The truth behind the play
scene from the play: the principal players are
dazzled by the arrival of The Real Estate
Angel (Juliet Wills).
Left to right: Larry Woods (Herbert
Fitzpatrick), Lisa Day (Florence Bouffier),
Ian White (Joe Benns), Sophie Lepowic
(Catherine Bouffier) and Roy Baker (The
Historian). Photo courtesy of Oneill
The latest island play closed on Saturday to much acclaim.
But you haven’t heard the last of The Two Catherines,
because I think the time has come to spill the beans and
reveal the truth about its creation.
In a media interview the playwright, Jasper Marlow,
commented that ‘some of the characters were written with
certain people in mind and they have, serendipitously,
ended up playing those roles’. Who did you have had in
mind when you wrote the tediously pedantic historian,
Jasper? Whoever it was, he can’t have been available,
because I landed the role instead.
So, with that in mind, let me tell you the real story
behind the play. To channel my character for a moment: we
have to be historically accurate. Otherwise, what’s the
Bouffier, alongside Sophie Lepowic, who took
on her role
The point, I suppose, is that all of the characters in the
play were based (rather loosely, admittedly) on actual
people. Except for the Wifeswappers, perhaps. I’m less
sure of my ground there. But the rest were all real people
who once lived.
They once lived, but not necessarily at the same time.
During the production of the play I was often asked when
it was set. It was a difficult question to answer, because
each of the characters inhabits a different time.
That’s the other point of the play. The way I understand
it is that it depicts a gathering of ghosts, each
pre-occupied with problems that haunted them at some point
in their lives. That theory works, at least most of the
It’s a play full of anachronisms, so let’s approach it
chronologically. We start with a man called Ambrol Josef Diercknecht, the
character played by Ian White. A master mariner born in
Brussels in about 1816, Diercknecht was better known to
Pittwater locals as Joe Benns. He leased Scotland Island
in 1855. And, yes, he is indeed credited with rebuilding
Andrew Thompson’s house with the assistance of an old
bullock. Later, Joe successfully challenged his landlord’s
title over the island and became its owner.
Around 20 years after moving to the island, Joe married Catherine Benns. Born in 1838,
Benns was descended from Bungaree, an Indigenous man who was
an adolescent at the time of the 1788 invasion, and whom
the British dubbed ‘Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe’ and
even ‘King of the Blacks’. Thanks, Wikipedia!
Bouffier's wine depot was at 97 Oxford St. The
premises remain a liquor store to this day.
Joe brought Catherine to live on the island and, perhaps
coincidentally, Catherine became known as its ‘Queen’.
In 1920, the year of Catherine’s death, the Royal
Australian Historical Society described Catherine as
possessing fine jewellery, made from coral and gold. It
also refers to a belief that Catherine ‘buried the greater
part of her treasures on the island’. And thus the scene
is set for Jasper’s farce.
The play is accurate in that Catherine did indeed act as
midwife for many Pittwater families. But perhaps Jasper’s
most notable contrivance is his portrayal of Joe as
inconsolable in the aftermath of Catherine’s death.
In truth, Joe died in 1900, predeceasing Catherine by 20
years. In 1903 Catherine moved from the island to Bayview,
although it seems that she continued to regularly row
herself across to the island well into her 60s.
Our attention now turns to the other Catherine. Born
Catherine Gattenhof, Catherine Bouffier (played by Sophie
Lepowic), was from German stock. But, as pointed out by
our punctilious Historian, Catherine herself was born in
Australia. On 11 June 1857, to be precise.
In 1880 Catherine married Frank Bouffier, whose father had
established a successful vineyard near Cessnock. Frank
died in 1898, leaving Catherine to carry on his wine depot
on Oxford Street. In the play Catherine is pre-occupied by
financial difficulties. In reality, Catherine’s business
was hugely successful, particularly at its peak between
1901 and 1903, when it was described as the ‘largest in
the Southern Hemisphere’.
part of Florence Bouffier was played by Lisa
On the other hand, Catherine had a lot of difficulties to
overcome, including misogyny, not to mention the untimely
loss of her husband, as well as that of three of her six
One child who survived Catherine was Florence. Born in
1891, Florence (played by Lisa Day) met Herbert
Fitzpatrick (Larry Woods) in 1922. At the time
Fitzpatrick, a land developer, had his eye on Scotland
Island. Attempts had been made in 1906, and again in 1911,
to subdivide Scotland Island, but they had been largely
unsuccessful, with just a handful of waterfront blocks
selling. Fitzpatrick bought the island at around the time
he married Florence and the couple honeymooned in a house
on what is now Florence Terrace.
The play portrays Herbert as something of a buffoon. In
reality he was far more shrewd, realising that the island
would be sold off more successfully if packaged into
smaller blocks. Put simply, Herbert took the unsold
waterfront blocks and divided each into three, thus
increasing the number of blocks on the island from 121 to
more like 350.
Compared to earlier efforts at sub-division, Herbert’s was
a success. Even so, he did not foresee the Great
Depression. In the words of his granddaughter, Vivianne
Byrne, he ‘found out the hard way that it was very hard to
sell blocks of land on the urban fringe, especially at
Scotland Island’. Florence and Herbert encountered other
difficulties, including bushfires, legal disputes and
problems with contractors and the council. The couple fell
on relatively hard times and, despite Herbert’s wild
optimism at the end of the play, Scotland Island never
became the real estate bonanza he (or the real estate
angel) hoped for.
Devine, played by Betsi Beem
We should also say a word about Tilly Devine (Betsi Beem). In
keeping with the play’s anachronistic nature, Devine
wasn’t even born until five months after Joe Benns’ death,
and so would have been hard-pressed to help him find his
wife’s treasure. That said, Devine did indeed have a house
on Scotland Island (close to Catherine Park). I am assured
by its current owner that he really has found numerous
drunken gin bottles in the yard.
In summary, our fastidious historian must remonstrate with
Jasper at his sloppy historical research. But what a fun
way to stoke an island’s curiosity about its past. Thanks,
Jasper, for writing this play for our community. You did
his enthusiasm, Larry Woods' character
(Herbert Fitzpatrick) received a disappointing
return on his Scotland Island investment
Iredale, the play's co-producer, interviews
three descendants of Catherine Benns. The two
women are (left to right): Carol Wells and
Jann Hawkins, two of Catherine's
great-great-granddaughters. Between them is
Neil Evers, whose great-grandfather was
Catherine's nephew. Photo courtesy of Oneill
Those who attended the matinee performance of the play had
an additional treat, a Q&A session with three
descendants of Catherine Benns, the woman who lived on
Scotland Island from around 1855 until 1903.
Following the performance one of those descendants, Jann
Hawkins, kindly sent Robyn Iredale some photos of Scotland
Island, taken by Jann's grandfather. The photos date from
1922, close to the time when the island was acquired by
With Jann's permission I reproduce the photos below. Two
were taken at a camp believed to be in what is now
Catherine Park, and include descendants of 'Granny Benns',
as Jann calls her. Also included is a postcard, written by
Catherine herself. There is evidence to suggest that,
earlier in life, Catherine (1838 - 1920) was illiterate.
But this postcard, probably written around 1900, implies
that she later learned to write.
Benns and a postcard written by her to her
granddaughter, Emily. It reads:
Emily, I am sorry you thought I had forgotten
you but I expected a letter from you. I will be
home on Tuesday if it is fine. It is rainy here
yesterday & today. Love from all, Your
loving grandmother, K Benns.'
camp, built by Catherine Benns' descendants in
1922, believed to be in what is now Catherine
Park, Scotland Island.
those at the camp were Adelaide Godbold,
Catherine's granddaughter, and Adelaide's
nephew (Catherine's great-grandson) Norman
Godbold. Adelaide's mother (and Norman's
grandmother), Emily, grew up on the island
during the second half of the 19th century.
cast and crew of the play, photo courtesy of
Never did I think that at 78 I would be following in the
footsteps of my friends, Bob Bolton and Kerry Borthwick,
and producing a play on Scotland Island. The idea for the
play sprang from the café and the desire to tell more
about some of the characters in the history of this
island. The focus on two women, the two Catherines, was
deliberate and a way of righting history’s traditional
focus on men - such as Andrew Thompson and Herbert
The biggest challenge was to find an appropriate
playwright and commission a script. In this I was guided
by Greg Waters, Carol Floyd and Roy Baker. We then
conducted two workshops on our Indigenous and
non-Indigenous history. It then became a team effort to
turn the first ‘treatment’ into a viable play. It was a
very interactive process, especially between the
playwright (Jasper Marlow, son of Chris Hampshire) and
Once the script was ready, in June 2022, the call for cast
and crew began. This netted a number of people, most
notably Sophie Lepowic who had just moved to Elvina Bay.
Sophie brought a long history of involvement in theatre
and an enthusiasm that was infectious. She became the
Director and also played Catherine Bouffier. Other cast
were then sought until we filled all the roles. A few arms
had to be twisted and new players found, as some of the
older players on the island felt they were not able to
I did not know that rehearsals could be such fun. The
combination of personalities was exciting as Sophie worked
to get the outcome she was looking for. Throughout this
process Gilly Unwin kept everyone fed and watered and Kay
Reaney filled in many of the missing pieces. So much work
goes on behind the scenes and this was a true community
effort. Lighting, music, sound, stage and set, costumes,
ticket sales, promotion and advertising, front of house,
catering and bar all drew on different people.
To everyone who participated I wish to say a big thank
you! You were a wonderful team and you made the process
very enjoyable. To those who attended the performances,
thank you for helping us break even on the play. Now the
challenge will be to keep the momentum going and start
looking for the next play. I hope that some new and
different people will be tempted to join in next time.
Saturday 1 July, 7 - 9
Saturday 29 July, 7 -
Club asks for $5 per person per attendance to
Scotland Island Fire
Sunday 2 July, 10 am -
To register for
attendance at the AGM, click here.
Please pay your
annual subscription ($20) ASAP to the following
Scotland Island Rural Fire Brigade
BSB: 082 294
Tuesdays, 9 - 11.30 am
you, council, for fixing our roof!
Children in the Island Playgroup using
the Rec Centre cubby house.
and their children, from babies to four, are meeting
in the park and playgrounds on Tuesdays from 9 till
11.30am, weather permitting. If there were a few
more of us, it would be worth hiring the hall
through winter and organising some inside activities
too. Anyone else interested? Have a chat with me on
0406 806 648.
Tuesday 4 July, 6 - 9
Wednesday 5 July, 10
am - 12 noon
Scotland Island Fire
Sunday 16 July, 9 am -
Brigade members are
encouraged to attend our monthly training session.
If you are interested
in joining the brigade, you will find further
information on the brigade's website
Tuesday 18 July, 11 am
- 12.30 pm
The Recreation Club runs a discussion group,
meeting on the third Tuesday of each month, from 11
am to 12.30 pm in the Recreation Centre. Everyone is
Members take it in turn to design a session. At the
June session, Kathy James asked the group to think
about what makes travel fulfilling, how it can be
done more ethically and how tourism can be managed
For the July meeting Sarah Palomka asks us to
consider the media's role in racial prejudice.
Indigenous journalist Stan Grant recently stepped
back as presenter of the ABC current affairs program
Q&A. In doing so he referred to racial hatred
and to the media's role in racism, referring to the
media as 'too often the poison in the bloodstream of
If Stan Grant blames the media, recognising himself
as part of the problem, what is the problem with the
1. Watch Stan Grant's Q&A leaving speech,
2. Read 'Stan Grant spoke the truth, but the media
didn't listen', Independent Australia
The group is administered
via a WhatsApp group, which will be used to distribute
further information about this and future discussions.
If you would like to be added to the group, send your
mobile phone number to email@example.com
Alternatively, contact Jane Rich (firstname.lastname@example.org) for
more information or to express your interest in
The Recreation Club asks for $5 per person per
attendance to defray expenses.
Sunday 23 July, 10
am - 12 noon
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expressed in this newsletter are not
necessarily the views of the Scotland Island
Residents Association (SIRA),
or the Western Pittwater Community