A significant former local playwright who has fallen through the cracks of history is being ‘rediscovered’ by Gunning performing artist and creative, Dianna Nixon.
Millicent Armstrong lived near Gunning and later in Goulburn, following WWI.
She wrote a series of plays, which were published and performed widely around the country and overseas.
Ms Armstrong was born in 1888 in Sydney and educated at Sydney University, gaining a BA with first class honours in English.
In 1914, she travelled to London to write and when WWI broke out, she served as a volunteer nurse on the Western Front, later winning the Croix de Guerre for bravery in rescuing wounded soldiers under fire.
She returned to Australia in 1919, and in 1923, took up a soldier settlement block called Clear Hills, Gunning.
The farm, which was 1028 acres, had previously belonged to her sister Ina's husband.
It adjoined land later acquired by her sister, Helen.
Together, they farmed vegetables, flowers, pigs and wool but also faced the many difficulties that others who had acquired land through the Soldier Settlement scheme confronted.
Millicent started writing plays while on the Western Front and continued this after the war.
One of her plays, Drought, won the Rupert Brooke Prize, in 1923. It was produced at the Playhouse, Melbourne, in June 1924.
It was also one of three prize-winning plays in the International One-Act Play Theatre's 1934 competition and was produced at St Martin's Theatre, London in 1934.
Drought was also broadcast from London by the BBC in December, 1934 and on 3KZ (Melbourne) in May, 1938.
Gunning woman Dianna Nixon has been researching Ms Armstrong's life and work.
“I stumbled across the story of Millicent Armstrong when I was looking to buy a house in Gunning,” Ms Nixon said.
“I started researching her story and the more I found out, the more interested I became. I found her three one-act plays in the National Library.
“Intrigued, I contacted Peter Stanley, after a suggestion from Nigel Featherstone. Mr Stanley is a former researcher at the Australian War Memorial and found out lots about the soldiers’ settlements that included the Millicent’s settlement at Clear Hills, near Gunning.”
Ms Nixon posted on the Gunning Community page whether anyone knew about Millicent Armstong and a relative of hers, named Lucy Knight responded. Ms Nixon met with her.
“Lucy and her family have been a wealth of information. They describe Millicent as humble, strong, modest and that she ‘didn’t really know what all the fuss was about,” Ms Nixon said.
“The family do not want her portrayed as a hero, but she certainly is extraordinary.”
Ms Nixon hopes to produce three of Ms Armstrong’s plays but they need to be digitised first.
Coincidentally, the University of New England is in the process of digitising the work, but they needed the family’s permission and Ms Nixon has put the university in touch with the relatives.
Ideally, Ms Nixon wants to start the process with a play reading later next year, possibly in the woolshed at Clear Hills, where Millicent lived.
“Millicent was cremated and did not have children. Her house at Clear Hills also burnt down and, I suspect, that is why much information about her has disappeared,” Ms Nixon said.
Ms Nixon has been in correspondence with John Lightfoot, from Sydney, who knew Millicent well, and she hopes to meet with him soon.
In 1939, Ms Armstrong moved to a property called Kirkdale, at Yarra, near Goulburn. By 1953, she was living in the city of Goulburn, where she died in 1973.