There’s nothing quite like the thrill of going to the theatre and hearing stories told about your own folk and your own place and in the voices and the vernacular that belong to your own sense of belonging. I’m not a Cribbie (Cribb Islander) kid from the play of the same name by Michael and Margery Forde. I’m from Sandgate – one of the lot from another of the bayside suburbs – the furthest northerly on Brisbane’s Moreton Bay.
My place Sandgate survived – although I see it’s gone all gentrified in parts. The tidal mudflats in all their gooey, fragrant glory and the protection of Moreton island meant that it would never have the glamour of the surf beaches far to its north and south. Cribb Island, though, went under the tarmac at Brisbane Airport sacrificed, because of its proximity in the name of progress. Stories of the Cribbies and their life in the old, outrageous ruin that was Jackson’s Estate remain in the Forde’s gentle love-poem/play to its memory.
Directed by Michael Forde, and with a fine ensemble of story-tellers: Louise Brehmer, Sandro Colarelli, Kevin Hides, and Erin Murphy this second production of Cribbie (the first was sold out in 2009), reminds us of what ‘home’ and ‘community’ really mean. It weaves together the history of the ‘lost suburb’ through song, documentary extracts, narration and personal verbatim stories.
Cribbie is cleverly staged with the simplest of props and costume pieces and some screen projections – design by Michael Forde and Linus Monsour. It relies, though, for its punch on the excellent shape-shifting prowess of the cast who bring to life the folk that peopled Cribbie in its day. It’s funny and unsentimental – well, maybe a bit sentimental. They got me with the pop song, ‘Good Night Irene’ which I remember from the wireless as a kid. Cribbie, though is as refreshing as the northerly sea-breeze that never fails you on the Bay.
Cribbie has been produced by the excellent 4MBS Classic Arts Production team – they of the annual Festival of Classics and Shakespeare Festivals in the city. Good on them. The show will also tour to Beaudesert, Boonah, Ipswich, Maleny, Caloundra, Gympie, and Redcliffe in June. See it if you can.
As I walked home after the show the other night, I got to thinking; good theatre does that to you. Cribbie, but for geography, might just as well have been about Sandgate or any other place, really. Their losses could have been ours. I wondered how I’d have felt if my place had been targeted for ‘development’ and if high-handed bureaucracy of that time had landed on us and bulldozed away our homes and history. What would have gone? So many of the things I took for granted as a child on the bay would have gone forever just as they did for Cribbie – emotional connections – the tang of salt and mangrove mudflats mingled with the cooking smells from the fish and chip shops along the shore, the people in the shops whose names we all seemed to know – you called them ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ of course, and this was long before the supermarket chains arrived – seasonal arrivals like the multi-coloured beetles in the cotton trees down 5th Avenue where we waited for the school buses in the afternoon; the beach sculptor who arrived once a year from out of nowhere and created extraordinary things like ‘The Last Supper’ out of sand; we goggled at them! Things like these have meaning and create ‘home’ for us all.
I went to school for the whole of my primary and secondary education in Sandgate, and I knew its delights and funny old ways very well. There was a salt-water baths, I remember, huge fig trees on ‘the front’ (beach), and rickety bathing boxes … all but the fig trees long gone. Later, in my first ever posting as a young teacher there I’d set the Grade 6s to work on something and stroll outside on to the verandah. Looking out to the shimmering water slick on the bay I could see all the way to Redcliffe. I loved the sea-breeze that would always wash over the after-lunch stupor, and wonder whether I’d ever leave – whether I’d ever want to leave that little village on the Bay.
Of course, things change; Sandgate is no longer the remembered place of those halcyon childhood days. It too, has been a victim of ‘progress.’ Long before I returned, Sandgate lost one of the beautiful natural lagoons which graced its heart. Waterhens stalked the streets – cheeky as you please – and there were ducks, swans and blue water hyacinth to admire. We kids would catch tadpoles in jars to take home and grow into frogs, and there were tiny native fish darting around the roots of the waterlilies; it was heaven. Joanie Mitchell sure knew what she was talking about when she warbled, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ I’ve never forgiven whichever vandal business organisation or council committee it was that decided to dump landfill into the lagoon and build the carpark that sits there now.
See Cribbie when it comes to your place and have a think.