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Vintage treasures to have new life on stage

Music

State Opera’s props crew is on a vintage treasure hunt, scouring second-hand shops, auction websites and backyards for items to re-create the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s setting of Tim Winton’s Australian novel Cloudstreet.

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Their list is an eclectic one, including everything from Australian pennies and pounds, to hurricane lamps, a 1940s hand-fishing net, a hat box, a 10cm by 15cm black soft-cover Bible, 1960s sleeping bags, an old pool table and a 1950s wicker washing basket.

It was compiled by Gail Edwards and Victoria Lamb, director and designer (respectively) of State Opera’s upcoming musical Cloudstreet, which is based on Winton’s story about two working-class families, the hard-working God-fearing Lambs and the dysfunctional Pickles, who end up living together in a ramshackle house in Perth.

“For the past weeks I’ve been out scouring all these vintage shops, second-hand shops and op shops,” says Marie Docking, of State Opera’s props crew.

Some items have proved surprisingly easy to find – she was lucky to spot a 1950s pub pool table for sale on Gumtree, complete with balls and cues, while four 1950s swivel milk-bar chairs with chrome bases were tracked down on eBay.

Other things – such as the pair of 1950s benchtop scales inherited by a woman from her grandmother – have been donated or sold by members of the public after the props department shared the list on its website.

“Another lady was selling an old [1940s metal] esky we needed,” Docking says.

“She said she loved vintage and retro things; she even had the original box it came in … I explained it was a prop for the opera and would get carried around and sat on and she was really chuffed.

“That was exactly the purpose she wanted for the item – to see it have another life.”

Some things on Docking’s list, however, are providing more elusive, including a 1950s table for two measuring around 800mm x 800mm, with chrome legs and a red vinyl top. Ideally it won’t be in premium condition, and will come with matching or “close-to-matching” chairs

“It’s a very rock ’n’ roll period type of thing … they’re perhaps not in vogue at the moment,” Docking says.

“I get the feeling people are still loving the ’70s and ’60s flavour, which makes items from the ’50s a bit harder.”

She’s also having difficulty locating a couple of 1940s small or medium-sized carpet bags.

“Basically, a carpet bag has a handbag handle at the top but it’s a big embroidered kind of bag … it’s like an overnight bag for women and it’s either made out of carpet or embroidered to look like someone’s upholstery.

“We can find a few modern ones but they just don’t work; trying to find ones that are old and used from after the war is more difficult.

“Those kinds of thing are what people might have buried in a cupboard or shed and they don’t realise it.”

Angela Depalma and Marie Docking.

Angela Depalma and Marie Docking. Photo: Nat Rogers

Some of the larger props being used in the show – including the counter and cart (pictured above) used by the Lambs in the grocery business they set up in the house – have been specially built by Adelaide company ShowTrek.

Written by composer and librettist George Palmer and director Edwards, Cloudstreet will be presented by State Opera SA at Her Majesty’s Theatre from May 12-21, so the props sourcing crew still has some time to fill its list.

If you think you might be able to help out with any of the items still being sought, you can contact the department on 0408 823 460 or email lochythetraveldog@hotmail.com.

Cloudstreet retro props list

Still sought

1940s carpet bags, small or medium size

1950s table for two, 800mm x 800mm squared, chrome legs and vinyl top, not in premium condition, with matching or close-to-matching chairs

1940s and ’50s newspapers (no colour printing, preferably from WA)

1940-50s single bed – metal frame offered, mattress still sought

Old (early 20th-century) black soft-leather bible, around 10cm x 15cm (preferably for donation of purchase; the department is reluctant to borrow precious family items in case of damage during the production)

An Australian pound note (on loan)

1960s folding chairs with webbing x 2

1960s sleeping bags x 2

1960s gas lamp

Found

1950s wooden A-frame ladder – 1.8m to 2.4m high

1940s hand fishing net, wooden/cane handle. Like a butterfly net

1940s hat box, red if possible

1940s beauty box, smaller than hat box, mirror inside

1940s back packs, large and small, WWII style

1940s metal esky

1950s wicker washing basket

1950s cash register

1950s fruit/veg/meat scales to sit on bench

Old 22 and 44-gallon drums

Wooden crates

Old wooden small pool table in any condition

Pool cues and ball set

Hurricane lamps

Australian pennies

1950s swivel milk bar chairs with chrome base x 4

1940s and 1960s Thermos

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