Playwright Melita Rowston talks to Dave Drayton about the drama of disappearance.
In January 1976 eight year old Eloise Worledge went missing. Despite the biggest missing person's search in Victoria's history and a $10,000 reward posted in that year that remains unclaimed, no trace has ever been found. When Eloise disappeared Melita Rowston was still young, but as a fellow resident of the Melbourne beachside suburb of Beaumaris, and with her parents being friends of the Worledge family, Rowston still had some sense of the disappearance, even if she could not yet fully comprehend its gravity.
“Everybody knew about it,” recalls Rowlston. “I was very young, but my mum was a friend of the family. I guess the impact for me was because I was so young – and the girl was seven when she was taken from her bed, I was a bit younger – my mum would always tell me that story and say, 'Keep your window closed at night because you don't want to get taken like little Eloise was taken.' So it was more the impact of mum talking about it and her friends talking about it and growing up with that knowledge that a little girl was taken from her bed.”
When Rowlston was accepted into Griffin's emerging playwrights residency, then under the guidance of David Berthold, Eloise's disappearance, an interest in telling Gen X's stories, in the myth of the missing child – as seen in stories such as Picnic At Hanging Rock – and frequent trips between Sydney and her Melbourne hometown inevitably led her to the crux of Crushed.
“I was visiting home a bit at that time and was having all those experiences you have after not living in a city for a while and going back to your childhood home and returning and remembering your childhood. I really liked that idea of 'coming back', a reunion of sorts, I think I was connecting with a few old high school friends as well, so that was really interesting to me. At the same time, where I grew up a little girl did go missing and I think it came up in a family conversation during my visit and I thought that would really impact on your life, if you were returning to this place full of childhood memories and there was this one friend who was still missing, and the mystery around that.”
In Crushed the missing girl's best friend, Kelly, returns home from Prague, where she has been making a new life for herself, in order to assist in a re-opened police investigation into the missing person. More than being transported back geographically, Kelly and co are thrown back in time as they attempt to recall the fateful night during a series of police interviews and friendly reminiscences.
“We were also noticing the woman who's gone missing in Brisbane,” Rowston adds, citing more recent cases that have influenced the rehearsal process for Crushed, “They're putting mannequins out on the pavement and that sort of thing. And the mannequin features quite prominently in my play as well, this image of this weird child frozen with a wig on and the clothes that she was last seen in. So we were all last week looking at the news going, 'Wow, this is really – even though it's set in the past – something that is so real now as well.'”
Crushed runs until Saturday 9 June at New Theatre