Review of May 23 performance, by Elise Lawrence.
Talk of the Town Storytelling Services will present The Lady Diamantina Bowen Tour at Old Government House on May 9, 12, 16, 19, 23 & 26. More information is available on the event page.
Be guided through the life and times of the first residents of Old Government House by the gracious Lady Diamantina Bowen herself.
History comes to life on this tour as the wife of Queensland’s first Governor makes a return to the grounds and interior of Queensland’s first Government House. She moved through the rooms with us – not always an easy feat in an enormous hoop skirt, but she was perfectly graceful – and remembered places and events with such specificity and fondness that you couldn’t help but see her becoming the real Lady Bowen before your eyes. She described the moment of arrival and the sadness of departure from Brisbane; introduced us to the cast of individuals who surrounded her, including family, friends and her three children; and showed us trees that she had planted, still standing in the same spots.
The performer, Natalie, wholeheartedly embodied the character of Lady Bowen and exuded such warmth and sincerity that after only a short while the modern glass-and-steel buildings of the QUT campus seemed to melt away and we were all drawn entirely into the story she was telling.
She spoke of the pressure she felt to set the social tone for the colony, which led her to open her home to the public on a regular basis in addition to hosting political and personal friends, as well as the concern she felt for the women and children amidst the harshness of colonial life, which spurred her to philanthropic pursuits supported by a host of other women. It was fascinating to hear a female perspective, albeit a significantly privileged one, from this historical time and to consider the struggles and obstacles she must have faced – especially as a mother, raising children in a working Government House. I learned a surprising amount about the botanical history of Queensland too as we toured through the gardens outside the house, including the introduction of new and exotic foods that would go on to become key industries in our state, like sugar and mangoes (including ‘Bowen’ mangoes!).
The tour finished with morning tea on the Lady’s private balcony, overlooking her favourite semicircular garden, where we had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the details of her life further. Since it was small tour of only five people it felt particularly personal and immersive, and the level of research and recall that had clearly gone into preparing for this performance was astounding.
I’d absolutely recommend this, even (or perhaps especially) if you’re a long-term Brisbane resident – I learned more about Brisbane history in this two hours than in six years of living here, and seeing the history come to life in this way means I’m far more likely to remember it than if I’d read it in a book.
Please note: Wear comfortable shoes as the tour is mostly standing, and be prepared for the weather (sunscreen, umbrella) as part of the tour takes place outside.