An Anzac Day divide

TIME changes everything. When Alan Seymour’s play The One Day of the Year was first staged in 1961 it polarised Australians.
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Military organisations turned their backs on the work because it raised questions about the nature of the celebration of Anzac Day.

But younger peoplesaw the work as reflecting the times. In their eyes, the rush to pubs after the marches obscured the significant role Australians had played in defending their country.

So it is noteworthy that Newcastle Theatre Company’s production of The One Day of the Year includes the involvement of the Newcastle branch of the Australian Military Forces Re-enactment Unit, an organisation that participates each year in ceremonial parades and other community activities.

Unit members will be involved with the audience before the play begins, including putting on an iconic two-up game.

The One Day of the Year begins just before Anzac Day in the late 1950s, with working-class Alf Cook (Philip McGrath), who served in World War II, and his mate, Wacka Dawson (David Yarrow), a Gallipoli veteran, discussing offensive Poms and other visitors to Australia.

Alf’s wife, Dot (Jan Hunt), returns from a euchre night, followed soon after by their son, Hughie (Jarrod Sansom), who won a bursary that allowed him to attend Sydney University. Heis accompanied by Jan (Elissa Shand), a fellow university student he is attracted to.

STORY OF THE TIMES: Left to right: Philip McGrath as Alf Cook , Jarrod Sansom as Hughie Cook, Jan Hunt as Dot Cook , David Yarrow as Wacka Dawson. Photo: Tom Liolio

Jan is planning to write an article for the university’s student paper criticising the nature of Anzac Day celebration, with Hughie taking photographs for the piece around Sydney after the Anzac Day march.

Their actions produce an angry reaction from Alf, with Dot trying to reconcile her husband and son.

Jarrod Sansom, who is a student at Newcastle University, sees Hughie as a bit embarrassed by his parents when he sees their behaviour through Jan’s eyes.

Philip McGrath notes that Alf’s reaction to Hughie’s change-of-heart is “If you’re not with us, mate, you’re out the door”.

“It’s a great piece of writing,” he said, “with the characters very much of their period”.

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