Category Archives: Circus Oz

“Pramocracy – The Alternative Theatre in Carlton”, by John Timlin, 1974-75

John Timlin

John Timlin, pictured with son, Michael, in September 2007. Photo by Craig Sillitoe. The Age, 2/9/2007.

 Written by John Timlin, “Pramocracy – The Alternative Theatre in Carlton”,  has long been an important source for researchers and writers looking at the history of the Pram Factory Theatre and the Australian Performing Group.

For most of the 1970s,  John Timlin was the APG’s  publicist and quasi administrator. He also acted as agent for several writers, including Jack Hibberd and John Romeril.

“Pramocracy” (as it has become known) appears to have been written a few months after the Federal Election held in May 1974, for Timlin refers to that election as if it had occurred fairly recently.  (At that election Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party was returned to Government following a double dissolution.) At the time the APG was, according to Timlin, suffering an “identity crisis”.

The document published below in its entirety is a dog-eared draft of “Pramocracy”  with John’s handwritten heading and alterations on it.

Pramocracy 01
Pramocracy 02
Pramocracy 03
Pramocracy 04
Pramocracy 05
Pramocracy 06
Pramocracy 07
Pramocracy 08
Pramocracy 09
Pramocracy 10
Pramocracy 11
Pramocracy 12
Pramocracy 13
Pramocracy 14
Pramocracy 15
Pramocracy 16
Pramocracy 17
Pramocracy 18
Pramocracy 19
Pramocracy 20
Pramocracy 21
Pramocracy 22
Pramocracy 23
Pramocracy 24
Pramocracy 25
Pramocracy 26
Pramocracy 27
Pramocracy 28
Pramocracy 29
Pramocracy 30
Pramocracy 31
Pramocracy 32

Other versions of the paper

(added to this blog on 28/8/2013)

A least one other version of this paper – with additional paragraphs and with paragraphs deleted – has been published elsewhere. The version published on the Pram Factory website (developed by Sue Ingleton) and published in The Way Out magazine (which now appears on its website), has the following additional paragraphs appearing at the end:

“This seeming masochism is, however, germane to democratic participation; workers’ control of the theatre. The fact of stardom, fame etc. cannot entitle one person to have a vote affecting the lives of others whilst they are, possibly, so distant from the theatre as to be ignorant of the issues, arguments and personalities.

The Collective has, in this respect, tightened somewhat – if a member is absent from four consecutive monthly Collective meetings, membership (subject to appeal) lapses and the privilege of priority for employment disappears. This, of course, allows us to change;; those who opt for the security and comparatively high pecuniary rewards of lengthy film, television or theatre contracts are exercising their choice and, by so doing, effectively resigning and creating space for others, thus injecting new blood and, potentially a new theatricality into the Group.

Somehow, for journalists, Arts Council people and theatre workers outside, there is something difficult about accepting the actuality of democratic control in the APG. They want to believe in leaders, authority figures, etc. They find the oppositionist stridency of the APG somewhat uncomfortable, the postures that emerge from its moral well-spring difficult to live with. Doubtless, its stance on many issues can transmute into image-making rhetoric but there is a certain purity of intention, not yet fully articulated theatrically, which may enable the group to persist and withstand the fiscal and critical difficulties which always are at the jugular of innovative, anti-establishment theatre groups. In March 1972, in a letter to the Group, sometime member, Margaret Williams, now a critic and academic at the University of NSW, wrote:
‘… I think that what is in many ways the Group’s strongest quality is also its least endearing quality – at least to those outside it – namely, a kind of (dare I say it?) arrogance; a messianic certainty of its anointed role as custodian of the Australian drama … I think that quality is an asset, and it may well be that that is the magic talisman which will keep the APG alive and kicking where so many other groups, equally committed, have failed …’.

Drama is a communal art. It needs writers and actors and technicians and ticket sellers and designers and painters of walls. Without each other, not one of these people would be meaningful. In so far as the APG is an alternative, it is so because its political form is such as to give each person a share in deciding what affects another. It is frightening to each of us at different levels, for different reasons but, for those of us who choose to remain, it is the best way to work; trust is the only way in which the theatre can take those risks necessary to create something new.”

On the other hand, the following parts from the original scanned document appearing on this blog do not appear in the other version just mentioned:

  • The dialogue between The Prosecutor and Actor: see sections 5 and 6.
  •   All the writing contained in the scanned document between the words “… stardom and the buck” and “It is true that …”. This is 6 paragraphs with a total of approximately 670 words.


Red line


Introducing the Australian Performing Group of the 70s


The then unnamed Australian Performing Group (APG) from Melbourne started out in 1967 as a group of writers and actors working together at La Mama theatre in Carlton. In 1970 the APG was officially formed and then set up a theatre in a former pram factory in Drummond Street, Carlton.  Here, and in other venues throughout Melbourne and other parts of Australia, the ensemble presented alternative, experimental, avant-garde and radical plays, stage shows, street theatre and circus acts, using comedy, drama, music and dance to entertain and to turn the spotlight on its concerns about social, political and feminist issues. The ensemble also produced a record album (“The Great Stumble Forward: Matchbox and the APG at the Pram”) and a feature length movie (“Dimboola”).   Many of the hundred-plus works performed by the APG between 1970 and 1979 received critical and popular acclaim. APG performers and writers had a major impact on the nature and content of live theatre in Australia. Their government-subsidized organisation provided acting, designing, and playwriting opportunities to many artists who might not otherwise have had the chance to create.

But by 1981 the group had disintegrated. The only surviving part is “Circus Oz”, an APG off-shoot formed in 1978 when the APG’s Soapbox Circus and The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band joined with the New Ensemble Circus of Adelaide.  It continues to perform in Australia and internationally to this day (July 2013). 

Actors, performers, writers, directors and artists

Listed below are writers, actors, directors, artists and others who were part of the APG and/or its Soapbox Circus during its heyday, and whose names may be well known to “mature-age” lovers of Australian alternative theatre, circus, film and television. As others have said, “some (of these people) had a brief connection with the APG; others were there for a long time and were instrumental in its success”.

Blundall, Graeme
Bolza, Joe
Broadway, Sue
Buzo, Alex
Chapman, Eileen
Chong, Rose
Clifton, Jane
Coldwell, Tim
Conway, Mick
Corrigan, Peter
Costelloe, Rose
Cummins, Peter
Daly, Bob
Davies, Lindy
de Winter, Roz
Dickins, Barry
Dobbin, Claire
Dreyfus, George
Duigan, John
Dwyer, Kerry
Finlay, Peter
Frank, Laurel
Friedel, Jan
Friedel, Martin
Garner, Bill
Gedye, Kelvin
Giles, Neil
Gillies, Max
Green, Peter
Hampton, Paul
Hannan, Bill
Hannan, Lorna
Harrison, Ursula
Hawkes, Jon
Hawkes, Ponch
Hibberd, Jack
Ingelton, Sue
Isaac, Graeme
Kemp, Jenny
Kendall, David
Koenig, John
Krape, Evelyn
Last, Wilfred
Laurie, Robin
Maddison, Ruth
Marini, Yvonne
Meldrum, Robert
Meltzer, Larry
Mokotow, Fay
Motherwell, Phil
Mullett, Jane
Murphet, Richard
Oakley, Barry
Pickhaver, Greig
Potter, Susy
Porter, Carol
Price, Michael
Richards, Alison
Robertson, Alan
Robertson, Tim
Romeril, John
Shuv’us, James
Sky, Hellen
Smith, Lindzee
Spears, Steve
Spence, Bruce
Taylor, Tony
Thorneycroft, Bob
Waddell, Gary
Weiner, Jack
Weiss, Bob
Williamson, David
(As I think of/become aware of others I will add them to the list.)


Like most of its productions, management at the APG was also radically different. Instead of a conventional, hierarchical structure, the APG was run as a self-managed collective.  Nevertheless, the roles played by John Timlin (publicity and administration) and Jon Hawkes (acting and administration) at times approximated that of manager or overseer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, management became somewhat chaotic as the APG grew and conflicts between sub-groups arose. Several influential members departed, some because they became tired of attending the many committee and group meetings held.


It has been estimated that the APG performed/staged up to 150 theatrical productions. Of those the following are probably the best known from the group’s heyday (alphabetically):

A Stretch of the Imagination
A Toast to Melba
At the Feet of Daniel Mannix
Back to Bourke Street
Betty Can Jump
Beware of Imitations
Chicago Chicago
Chris Langham’s One Man Show
Diary of a Madman
Domestic Contradictions – Socialism in One Room
Don’s Party
Dreamers of the Absolute
How Grey Was My Nurse
It’s a Mad World My Masters
Marvellous Melbourne
Mary Shelley and the Monsters
Mickey’s Moomba
My Foot, My Tutor
On Yer Marx
Pecking Orders
Peggy Sue
Phar Lap – It’s Cingalese for Lightning, Y’know
Radio Active Horror Show
Smak’in The Daks
Soabox Circus
The Bob and Joe Show
The Dudders
The Floating World
The Golden Holden
The Hills Family Show
The Overcoat
The Ship’s Whistle
White With Wire Wheels
Yesterday’s News
Yours for the Masking

History and Opinions in Books, Papers and Online

Thousands of words have been written about the Australian Performing Group and the Pram Factory Theatre.   The best that I have read are:

  • “Make it Australian: The Australian Performing Group, the Pram Factory and New Wave Theatre”, by , 2008, Currency Press. To see click HERE. 

  • The Pram Factory website, developed by Suzanne Ingleton and with the support of
    The Myer Foundation:

  •  “When The Way Out Was In: Avant-Garde Theatre in Australia, 1965-1985”, by Adrian John Guthrie, University of Wollongong. A thesis. 1996. See pages 57 onwards. A copy of the thesis, in PDF format, can be downloaded from HERE.

  • “The Pram Factory: The Australian Performing Group Recollected”, by Tim Robertson, 1997, Melbourne University Press.  Currently (April 2017) the book appears to be unavailable from sellers of new books, but may be available on Ebay or its like.