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Golden Years of Brown's Mart

Brown’s Mart Theatre is a beloved local treasure, making valued deposits to the memory banks of thousands of locals and visitors over the years. This year, Brown’s Mart goes gold, 2022 marking the cherished arts organisation’s 50th anniversary.

By Tierney Seccull

Keeping on brand, with community connection at its very core, they’re keen to celebrate. And, of course, you’re all invited. Celebrations kick off this month with a special instalment of SPUN, a deeply loved home-grown storytelling event, now in the gentle hands of Brown’s Mart after a careful handover from the Story Projects team last year.

Local actor, and more recently playwright, Ciella Williams was tasked with sorting through the archives, and says everyone has their own special Brown’s Mart memory. SPUN, produced by Alyson Evans, presents the perfect platform to share them.

“It’s such a nice way to get these beautiful stories – [Brown’s Mart] is just so close to my heart. I was in my first play at Brown’s Mart when I was 14, and I remember seeing Mum [Gail Evans] on the stage from when I was very tiny. My parents even met there,” Ciella says.

Also rolling out throughout the year is a special permanent exhibition, created in consultation with Larrakia Nation and other community and arts organisations to share the history of Brown’s Mart Theatre. There’s also a big shindig pegged for September – the official birthday party – done in cahoots with the Top End’s creative community.

“We’re bringing back into the fold all the organisations that were born out of Brown’s Mart – NT Writers’ Centre, Corrugated Iron Youth Arts, Darwin Theatre Company, Tracks Dance, Darwin Community Arts – basically all the orgs that began as Brown's Mart Community Arts before they grew and branched out into their own organisations.”

If that little guest list is anything to go by, you know it’s going to be a good time.

The heritage listed structure is the oldest building in Darwin, built in 1885 by the mayor of the day as a mining exchange. It’s endured a lot in its tme, including destructive cyclones and bombings in WWII, and the same can be said for the theatre itself. Brown’s Mart CEO Sophia Hall says its longevity can be put down to one thing – the people.“

Brown’s Mart has lasted this distance because of the passion, dedication, and spirit of innovation and energy which has threaded through and been characteristic of so many of the people and organisations who have been part of our history,” she says.

“From its earliest days, and through several iterations, the consistent themes have been of community and collaboration. So many different artists have found a shared moment or dream within the walls of Brown’s Mart, and it is these many contributors who make up the whole picture, who have been at the heart of Brown’s Mart and its ongoing survival.”

Ken Conway AM was one of the folks involved back in the early days, and said they had to fight for the building not to get knocked down.

“Some Darwin City Council members wanted to see the building demolished. There was talk of keeping the stones as a memorial for the Chinese labourers who hued the stones to build Brown’s Mart, but we said, ‘why don’t you leave it where it is as a memorial?’,” he says.

“Darwin Theatre Group was one of three small local amateur dramatic societies, and it didn’t have a home, and some of their members said, ‘let’s lobby to retain the building and to convert it to a small community performance space – we don’t want to run it, we want it to be for the community’, and so a lobby was formed. We had all kinds of support not to demolish it – locally from historical societies, and architects from interstate ... In August 1972, we held our first play there.”

Other competitors vying for the space had concerns the amateur theatre groups wouldn’t last 10 years. Now, 50 years later, these “amateurs” sure showed them.

“I feel proud to be part of it, and I feel proud that it has such a broad outreach ... Personally, it’s interesting to see different generations coming forward and that it still retains the same strength that we thought had in those days. In some ways, it justifies our vision – it’s become so much more than just a theatre!”

SPUN – Turning 50
COST $35

Photos: Archival photograph of Ken Conway reviewing the model plans for the Brown’s Mart administration building expansion.

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