News & Events

An ‘Asylum for Decayed Actors’ founded

May 7, 2019

Actor George Coppin knew only too well the hardships that many actors faced in early colonial times. Just as he saw a need to provide homes for ‘necessitous old colonists’ so too did he see the need to set up an asylum for ‘decayed actors.’

The Australasian Dramatic and Musical Association was founded in 1871.

Coppin was determined ‘to provide a home in old age and infirmity for deserving members of the Society.’[1]

Never shy about asking for funds, Coppin used the curtain call following H J Byron’s comedy-drama A Fool as He Looks to call for donations to the ‘asylum for the relief of the dramatic profession and others connected with public amusements.

“The poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage will then find a home in which he may pass the remainder of his days in peace and comfort.”[2]

Another fundraising function at the Theatre Royal on 24 December 1871[3]commanded a donation of 10 guineas from Spiers and Pond, noted caterers and event managers of their day. They catered for the first Melbourne Cup in 1861, and ran Café de Paris, the restaurant at the Theatre Royal.

Membership of the Association extended beyond Victoria. Coppin, ever the realist, recognised that actors led a travelling life, and thus established the ‘asylum’ for recognised members who had been working in the profession for three years. The list of eligible performers and others with theatrical links was long, including: managers, actors, actresses, operative artists, musicians, dancing and singing, authors…and so on.

The government of the day granted land next to and to the north of the Old Colonists’ Homes on 7 January 1878. Only three cottages were built. Known as the Dramatic Homes, they included the bluestone Founder’s Cottage containing two apartments, another home the G V Brooke Cottage, after Coppin’s partner, in 1876. The third, ‘Avon’, was built later, and was replaced by The Lodge in 1973.

The Australasian Dramatic and Musical Association predated the UK Actors’ Benevolent Fund by ten years.

[1]Argus 1 October 1871
[2]Argus, 19 April 1871, page 6
[3]The Argus 25 December 1871, page 6

Caption: Christopher Pond (left) and Felix Spiers were among early donors to the Australasian Dramatic and Musical Association.

Sanctuary is how artist Gillian Coates describes her home at Currie Park, OCAV’s village in Euroa. “When I go to Melbourne and I am heading back to Euroa, I can’t wait to get home to the peacefulness of this place. It is like a sanctuary for me."

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