Round Earth Theatre Company

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Round Earth Theatre Company
The Ship That Never Was.jpg
Address Established Perth, Western Australia,
Currently based in: Strahan, Tasmania
Australia Australia

The Round Earth Theatre Company, founded by Richard Davey, performs in Strahan, West Coast, Tasmania. Each night the company performs Australia's longest-running play, The Ship That Never Was.[1] During the day the actors work as tour guides on Sarah Island, explaining the history and unique story of this Tasmanian penal settlement.[2]


The Round Earth Company was established in Western Australia in 1972 in response to rapid progress in Australian drama and theatre at that time, such as that contributed by the Australian Performing Group in Melbourne, and to the creative impact of aboriginal dance and story activities, such as by Mowamjum Dancers and other groups in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.[3]

The Company began as an on-the-road performing company which would take stories to networks of communities, collecting new stories from the communities and forming stories along the way. It used a "pre-electronic" network, a worldwide "story web", that was based on a simplistic understanding of the Tjurkupa, the web of Dreaming Tales, which formed a network of communication, history and navigation for aboriginal communities in the Centre and the Far North of Australia.

From 1973 to 1974, three journeys into the North and the Central Deserts were undertaken, with storytellers, musicians, artists and craft workers visiting both remote mining towns and aboriginal communities. These journeys were funded by the Australia Council.[4]

Travel and return[edit]

In 1975, the Round Earth Theatre Company left Australia and travelled to North and Central America, Britain, Europe, Egypt, and India for four years. They linked up with various communities and performance companies along the way, participating, for example, in rain and harvest dance rituals in Hopi villages in Arizona, with Canadian companies creating stories in remote communities, and with travelling troupes in India that performed legendary epics.

In 1980, the company returned to Australia and set up their base in Tasmania. The Salamanca Theatre Company provided a base of operations. The Company created a repertoire of stories in and about Tasmania in the hope of shedding some light about the overall Australian story, then took this story on the road. By 1988, a repertoire of performances, including Broken Dreams in Adelaide and Melbourne in 1984, and Hallelujah Lady Jane, Pieces of Iron and Guarding the Perimeter from 1986 to 1988, was forming and had begun to find its way interstate.[5]


From 1987 to 1993 The Round Earth Company established a professional company in Tasmania after the demise of The Island Theatre Company, to provide the state with an ensemble company. However, Zootango, as the new company was known, became embroiled in the demands of the Australia Council and Tasmanian Arts policy.[6]

The Ship That Never Was[edit]

In 1992, Round Earth went solo again, attempting a return to the road with A Bright and Crimson Flower, a large-scale epic about Australian Prisoners of War under the Japanese. Between 1992 and 1995 A Bright and Crimson Flower performed in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.[7]

Members of the audience, adults and children alike become temporary actors (and sailors) of "The Ship That Never Was" as The Frederick is reconstructed on stage during each performance

In 1994, in response to a request by Alan Coates, a Tasmanian Parks Ranger, The Round Earth Company, facing bankruptcy, took a two-person play to Strahan on the West Coast of Tasmania, performing The Ship That Never Was. Originally written and produced at the Peacock Theatre in Hobart in 1982 for Breadline Theatre Company, it is the story of the Frederick escape, in which ten convicts hijacked the brig Frederick from Sarah Island and escaped to Chile for two years. It performed in Strahan in 1993 for eight weeks, in a woodchop arena, aboard yachts, on Sarah Island, outside the Strahan Pub, and even at the Mount Lyell picnic on the beach. During the play, a mock ship is built on the stage with the actors utilising audience members, including children, for additional characters in the play.[8]

The Ship That Never Was performs every day and has exceeded 5000 performances;[1] the Company undertook the daily task of providing Guided Tours on Sarah Island, and made dramatic performances in the form of a guided tour, of which four were sometimes organized in one day. In 1998, as a contribution to the supportive community, the Company undertook to operate the Strahan Visitor Centre, curating the exhibition created by Robert Morris-Nunn and Richard Flanagan, and providing information to tourists.

The Round Earth Theatre Company operated a performing/information/guiding company year-round in a town of 800 permanent residents with an annual turnover of nearly a million Australian dollars; the new company subsidised the increasingly expensive operation of the Visitors Centre and in 2005 shed the operation of the Strahan Visitor Centre.[9]

In 2002 the Company expanded its fledgling publication services (information booklets) to publish The Sarah Island Conspiracies by Richard Davey (2002)[10] and The Travails of Jimmy Porter (2003),[11] the memoir written on Norfolk Island in 1842 by James Porter, one of the leaders of the escape on the Frederick.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b ABC Radio National, Artworks, ABC Radio, 11 November 2007. Accessed 6 October 2008
  2. ^ Sarah Island Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Round Earth Theatre Company website. Accessed 19 October 2008
  3. ^ About the Round Earth Theatre Company, Round Earth Theatre Company Website. Accessed 19 October 2008
  4. ^ (2009)Richard Davey interviewed by Rob Willis in the Rob Willis folklore collection [sound recording]. Recorded with Olya Willis. Recorded on 30 January 2009 at Strahan, Tas. Digital master ; National Library of Australia, Oral History and Folklore collection ; nla.oh-5747-0115.
  5. ^ Short Biography, Author: Richard Davey, Australian Script Centre. Accessed 19 October 2008
  6. ^ "Agency Details: Zootango Theatre Company". Tasmanian Archives Online.
  7. ^ A bright and crimson flower a Round Earth Company Production [written and directed by Richard Davey] Fern Tree, Tas. : The Round Earth Company, [1995] 1 videocassette (VHS) (165 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. held at State Reference Library Hobart
  8. ^ The Ship That Never Was Archived 7 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine., Round Earth Theatre Company website, Accessed 18 October 2008
  9. ^ Davey, Richard (2009), Richard Davey interviewed by Rob Willis in the Rob Willis folklore collection, retrieved 11 December 2014
  10. ^ Davey, Richard; G. K. Twelve voyages to Macquarie Harbour (2002), The Sarah Island conspiracies : being an account of twelve voyages made by one G.K. to Macquarie Harbour on the western coast of Van Diemens Land 1822-1833, Round Earth Co, ISBN 978-0-9750051-0-1
  11. ^ Porter, James; Maxwell-Stewart, Hamish; Davey, Richard Innes; Porter, James; Maxwell-Stewart, Hamish; Davey, Richard Innes (2003), The travails of Jimmy Porter : a memoir, 1802-1842, The Round Earth Company, ISBN 978-0-9750051-1-8

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°09′14″S 145°19′41″E / 42.154°S 145.328°E / -42.154; 145.328