BURIED inside dusty old copies of
The Queanbeyan Age
and hundred-year-old Hansard records lies a battle of words, a rhetorical turf war waged over which patch of rugged Australian bushland would become the site of the new national capital.
Colourful characters from across the nation put forward their most impassioned and persuasive arguments in favour of either Wagga Wagga, or Albury, or Dalgety, or even Lake George.
Now as part of the capital's centenary celebrations, Canberra writer Ian Warden has condensed all that colour and passion into a new melodrama, The Battle of the Sites, set to open later this month at Canberra's oldest church, St John's in Reid.
And The Queanbeyan Players will have a key role in proceedings, after been called upon to re-enact the struggle and the drama, under the direction of former-Montana actor/director turned Canberra convert, Patrick Helean.
Mr Helean said the melodrama revived some of the more amazing historical anecdotes surrounding the birth of Canberra, and that St John's church had been central to the original discussion.
"When plans were being made for the centenary of Canberra and with St John's being the very first actual structure in what we now call Canberra, the people at the St John's School House Museum were really keen to celebrate that history," Mr Helean said.
"And Ian Warden had researched it thoroughly and had written a script and noted that a lot of what was said about Canberra [at the time], both good and bad, revolved around this church.
"People either said it had this fantastic sturdy church that was standing upright in the wilderness on a fantastic foundation for a capital. And then there were people who said it was this awful, crumbling ramshackle church, and you'd never want to build a capital there."
And with local luminaries like former Queanbeyan Age editor John Gale publicly making the case for Canberra, it was logical to recognise Queanbeyan's role in the foundation of Canberra, Mr Helean said.
"At the time, Queanbeyan was pretty much the mother of Canberra and was a big support for the school and other things. So the Queanbeyan Players were in some ways the logical choice."
The small cast of five will help recreate some of the most unique political dialogue since European settlement, with colourful turns of phrase that would impress the likes of Paul Keating and Robert Menzies.
"The language of the time ... I wouldn't call it archaic, but the speeches in parliament of the time were much more flowery and have a very eloquent and sometimes liberal use of the language," Mr Helean said.
"Some people were for and some against, but all were very impassioned, and some of them were just making stuff up - there was a whole section about how Lake George could be the ideal place for the capital because it could be made better than Venice. It's extraordinary stuff.
"And most of it was actually spoken and said [publicly], and Ian [Warden] has tied all that together in a really nice little way," he said.
* Performances of 'The Battle of the Sites' commence at St Johns on Thursday 21 February at 7.30 pm, with other evening shows on February 22, 23, 28 and March 1 and 2. There will be two matinee performances, to commence at 2.30p.m., to be held on February 24 and March 3.
Tickets are now on sale and may be ordered through Diana Body (6295 8732) or Jennifer Garden (6249 8392.) Cheque or credit card accepted. Tickets are also available (payment by cash, cheque or credit card) at St John's Parish Office, Mon to Fri 9am-3pm. Ticket prices: Adults: $25, seniors/concession: $20, full-time students: $10.