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McVicker, Norman (1920–2012)

by Esther Han

While the thought of theatre for most evokes images of actors on stage, Norman McVicker was adamant things would be different at the St Peters Community Players, which he founded in 1947. In a theatre program, he once urged the audience to appreciate the intangibles of theatre, referring to staff who were unseen. ''Without them theatre would slowly grind to a halt,'' he warned.

McVicker had a knack for pushing the spotlight on those who would otherwise be easily forgotten, as evidenced in his columns for the Mudgee Guardian later in his life.

The St Peters Community Players became the Pocket Playhouse in the mid-1950s, based at the Rechabite Hall in Tempe. Miles Franklin often visited the playhouse and read out her one-act plays in a bid to coax McVicker into producing them. Her scripts didn't pass muster but the two became friends.

McVicker wrote four full-length stage plays. When he was in Stratford, England, he also persuaded British theatre director John Barton into allowing him to stage The Hollow Crown in Sydney.

Visiting British actress Vivien Leigh watched The Sleeping Prince and other local plays at the Pocket, which was operating without subsidy. After 89 seasons it closed in November 1973 at the conclusion of the performance Damper and Tea.

Norman McVicker was born on January 19, 1920, in Tempe, the first child of Harold and Winifred McVicker and a fifth-generation descendant of First Fleet arrival Edward Whitton, who was transported to NSW for highway robbery.

McVicker penned his first stage play and a script appropriating the story of Cinderella in primary school. On his 17th birthday, his radio scripts were produced for 2SM's Children's Session. He also wrote scripts for 2GB's long-running series Dr Mac.

He produced several 26-episode radio serials but his projects were put on hiatus when he was called to serve in the army for six years. He became enraptured with live theatre after he watched Gladys Moncrieff perform in The Maid of the Mountains during an army training posting in North Geelong.

A year after leaving the army, McVicker gathered like-minded theatre aficionados and staged The Invisible Circus by Sumner Locke Elliott, the first show by the St Peters Community Players.

In 1980, after also serving as an auditor for three decades at Qantas, McVicker yielded to the call of retirement – and viticulture – and moved to Mudgee.

But within three years he swapped winemaking for herb-growing after a drought left him with withered vines that reached only up to his knees. He also began working again, writing for the Mudgee Guardian.

His flair for storytelling and depth of detail in his articles about Mudgee's history of eccentric inhabitants, as well as contemporary issues, excited a loyal readership. In 1989 the Guardian bestowed a regular column space on him titled ''Tales from along the Wallaby Track'', which began as a single column on page two of its Friday edition.

The column proved so popular that the editor moved it to the Monday edition in a bid to boost sales. It evolved into a 1600-word one-page spread featuring a photograph-of-the-day section. Two decades of columns coalesced into a book with the same name in 2009.

He particularly enjoyed studying the life of the poet Henry Lawson, who attended Eurunderee School, just north of Mudgee. When McVicker became aware the school and its grounds were earmarked to be sold in 1989, he led a crusade to save and restore it. He also fought for the site to be listed on the National Estate to prevent future sales.

McVicker was writing his 1186th ''Wallaby'' column the day before he was hospitalised. Five instalments were published after his death.

McVicker received an Order of Australia Medal for his service to the performing arts, a NSW Premier's Award and the Seniors Week Achievement Award for contributions to education and lifelong learning.

Norman McVicker is survived by his niece, Marilyn, nephews Peter and Michael, and surrogate families.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 September 2012

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Esther Han, 'McVicker, Norman (1920–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mcvicker-norman-22210/text32071, accessed 25 November 2017.

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