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26 November 2008

Brown's Mart

PETER DERMOUDY: I'm Peter Dermoudy. I'm sitting in the grounds of Brown's Mart Theatre. I'm the Chairman of Trustees and have been for about the last 30-odd years. So I feel almost as old as the building. We're entrusted by the Government to look after the building. I was also the architect for the conversion of the original building into this theatre. And that was made possible by the ravages of Cyclone Tracy, which largely destroyed the building and made it possible to start again. This one, of course, was built in 1885. It was one of Solomon's buildings, designed by John George Knight, our town's famous architect. He also designed the old Town Hall, which is opposite us. Unfortunately, the Town Hall suffered more damage than Brown's Mart and it was much more difficult to think about restoring it. So it was stabilised and it remains as elegant ruins, which are used from time to time by the arts community. Excellent for Shakespearean plays and things like that.

PERFORMER: We do it wrong, being so majestical to offer it the show of violence...

PETER DERMOUDY: In 1885, this opened as a mart and then that lasted a couple of years. They had some fairly rough years, probably because the town was so small. But Solomon eventually gave it away to Brown. The Browns took it over and developed it up as a mining exchange, which seemed to be a pretty good idea at the time. But it's had a very colourful history. It was used by many people - it was used as police headquarters at one stage, motor registry. Some of its more infamous stuff - it was thought that during the war, it was a brothel. But I don't know where they got the females from. And I would suggest probably that this theatre conversion is its longest ongoing single purpose since it was built. And I think, the way things are going, it's probably going to maintain that for many, many years to come.

JANE TONKIN: My name is Jane Tonkin. I work at Brown's Mart Community Arts and I've been here for about 12 years, in varying roles, but mostly event producing. Brown's Mart the building is a historic building, theatre, rescued from demolition by a group of concerned citizens who also wanted to see the building put to good use. It became an amateur theatre. Subsequently, an administration building was erected behind us. And there's a large courtyard area also used now for events. We look after artists, we help them generate their own activity and we also provide a variety of program and events that give people a platform from which to perform. All these things give artists a really interesting and exciting way to be an active member of the arts and cultural community in Darwin. Brown's Mart Community Arts has a whole bunch of staff people living upstairs. So we look after the venue on behalf of the trustees. And this is a natural role for us because we are always engaging with the artistic community and they're the people that hire this space. One of Brown's Mart Community Arts' major programs is the Darwin Fringe, which happens each year in the peak of the dry season. The Fringe uses Brown's Mart as its hub for activities. So for 24 days, people can almost live at Brown's Mart, being inundated with theatre in this space and visual exhibitions in other rooms and outdoor performances in the courtyard area. Brown's Mart is a vital venue in the Darwin environment. It's accessible and cheap for people to hire. It's also in a really good spot. It's in the Darwin CBD, it's at the end of the bus run, so it's easy to get to for those people who travel by public transport. Many of the events that happen here are all-ages. And it's also a really good place for people to bring their families. Lots of children come to lots of events. The flexibility of the Brown's Mart venue means that a lot of people can use the space. And that includes all sorts of cultural groups from all around Darwin. Lots of Indigenous bands have used this as an original stomping ground. Given that so much arts activity is about telling stories, it's really appropriate that Brown's Mart forms a hub in this city where it's a historic building that also has so many stories to tell.