Caught in the Act Exhibition Now Being Shown at Museum of Performing Arts Through April 30th


Who was the Duchess of Coolgardie? All will be revealed in this colourful new exhibition which throws a spotlight on hazards and hardships faced by entertainers in the West Australian Goldrush.

Two of those entertainers were Melbournites - Billy Williams and Albert Whelan. In 1895 and 1896 they were singing comic songs to drunken miners in tents, pubs and tin pot theatres in Coolgardie. Less than a decade later both were major recording artists and stars of British music hall.

Another theatrical personality, who braved the semi-desert was the luminously beautiful Nellie Stewart. She was known as Australia's Sweetheart and the first true star of the stage. Born in Woolloomooloo in 1858, she made her debut in Melbourne aged 5. Nellie was best loved for the title role in Sweet Nellie of Old Drury, a play she brought to Perth's Theatre Royal in October 1903. A season in Kalgoorlie followed. Nellie overcame the heat by sitting all day in Kalgoorlie's public refrigerating works, emerging only at sunset for the evening's performance.

Those were the days. No air conditioning. No dry cleaning. But the show went on. And on!

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