could have something like this,
and the seed was planted.”
As devastating as the fire was, Gwen and Tad be-
lieve it made the group even more determined to not
just succeed, but thrive.
After some 50 years of struggle and hundreds of
hours of hard work, they are proud to see the group
flourishing and a new home established that will serve
the community for generations to come.
They both agreed The Shed would not be where
it is today without the help of so many including coal
mine manager Braxton Laine, Parks Victoria, former lo-
cal MP Ken Smith, current MP Ryan Smith and group
member Wayne Moloney.
And taking pride of place over the entrance to the
performance area is the original Union Theatre clock,
salvaged from the ashes.
After many homes and much research, the clock has
finally found its home at The Shed, “where it belongs”,
maintains Gwen and Tad.
Very much the quiet achiever, Tad wouldn’t admit
to it but every inch of The Shed has his mark on it from
the industrial design of the shed, in keeping with the
period style buildings at the coal mine to the stunning
art deco interior, beautiful foyer and bar and even the
toilets, are impressive.
Then there is the spacious performing and rehearsal
space, office, meeting room and construction area, up-
stairs a costume sewing room, costume storage space
and on the third level a large props storage area.
Looking around the construction room where Tad
has devoted many hours over the years creating award
winning sets for productions, many times directed by
his talented wife Karen Milkins-Hendry, an amused Tad
said group members always like having a bit of fun.
Over the years, unbeknown to most, he always makes
sure there is a little Gwen Derrick sign in every pro-
duction, very much akin Alfred Hitchcock, who quietly
made some 39 cameo appearances in 52 of his films.
So next show be sure to try and spot where’s Gwen
Gwen said, “Tad has tried to give people a whole
theatrical experience from the moment they walk
through the front doors of The Shed.”
As for the doors, Tad said he has made replicas of the
doors from photos taken of the original union theatre.
He said, “The next step will be heating and air-con-
ditioning and we hope to have this installed by Christ-
“We still need lighting bars, a bio-box and tiered
seating for 200 but this will all be a lot of money, at least
$200,000 for the seating alone.”
Tad said they will be looking at getting some fund-
ing and grants to assist.
The Shed is already in full use with the theatre group
rehearsing or working on Monday, Thursday and Sun-
day, the Bass Coast Ballet School there weekly Tuesday,
Wednesday and Saturday mornings and the local U3A
group regularly meeting there.
The group’s first production, Little Shop of Horrors
in 1962 at the Wonthaggi Union Arts Centre, was a huge
success, clearing some $23,000. The group has since
gone from strength to strength staging some brilliant
plays and musicals, including the award winning Les
Miserables musical that Tad said received a standing
ovation on opening night from the 400 strong audience.
Then there was Cabaret, Jesus Christ Superstar and
Pippin, to name a few.
The company decided it was apt to stage its first
show again, Little Shop to mark the opening of The Shed
on September 22.
Hats off: there is even a dedicated costume sewing room at The Shed in Won-
thaggi, constructed by local builder and theatre group member Tad Hendry.
Youth award: the Gwen Derrick Youth De-
velopment Fund is awarded to a young pro-
duction member annually.
Nuts and bolts: Tad Hendry in the construction space at The Shed where he spends hundreds
of hours creating award winning sets for the Wonthaggi Theatrical Group’s productions.
And no surprise, it proved another winner for the
group and the stage is now set for a bright future with
production already underway for the next two big shows
for 2017 being Miss Saigon in May/June and Chicago
Shows for 2018 are still being reviewed but for the
group’s 50th milestone year in 2019 Les Miserables will
be making a return.
The Wonthaggi group is always welcoming new
members, both for acting and the all important back
stage work, so if you are interested there will be an in-
formation session for Miss Saigon on Sunday, Novem-
ber 6 at 4.30pm.
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