Long forgotten plays of a Gunning district World War One nurse and playwright will be resurrected this weekend as part of Goulburn's Festival of Regional Theatre.
Millicent Armstrong's fascinating life was well known to remaining descendants but sparked Gunning producer and director Dianna Nixon's interest after moving to the town in 2016.
"What struck me was that she was a playwright and farmer. I didn't think it was real at first," Ms Nixon said.
"She lived much of her life single and childless but wrote these remarkable plays too. I concluded that she had fallen off the public radar but not her family's. She was very much loved and admired by her family."
Millicent was born in Sydney in 1888 and graduated with first class honours in English from Sydney University in 1910. Her sisters, Ina and Helen, had studied at the same institution.
She set off for London in August, 1914 to find a publisher for her first novel but was soon caught up in World War One.
Millicent became an orderly for a unit of the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service and from March, 1917 worked in French hospitals caring for wounded soldiers.
But she continued writing drama in English and French and enlisted staff and soldiers to act in her plays as a way of lifting spirits.
In 1918, the Hpital Auxiliaire d'Armées was evacuated.
Miss Armstrong was subsequently awarded the Croix de Guerre, a French military honour, for her bravery in rescuing wounded soldiers while under fire.
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She returned to Australia, briefly operated the Red Cross tea rooms in Goulburn as a way of helping war veterans, and then took up a 1028 acre soldier settlement block at Gunning. Together with her sister, Helen, who bought an adjoining block, the pair farmed vegetables, flowers, pigs and wool on Clear Hills.
It was here that Millicent also wrote three one-act plays, largely based on rural life. Fire scored third place in the 1923 Sydney Daily Telegraph competition of 1923. Drought was awarded the 1923 Rupert Brooke prize of £25, was later performed in London and won a prize in 1934 from the International One-Act Play Theatre, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
At Dusk appeared in 1937 in a collection of Australian one-act plays.
Millicent wrote other works with Helen, some of which Ms Nixon believed were missing. Sisterhood was a major theme throughout many of the plays.
They had largely languished, with the exception of At Dusk, which was performed in Melbourne in the 1990s.
"No-one was aware she'd existed. As I delved deeper I became obsessed with bringing Millicent's story and work back into the public eye," Ms Nixon said.
She researched her history with the help of former Australian War Memorial historian, Dr Peter Stanley, visited Clear Hills and met with descendants at Gunning.
Millicent moved her grazing enterprise to a Yarra property after Helen's death in 1939. By 1953 she was living in Goulburn, where she died 20 years later.
Ms Nixon, the founder of the not-for-profit Musical Theatre Projects, has more than 40 years' experience as a pianist, singer, actor, director and producer. Before moving to Canberra in 2004 she worked on major festivals, for state opera and theatre companies, in television, film and touring musical theatre.
She described moving to Gunning as "the best decision she ever made."
The local connection has inspired her to resurrect the plays.
"It's a huge amount of work but I felt compelled," Ms Nixon said.
The four one-act plays, Drought, At Dusk, Penny Dreadful and Thomas will be performed at the Goulburn Performing Arts Centre on Saturday night. They reflect their connection to the Australian Gothic tradition, and feature "sparkling dialogue, idiomatic writing, and strong female characters, with a focus on the relationship between sisters."
Drought and Other Plays will be the centrepiece of the inaugural Festival of Regional Theatre, showcasing the area's playwrights.
Ms Nixon said it was a "world first" airing of the four plays.
"It's very appropriate it happens in Goulburn because Millicent still has relatives living in the district," she said.
"It's about joining all the dots. It's been a lot of fun."
Millicent's family, who own the copyright, has also given permission for Ms Nixon to produce the works.
The cinematic soundscape and score accompanying the play is a special feature. Stephen Lindsay, of Old Binda Road Studios, Crookwell, created it in collaboration with Ms Nixon.
The project has won funding from the state government, Cullerin Wind Farm Trust and the Country Arts Support Program.
Ms Nixon hopes to tour the plays in future.
They will be performed at GPAC on Saturday, October 1 at 7.30pm, at Gunning Courthouse on Sunday afternoon, October 2 and Monday, October 3. Tickets for the former are available at the GPAC box office and for the latter at a Dubbo-based 123tix.
The Festival kicks off on Friday, September 30 with Salon by Arts on Tour, which will pitch new works by regional creatives from 2pm to 4pm.
On Sunday, October 2 at 7.30pm, there will be a special performance of Goulburn playwright David Cole's work, The Waltz, commemorating inspirational regional director, David Letch. The festival includes professional development for aspiring producers, and on the Sunday from 11am to 4.30pm, One Act Wonders, a short play competition for regional theatre companies.
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