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Dead Man Brake

Media Release: August 16, 2013 in Theatre |

Play Commemorating Waterfall Rail Tragedy To Have World Premiere In Wollongong

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To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Waterfall rail tragedy, Merrigong Theatre Company has commissioned and produced a new work from critically-acclaimed playwright Alana Valentine, with the world premiere season at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre on 28 August – 7 September.

Using verbatim sources including the Special Commission of Inquiry transcript, as well as original text, the play explores the impact of this tragedy, not only on the individuals involved, but on the community as a whole. At the heart of the work is an acknowledgment of those who, after tragedies such as Waterfall, are brought in to counsel survivors and the families of victims. Through the words of these extraordinary individuals, the work explores profound questions about the nature of tragedy, offering a compassionate insight into the human condition. Dead Man Brake is ultimately an uplifting and powerful examination of human resilience in the face of tragedy.

Alana Valentine wrote the play after interviewing chaplain and trauma manager, Lieutenant Colonel Don Woodland, who has attended almost every man-made and natural disaster of the last thirty years in Australia.

It was one of the most memorable, astonishing, humbling and inspiring interviews I have ever done. Believe me, you will want to hear the incredible wisdom that this man so touchingly and humorously and persuasively imparted to me and will be recreated in this play.

What I hope will inspire our audiences is the opportunity these man-made disasters give us to reflect on the generosity of the emergency personnel, the wisdom of the trauma managers, the suffering of the families of those killed and the potential for recovery and remembrance for those who were injured and traumatised.

This will not be a maudlin or depressing night in the theatre — quite the opposite — because the circumstances are so tragic and painful, the characters find ways to rise above the heartache and really reach for something both deep and very inspiring. It will renew people’s hope in the generosity and beauty of the human spirit.

[Director and Merrigong’s Artistic Associate] Anne-Louise Rentell and Artistic Director Simon Hinton have a passion for telling local stories that is genuinely empowering to me as an artist. Waterfall may have happened ten years ago, but with Simon and Anne-Louise’s guidance, this is not just a play for people of Wollongong right now, but will have an impact on how it sees itself as a community — resilient, generous, active and engaged with local stories.

Alana Valentine’s writing has been nominated for 2011 Queensland Premier’s Award for Best Drama Script, 2007 Helpmann Awards for Best New Australian Work and Best Play, awarded the 2004 Queensland Premier’s Award for Best Drama Script, the 2003 NSW Writer’s Fellowship, the 2002 Rodney Seaborn Playwright’s Award and an International Writing Fellowship at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and more. Alana is well known for her rigorous use of research within the community she is writing about.


  • Alicia Battestini is a local artist and former Artistic Director of Wollongong-based Circus Monoxide who is also currently working with Merrigong on a mixed-abilities theatre work called The Star Project (working title).
  • Nicholas Brown is a Bollywood star who has worked with Merrigong previously on a theatre development.
  • Gerard Carroll was one of the Bananas on ABC TV’s childrens’ show Bananas in Pyjamas and has also worked with Merrigong previously as an actor in a Ruff: New Works in Progress play reading.
  • Phillip Hinton is a local actor who has performed with The Royal Shakespeare Company and was in Merrigong’s 2008 production, Valley Song.
  • Drayton Morley is a local actor who is also currently working with Merrigong on The Star Project (working title) and was in Merrigong’s 2011 production, The Dapto Chaser.
  • Katrina Retallick is an accomplished musical theatre performer most recently seen on the stage in the 2013 Australian tour of The Addams Family.
  • Sabryna Te’o graduated from NIDA in 2009 and was in Sport for Jove’s 2013 production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.


Merrigong Theatre Company manages one of Australia’s busiest, most dynamic, regional venues — Illawarra Performing Arts Centre. Merrigong is also a vibrant theatre company in its own right — producing, presenting and touring exciting contemporary theatre and supporting the development of a wide range of independent theatre-makers. The Company presents a diverse annual season of theatre, dance and children’s programming. Under Artistic Director / CEO, Simon Hinton, in 2006 Merrigong began producing in-house for its subscription season, and in 2008 began to regularly tour work to other venues around the country. The Company is committed to commissioning new works for production, and has to date commissioned nine works from six playwrights including Mary Rachel Brown, Marcel Dorney and Van Badham.


Passengers killed in NSW train derailment — news story on ABC’s The World Today, Friday 31 January, 2003. Reporter: Noni Walsh.

Playwright Alana Valentine’s website

A Merrigong Theatre Company production
By Alana Valentine
Director Anne-Louise Rentell
Lighting Designer Toby Knyvett
Costume Designer Imogen Ross
Sound Designer Daryl Wallis
Cast Alicia Battestini, Nicholas Brown, Gerard Carroll, Phillip Hinton, Drayton Morley, Katrina Retallick and Sabryna Te’o

Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (IPAC), 32 Burelli St, Wollongong NSW 2500
Performance times:
Wed 28 & Thur 29 Aug 7.30pm (preview), Fri 30 Aug 7.30pm, Sat 31 Aug 2.30pm & 7.30pm, Tue 3 Sep 6.30pm, Wed 4 Sep 7.30pm, Thurs 5 Sep 11am & 7.30pm, Fri 6 Sep 7.30pm, Sat 7 Sep 2.30pm & 7.30pm.
Post-show Q&A: Thur 5 Sep 7.30pm
Audio-described performance: Sat 31 Aug 2.30pm
Adult: $49; Adult early week (Mon-Thurs)/Conc/Group 8+: $44; Conc/Group 8+ early week: $39; Under 30s: $29; School groups 8+: $20 (Transaction fees apply to phone and internet bookings)
Call the box office on (02) 4224 5999 or visit

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