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Why 24 people need a 350-seat theatre

Deborah Stone

A tiny town in the Riverina is about to move its popular opera program from a converted pig-pen to a $700,000 theatre. Here's how.
Why 24 people need a 350-seat theatre

Opera in Morundah. Image: Jeff Busby

The official population of Morundah in NSW is 76 but Councillor David Fahey says only 24 people 'actually live in the village'. Either way it's not a population size that obviously requires a 350-seat theatre complete with green room, stage lighting and carefully thought-out acoustics. ​

But the first time the local Morundah Bush Entertainment Committee put on an opera in 2006, it sold 1100 tickets in three hours. ​

'Just because we live in the country doesn't mean we don't want culture,' said Fahey.


In fact the councillor – who as well as ​heading the entertainment committee is the local publican, runs cattle, and owns a chemical business – admits that when the push started he 'wouldn't have crossed the road' to see an opera.

But he liked the idea of opera in the town because it would be less disruptive than alternatives such as rock concerts or a ​Bachelors and Spinsters Ball.

​Since then the tiny Riverina town has become a regional cultural hub serving not only the Urana Shire population of about 1200 but also drawing regular tourists from around Australia. Fahey himself has discovered he rather enjoys the art form.

For the past decade Morundah has been staging touring opera productions in a converted pig shelter ironically known as the  Paradise Palladium Theatre. It has brought in productions from Oz Opera (the touring arm of Opera Australia), the Victorian Opera and South Australia's Co-Opera, and won awards including the NSW Local Government Shires Association Award, the NSW Tidy Town Awards and from the local shire.

Opera productions will soon be able to move out of the pig pen into a new $7000,000 theatre under construction, which will also provide a venue for musical theatre, comedy and dance events. There are already events booked for 2018.

The project this week received a $60,000 grant from the NSW government which will pay for the green room and lighting. But government support has been a long time coming. Morundah has been applying for funding on and off for nine years to build its theatre.

'When they rang to tell me about it the first thing I said was "Thank heavens we won't have to run another chook raffle for a while",' said Fahey. The committee has literally raised most of the funds for the theatre through Friday night raffles, fundraising events and  small philanthropic grants to supplement a $150,000 grant and $60,000 loan from the shire.

The local community is also contributing in practical ways, donating time and equipment. They are currently running a 'door drive' to collect 800 old doors which will be used to line the theatre, providing appropriate acoustics without the cost of commercial baffle boards.

The Morundah Theatre is one of 10 regional cultural projects to receive $385,000 in NSW's regional capital​ grants.

About the author

Deborah Stone is Editor of ArtsHub.