Bonnie Bryant

(1 Mar 1923 - 19 Aug 2009)

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This photo is the one Bonnie supplied us for use in programmes.

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On Tuesday 25 August we all had the melancholy duty to perform of attending Bonnie's funeral at Palmdale. Bonnie had not been well for some time, as she was ever more prone to falls as time went on, and her final curtain closed on 19 August 2009.

On 3 & 4 March, 1958 the group produced a revue called Happy Days.  A revue is always a great way to bring new members into the group. The cast of Happy Days included 41 people one of whom was billed in the Tuggerah Lakes Advocate as "Barnie Bryant".  It was of course, our Bonnie and her first appearance with the group was as a soloist in the Minstrel Show segment and lending her hand in other parts in the revue.

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Our Bonnie is at back-left.

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Bonnie and Ted, her husband, made their stage debut together for Wyong Drama Group as ‘bystanders’ in Pygmalion (1958). Next up Bonnie seized a far more challenging role - as the front-end of a cow in Noah. Bonnie went on to direct some 36 productions from popular farces to the more poignant dramas and thrillers. Bonnie held the positions of vice-president, secretary and long term committee member and through humility saw herself as a worker not a leader, except as a skilled director.

She always set the example volunteering for those less glamorous tasks and supporting all working bees. No task was too menial: suppers, prompt, general coffee-maker for set builders right up until infirmity held her too often at home.  Such was Bonnie’s dedication that, until recently, she rarely missed a meeting. Bonnie won many awards, most notably Best Actress in the NSW Amateur Drama Festival in 1970 for her performance as Agatha in The Old Ladies: The String of Amber (43 groups competed in this State-Wide Festival).

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Bonnie as Agatha in The Old Ladies: String of Amber

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Nearly every festival entry from her hands has received nominations and she has mentored many, ‘best actors and actresses’. In 1994 the coast-wide Coarse-Acting Championships were held. It is an indication of our group’s high esteem of her that the awards were called “The Bonnies”. Coarse or not, live theatre is unpredictable and like all troupers Bonnie had her own stage frights. During a very serious drama Bonnie remembers a whole window coming loose in her hands as she closed it on stage. She calmly passed it through the wall to a stagehand backstage and continued on.

In 2007 when Bonnie was too ill to attend a festival performance of Cage Birds (which won best production), the director and cast of eight took themselves to her home and performed the play for her in her family room. Bonnie has always nurtured the whole person, caring about members and their families. Bonnie has been mentor for both directors and actors. Her critique was always eagerly awaited after performances and it was always fulsomely generous.

Until very recently she was still sought out by experienced directors and performers for that extra polish and those special touches for which she was renowned across the Coast’s theatrical community. A great encourager, she advocated entering festivals and extolled the learning gained from that experience. Bonnie was able to get the best out of people and was happy to work with novices to release the thespian within. She has shaped, cajoled, enticed and inspired beginners and experienced alike.

In August 2004 at our Encore TheatreFest, Bonnie directed Peter Kocan's extremely moving play Home Fires Burning.  This was probably the last major production Bonnie directed on her own.  Typically for Bonnie it won Best Actor (for Laszlo Weidlich);  Best Direction (for Bonnie); Best Ensemble Performance; Best Set and Best Unpublished Play. 

In the 2000 publication of Ian Hawkins' Curtain Up: Celebrating 100 Years of Amateur Theatre on the Central Coast, Bonnie was in the top three mentioned in response to the coast-wide survey question “Who has inspired you most and who do you admire most in the local theatre scene.”

At Bonnie’s funeral on August 25, 2009, the congregation gave her a standing ovation.

The above article was written mainly by Julie Bailey, with additional material by Peter Deane and Rose Cooper.

Eulogy (written and delivered by Pollyanna Forshaw)

It is often when we come together for love of a person - when we are all together like this - that we learn more about them than when they were in the everyday of our lives.  I was lucky enough to know Bonnie for 35 years so somewhere along the line I found out a lot about our Bon that was even more than the ‘earthmother’ or ‘mother hen’ we knew her as.  Even so, when Ted gave me his history research I learnt more.  I am privileged to share it.

Bonnie, or actually Dorothy Yvonne was born on the 1st March 1923 in Kent, England to Harley & Dorothy Rudge.  There you go... I thought she was born and bred Irish but her dad was Welsh and she was born on English soil.  And... I had thought she hated the name Dorothy... but at one stage when she became ill she insisted on that name – It was only for a short time though.  Her hospital sign soon went back to Bonnie... Whatever she might have thought about Dorothy none of us knew her any other way than as “Bonnie”.

Bonnie was the eldest of three children.  When she was four she had a seemingly simple accident that would affect her for the rest of her life.  Sitting at her grandparent’s table, she had put her foot behind the leg of the chair.  When she got up she neglected to move her foot and she fell.  For some reason her grandfather didn’t think she had seriously hurt her leg and it was not until her mother returned to collect her some days later that Bonnie was taken to the doctor.  She was placed in splint the entire length of her little body for a whole year and ultimately she was left with one leg an inch and a half shorter than the other leg.  This leg and later the hip and joints were a constant source of pain.  We were all aware - and yet unaware - of ‘her leg’.  My own children thought for years that Bonnie just stood very elegantly: on her toes, and walked with more rhythm than most of us could muster.  But for Bon it was painful.  Alongside the physical pain there was a different pain as well.  Bonnie was a devastatingly fine actress and might have had many leading roles but she didn’t get them.  She was philosophical but always felt that this leg thing and her height stopped her chances.  She became champion of the small role and you wouldn’t dare in her hearing to lament missing out on “something meatier” but getting a tiny part. 

No small parts…only small actors!

Also when she was four, Bonnie’s father died suddenly of septicaemia.  This was an era without pensions or child-minding centres or pre-schools.  And in the next five years the family moved several times staying with different relatives in England and in Ireland.  Only one home was idyllic and gave her fond memories of childhood.  Carrigans in county Donegal, Northern Ireland.

But even here there was tragedy when her mother’s new love a local farmer, was killed by a bull before they married.  So Bonnie missed out on a new stepfather and the normal family happiness that might have brought.

When she was nine the children went to Scotland to live with an Aunt Sophie.  From reports by the three children their Aunt was a very strict woman and the accommodation poor, so life there was not a pleasant experience for Bonnie to say the least.  It was probably fortuitous that one of the very few people not to like Bonnie was this aunt so that when the opportunity arose and her mother’s employer allowed just one of her children to come live with her, the aunt sent Bon home to Ireland and her mother. 

Bonnie’s teen years were spent ballroom dancing with her friends and going to the movies.  She loved dancing.  Later she and Ted would burn the floor together at ball room dancing.  And she continued to love movies – especially the romantic ones - all her life.  Some of us here have watched the black and white Random Harvest - her favourite movie - more than once with her, and others will have heard her in raptures about The Notebook.  Bonnie and romance?  Inseparable.  As she grew older she would often laugh that one advantage of age was forgetting the stories so she could watch them and enjoy them all over again.

At sixteen Bon trained for four years at Royal Belfast Children's Hospital, Northern Ireland becoming a Registered Sick-Children's Nurse.  She was twenty and it was 1943 – WWII.  Bon often mentioned that each night she and the others had to move all the children to the basement of the hospital as a precaution.  The Germans were bombing the nearby Belfast Dockyards.  Fortunately their aim wasn’t too good and the Hospital was never hit.  Neither were the dockyards.

But the leg was not up to the constant strain of nursing.  Part of a reference written for her on her resignation: notes - “She handles patients and relatives very pleasantly but her discipline is excellent.  I should be very glad to see her appointed to a position of responsibility". 

A disciplinarian is not the sort of title you would normally associate with Bonnie.  But I do recall the rare time that she sacked someone from a play for pushing the boundaries.  Yes, she could be a boss.  That’s why she was a great director.  Meanwhile, Bonnie applied for and obtained a position as Assistant Matron at London County Council Day Nursery.  Bonnie loved the babies.   She remained a children’s nurse in her heart and in the very sensible and easy approaches she had to all our sick babies and children over the years.

Bonnie finally resigned from nursing in 1950... but for very good reason.  It was the main reason affecting any major decision she made after that – love for Ted.  This was surely the romance made in heaven.  All of us knew it... they had the most wonderfully, happy, passionate marriage.

When Betty, Ted’s sister and Bonnie’s pen pal married, Ted wrote to the Irish lass on the other side of the world to let her know.  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and eventually they were corresponding every day.  Bonnie always said she knew her man better from those letters than many who had had a normal courtship.  In fact they believed they knew each other so well that Ted wrote and asked for her hand in marriage and he sailed off to Ireland with the wedding cake.  After a fortnight’s honeymoon in the south of Ireland they sailed for Australia on the 17th March 1950 aboard the Orchardes disembarking at Fremantle, Western Australia.

They stayed there for a weekend before flying to Sydney.  That same plane crashed on the return journey to Perth.  A few hours and a few miles difference and so many of us would not have had Bon’s influence in our lives.  Those are the historical details.  The romantic ones are that there was a partnership of love for nearly forty years, that there were four sons, that there was a beloved man nursed for months by his chickie before he died in her arms, that there were love-letters read and reread and there was a photo under her pillow for the twenty years after Ted died that was so kissed each night that its image was kissed away.  A love made in heaven and now continuing in heaven.  That Bonnie is now in Ted’s arms is all the comfort we need. 

Many of you may recall this area was noted for citrus trees and egg farming.  Ted and his brother Stan owned a 100 acre orchard and chicken farm in Tuggerah, that part currently known as Mardi.  Bonnie worked on the farm preparing eggs for market and packing oranges.  A different world from Ireland and nursing, but she was never one to sit idle.  In winter she would bring Ted and his brothers hot chocolate.  In summer she wandered the orchard to give them ice-cold drinks.  And…she raised those boys.  Bon worried about each of them.  Until in these last years it was their turn.  Bonnie was proud of them and rightly so.  No sons could have been more caringly attentive throughout the last years of Bonnie’s frail time.

Bonnie was always a performing artist.  She was an accomplished Mezzo Soprano, a heritage of her welsh baritone father who was described as having ‘the voice of a full orchestra’.  She often sang at weddings, at functions for the Red Cross, the Country Women's Association and other organisations either as a soloist or in a duet with her great friend Hazel Caldwell.  And she’s passed the genetic code on.  One of Bon’s great joys and a source of immense pride and pleasure has been to listen to the very precious singing of her granddaughter Genevieve, similarly a talented Soprano and also instrumentalist and song writer.  In 1958 Bonnie and Ted joined the Wyong Drama Group.  Bonnie was 35.  Bon was a wonderful actress and she often received media attention.  One reviewer wrote this comment on her performance in the 1963 play See How They Run: "Bonnie who can handle dramatic or comedy roles with equal aptitude was convincing as the sour Miss Skillon when sober, then splendid as the gay Miss Skillon when tipsy."

She was always gay when tipsy in real life... after drinking a thimbleful it seemed, but she was never ever sour.  And In 1965 “...More than 200 people enjoyed the play Murder Mistaken in the comfort of the new Memorial Hall.  Bonnie Bryant played the part of a retired barmaid... Her acting was superb and would have been creditable even for a professional.”

Bonnie was a judge for The Lion’s Club "Youth of the Year" award judging at the Wyong Shire and at the Regional level for an amazing twenty-one years.  I filled in for her once when she was ill and heard the esteem in which she was held.  She also helped as a volunteer in local schools to teach children to read.  In recent times she was recognised for her years of work and support of the local community with a citizenship award.  Well deserved! And who will ever forget the cakes and slices and scones made for fetes and fund-raisers and family and friends! All in the hand mixing she’d say... I made sure I took lessons.  And it was lessons in kindness too.

When I was ill with little children, Bon would arrive with her: “It’s nothing really.  Just a very ordinary savoury mince”.  It was never ordinary.  Bonnie was never ordinary.

 

Bonnie was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother (Nonnie) to six and great-grandmother to nine children.  She was always celebrating the lives of her family and their achievements, academic, artistic or sporting.  And she has been a great source of comfort, of support, and of understanding for her family and us her innumerable friends.  Actually Bon worried about all of us and you had to be careful not to be too open about your own concerns because she would immediately make them hers and worry till the matter was resolved.  We all loved her and she loved us.

Bonnie was more than my friend.  We shared a passion for drama and believing we were giving something through it.  She was my mentor, gave me the glamorous parts she would have enjoyed and made sure a shy person believed in that glamour enough to walk it onto the stage. 

She taught me about silences and projection about directing and comic timing, about the audience and loving them, about the humility we should have if the public allows us to put ourselves out there.  They were not just lessons in drama, they were splendid lessons in life and we are grateful for her life...

Genevieve is going to sing for Bon today.  Listen carefully to the words she has composed.  If we listen to the word... there is no more perfect way to sum up our Bon... that in the simple there is something beautiful.  And Bonnie... you were just that... simply beautiful.

In her drama life Bonnie always held that truth in playing a character down to the smallest touch and gesture would always be the touchstone of connecting with and gifting the audience.  Bonnie’s sons, knowing her humility, did not think Bonnie would want accolades.  But sometimes it isn’t up to the recipient... In theatre when our experience as audience participators has been superb, we thank the giver of that experience with a standing ovation.  Those of us, all of us here, who have shared life’s journey with Bon know that her truth of character and her part in our lives down to the smallest gesture of love has gifted us with a splendid experience.  Need I ask...? Let us stand and let Bon see now and hear now our admiration, our gratitude, our hearts, as we celebrate her life, a life that as her son Ted summed up was: “A life well lived and well loved.”