What Would Molly Think?

A Colourful Take on Maitlands’ Historical Figure

When twice-transported English convict Mary ‘Molly’ Morgan (1760-1835) stepped off the ship to serve a colonial sentence at Newcastle in 1814, little did she know that about 170 years later she would become the central character of a musical stage play. What would she have thought of the band’s electric guitars, saxophone and drumkit (not yet invented in her lifetime) and of this striking graphic poster that advertised the show, on which her face is depicted in Pop Art style caricature?

Mission: Molly Morgan was a collaboration between the Hunter Valley Theatre Company (Australia’s first regional professional theatre company) and Newcastle’s Castanet Club, performed in 1983. It presented a zany and very contemporary interpretation of Molly’s life, starring actor Kris McQuade as the famous Maitland pioneer, landowner and innkeeper.

Born Mary Jones, then marrying to become Morgan, Molly remarried twice, but the name Morgan stuck. The tract of traditional lands of the Wonnarua people, now Maitland, where Molly established a successful farm, is still known as Molly Morgan Range and Mount Molly Morgan.

The musical was just one of a series of locally themed productions staged by the theatre company, which emerged from a vibrant hive of creativity in Newcastle in the 1980s-90s. Their shows were colourful and quirky, just like the character of the set and poster design for Mission: Molly Morgan, created by celebrated and award-winning Newcastle artist Michael Bell (1959- ), who also designed for Mambo and Triple J. Always zany, comic, energetic, and with a generous dose of the unexpected, the theatre company and the Castanet Club’s performances tested the boundaries of what audiences expected. And by doing so, their shows became enormously popular and were long remembered.