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Betty Burstall

In their own words

Recorded 1973

Betty Burstall
Audio: 2 minutes

I first of all found a place, a building which had been an old shirt factory in a part of Melbourne called Carlton. And then I talked to a number of actors and directors and writers to see whether they’d be interested or not and they seemed to be interested but it became clear pretty quickly that the writers were the ones who were really interested because they despaired of ever being able to have their stuff done. The actors did have some sort of commercial work and were much less disillusioned. Directors were pretty interested because there’s very little opportunity for local people to direct their own plays. So, I found writers and I found directors and at first it was difficult finding actors disillusioned enough to come and perform virtually for nothing, because that’s how it works.

I’ve had some problems because it somehow seems that most plays that are done are obscene in some way or they would be by conventional standards or perhaps could be considered offensive in some way. It’s surprising actually, when I consider the sort of thing that is done, how few times it has happened but we have had on one particularly spectacular occasion Vice Squad visits and interference. This was when, outside La Mama and in the open, a play that was written by John Romeril, specifically an anti-censorship play, was being staged, actually satirising the vice squad. And the Vice Squad arrived, attempted to arrest the members of the cast and were followed to the police station by a sort of chanting audience. And charges were brought and in the end, I think, people were put on bonds and nothing very terrible happened to them, but it was rather unpleasant. I had to go to the vice squad people where I was interviewed in not the most pleasant way. And sort of warned to be very careful about what was done.

I get great kicks out of La Mama and one thing that seems rather nice about it is that it’s exactly the same as it’s been from the very beginning. Now, six years later, it’s as sordid, as small, as uncommercial and as wide open as it was.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Betty Burstall is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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Betty Burstall AO

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

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