In 1998 The Patrick Corporation restructured their operations, leading to the dismissal and locking out of their unionised work-force, encouraged by the Howard government's changes in legislation, which weakened the collective bargaining powers of unions.
When Patrick's workforce went on strike in 1998, Patrick's management dismissed all of them, and declared bankruptcy.
By the following morning the docks, technically under new management, re-opened with new workers, many of them former defence force personnel, paid less than union wages. The Howard government stated that they supported this move.
Just as the American docks became the inspiration for "On the Waterfront" arguably one of the most memorable classic films, the Patrick's lock-out has become the context for an excellent new musical, currently playing at the Ian Hanger theatre in the Brisbane Conservatorium.
Played as a concert performance with an energetic young cast, and with the superb piano of Luke Volker, "On The Docks" is not only an excellent production in its own right, but also an indication of what should move on to the next stage, and become a remarkable stage presentation.
It has most of the elements to make a memorable and successful musical .
Excellent dialogue, with some one-liners which sparked spontaneous applause. A range of songs, ranging from gentle romantic wistfulness to full voiced choral anthems, reminiscent of "Les Miserables". Strong plotting – seen almost entirely from the side of the strikers – with a delightful and credible sub plot where a young woman struggles to break free and escape, while also trying not to hurt her strike-leading father, and struggling with her feelings for a strike-breaker.
The cast is well chosen – and almost all have been developed in the wonderful Batchelor of Music (Music Theatre) program at the "Con". Stand-outs? Pia Frangiosa captures the conflicting emotions of the daughter struggling for her own identity. Luke Hodgson is excellent in his twin roles as father and strike leader. MaryBeth Harvey captures the humour and tension of being Pia's friend and a journalist. There are no weak links.
So – if you want to be in early on what promises to be a memorable Australian musical – if you like well crafted dialogue and lyrics (by Alexander Bayliss and Rex Ablett) – and if you enjoy excellent choral singing, watch out for "On The Docks".
It deserves to be back as a full-production musical.