Waterfall train tragedy on stage

Redfern playwright Alana Valentine’s new theatre work Dead Man Brake, about the Waterfall train disaster, is in development with Merrigong theatre company. Picture: C. MOORE HARDY The scene of the 6.24am Central to Port Kembla train tragedy.

A theatre work about the Waterfall train disaster is being developed as the 10th anniversary of the tragedy looms.

Alana Valentine closely studied the accident and its aftermath and penned a short play after hearing of a teenage survivor who escaped the train wreck and dialled triple-0, only to be mistaken for a hoax caller.

“I became interested in the human side. Seven people died, but so many others were affected – the guard, the wife of the driver [who was killed],” Valentine said.

The playwright’s full-length work, Dead Man Brake in reference to a braking mechanism that failed to prevent the January 2003 disaster, is being developed with Illawarra professional theatre company, Merrigong.

It pairs verbatim material with imagined, poetry and dream sequences. The plot is carried by the character of a chaplain, who falls in and out of sleep in the waiting room of the public inquiry into the disaster, as he waits to give evidence.

Valentine hopes to make contact with people personally affected by the tragedy.

Those impacted – and the general public – will be able to see the fledgling work at IPAC next month and potentially shape the final product.

“I am less interested in why the disaster happened than in … how a community copes and the lasting impacts on a community of that disaster,” she said.

The in-progress performance on September 8 is part of Merrigong’s Ruff! program, which showcases developing works and invites feedback.

Dead Man Brake will be the seventh in-house production by Merrigong since 2006, when the company began seeking out stories “with local relevance and universal resonance”.

Another home-grown story, Table of Knowledge, on Wollongong’s sex and development scandal, was co-produced by the company.

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