Adelaide Fringe 2015
John Mcdouall Stuart spent more than twenty years of his life exploring areas of Australia previously unknown to the British settlers of South Australia – historian Darcy O’Shea peeks into Stuart’s journals with a backdrop of photographs from the regions he explored, and no less interesting, a political landscape from then and now.
The Adelaide Fringe can occasionally seem overflowing with comedians, acrobats and edgy theatre – great entertainment, but sometimes the brain needs some exercise too. Darcy O’Shea fills our heads and the small upstairs room of the Loft at Ayers House with his passion and knowledge of one of the lesser known great white explorers of outback Australia, John Stuart. His words, alternately read and extemporised between pre-recorded readings of Stuart’s journals, give us a too short taste of his works and motivations in one of his many expeditions from Adelaide to the north, to find new territory for the 19th century city’s landowners.
Through slow crossfades of Darcy’s photographs projected to one wall, the images of regions explored by Stuart give us a sense of beautiful desolation; through his incisive comparisons of politics at that time and today – and how things haven’t changed much – we understand the difficulties in his work’s acknowledgement and recognition.
The attentive audience was happy for the narrator to indulge us with asides mined from a rich seam of knowledge – though many of these intriguing stories were interrupted by the pre-recorded Scottish lilted readings of Stuart’s work. Indeed, the challenge with Darcy’s passion is containing it in an hour’s show – I think he could have talked for at least twice as long, yet time was up too quickly. His thoughts on current political thought are never far from the surface – jarringly so in two or three places, which broke my Stuart spell with its venom. However, Darcy’s dry humour is an adequate salve for my furrowed brow, and these distractions were quickly forgotten.
Indeed, it’s the humour in his end notes which keeps a smile on our faces and our brains joining the dots – this is a commendable antidote to the brash and brazen seducing us around the corner and leaves you wanting to know more about the Scottish explorer of South Australia.