BY JOHN COUNSEL
If you’re wondering where that missing BIG picture is that shows the REAL me, this photo isn’t it. That picture simply doesn’t exist. Like all Aspies — and people in general — I’m an unique composite of many different characteristics and influences. Rather than focus on the puzzle pieces that are missing, I much prefer to focus on what’s right here, right now!
The collection of photos and recollections below is probably as close as it gets.
This page is here to show you the kinds of things, people and influences that have shaped me into who and what I am today.
It’s not intended to impress you with my achievements or talents, abilities, etc. Rather, I’m hoping you’ll get the message that life is for living… seize it by the throat and enjoy it!
One of the things I liked most about Baz Luhrman’s movie, “Strictly Ballroom”, was the way that so many characters who had been bullied, especially verbally and emotionally, finally stood up and said “Enough! No more!” — then went on to become winners… in their own ways and on their own terms.
Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s how we learn to get things right. You learned to walk by falling over, then getting up and trying again, again and again. You learned to talk in the same way.
We only fail when we GIVE UP or refuse to try!
It all started right here, with this pair, who married in February 1945 while still enlisted in the Australian Army toward the end of World War 2, Len as a machine gunner/instructor and Mollie as a cook, both based at Bonegilla Army Camp near Albury-Wodonga. Both had grown up around Wonthaggi and district. He had waited for her for six years or more.
That same year — 1961 — would be the first time I set eyes on this beautiful girl who, unbeknown to me at the time, would eventually become the love of my life and the most important person of all for me on this crazy roller-coaster ride.
Marg announced one evening that the annual one-act plays competition at her new school, MacRobertson Girls’ High School, was being held that week. Our family loved live theatre, so we went to watch and enjoy.
I was very impressed by one actress in particular, whose performance and stage presence were truly attention-grabbing. I had a strong feeling that I’d be seeing her again — MacRob is the sister school of Melbourne High School — and so I checked her name in the program… Lynne Ure.
It would be another year before we were introduced, ironically in the make-up room of the Melbourne High School hall/theatre where I was making-up for my role in the annual school play — and she was similarly impressed by my performance and stage presence.
We finally became friends in 1964, when we both attended Toorak Teachers College (now part of Deakin University). As I sauntered down the drive toward the assembly area to begin Orientation Week on our first day, Lynne was sitting with a small group of friends on the lawn. She spotted me and called to me to join them, which I happily did.
We never dated until after we graduated, but by then we were really good friends.
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The years since then have flown by. At secondary college she was told by her school’s Careers Advisor that she’d be unlikely to complete Year 12 and any kind of university studies would be out of the question.
True to form, she was not only Dux of Music — at a different college — but has since graduated with a Bachelor of Music (Classical Voice) and a Graduate Diploma of Music from WAAPA in Perth, and is currently — 2019-2020 — studying for a Master’s Degree in Opera (Performance) at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music at Melbourne University — and rehearsing/performing the lead role in Benjamin Britten’s comic opera, “Albert Herring”.
Reviews of “Albert Herring” from 29 and 30 March 2019
“It’s hard to imagine a more iron-fisted Lady Billows, Loxford’s May Day festival organiser, as full-bodied soprano Esther Counsel took reign of affairs with intimidating darting eyes. Pounding the floor as she did the text with smashing expressive largesse, Counsel’s big, bold and artful technique was a force to reckon with.”
— Paul Selar’s review in Limelight Magazine, 29 March 2019
Lady Billows (Lady of the local manor) — Esther Counsel (Dramatic Soprano)
“Imagine Hyacinth Bucket with all the authority and entitlement of an actual aristocrat, an all-seeing, withering glare and an intimidatingly powerful voice and strident manner and you have a glimpse of this charismatic character who dominates the stage in a bravura performance by dramatic soprano, Esther Counsel. Astonishing vocal power, range and sheer stamina!
Counsel’s performance was consistently maintained, with flashes of approval and pleasure, nicely nuanced, to ensure the audience caught glimpses of a warmer, softer side beneath that seemingly relentless disapproval and impatience. Her skillful makeup added decades to her appearance.”
— Music theatre critic Cú Chulainn in ‘Reviews by Cu Chulainn’, 30 March 2019
Esther performed the role of the Night Queen in Opera Victoria’s June 2019 production of “Alice Through the Opera Glass” at the Victorian Arts Centre.
- Learn more about Esther — and an event that saw joy turn to nightmare because of unexpected neural overload for me!
- Esther’s Facebook Page — https://www.facebook.com/esthercounselsoprano/
Lynne and I created The Children’s Theatre Company of Victoria in the late 1970s. In 1986-7 I wrote a pantomime at the request of Miriam and Naomi, then 6 and 4 years old, for our whole family to perform. The photos (below) are from a season in 1987 touring Western Victoria for theVictorian Arts Council and the Geelong Saturday Club… “The Secret of the Silver Sorcerer”.
Miriam and Naomi had ambushed me on my way to make my first entrance as Trooper Trott in the panto “The Hobyahs” at the National Theatre in St Kilda in January 1986 — and refused to let me pass until I agreed to their request.
Lynne and I also ran our own theatre restaurant comedy company in South Gippsland for more than a decade, called The Lunatic Fringe Company. We played a circuit of hotels and restaurants all year round (Friday and Saturday nights — expanding to six nights per week during the summer months). It was fun… until it wasn’t any more, so we went into permanent hiatus.
Altogether, we created more than 16 original shows, including musicals, pantomimes, school productions and more. I’d write and produce and play in the band, Lynne would direct and we’d often both perform. Often our kids would be on-stage as well. Always a lot of fun, and our kids loved being involved. We now have three opera singers, and this is where our son, Josh began to learn his craft as an internationally renowned makeup and special effects artist.
Music has played a huge role throughout my life, and it doesn’t matter much what genre… as long as it’s good, I love to hear it. My first musical instrument, at age 3, was a small, plastic trombone kazoo on which I’d play popular tune I’d hear on our radio. I loved being able produce music!
My second musical instrument was a cornet. When I turned 10, my parents allowed me to join the local brass band, along with my best friend, Geoff. The bandmaster was a legendary jazz trumpeter — and bandmaster — named Matt Cameron. He tutored us several times a week and we progressed quickly. Geoff and I both benefited right through our lives from the exceptional breathing and diaphragm control techniques we learned during those years.
Later, at Melbourne High School, I played with the 66-member cadet band and the orchestra.
My first musical group was formed with two close friends, Dennis Woodford — an electrical engineering student, and Ross Laird, a student librarian and budding musicologist with an extraordinary knowledge and collection of jazz music.
Our passion, from 1963 to 1966, before our lives and studies — and our hearts —eventually led us off in different directions, was folk music. So we sang and played together privately, building a huge repertoire of several hundred Australian, Irish, Scottish and English songs — reflecting our combined heritages — plus a lot of songs of our own (most of them satirical and political).
We called ourselves the True Patriots Three (a nod to the book “True Patriots All” by Geoffrey Ingleton, published in 1952, courtesy of Ross.)
Our first professional gig was in 1964, when I spotted an ad for folk singers in the newspaper. I called the venue owner and arranged an audition, without telling Ross or Dennis, because the ad was for individual singers… and I wanted to see if they were open to hiring a trio. They were, and we started, without any audition, the following Saturday night, at the infamous Opal Mine in Kew. Our time slot was from midnight to 4:00 am.
As luck would have it, we weren’t the greatest singers, but we somehow appealed to our quite fanatical audiences, who had a really good time listening and singing along with us. Our starting time of midnight, Saturday night, coincided with closing time at several nearby ethnic community clubs, and we quickly attracted packed houses, much to the owner’s delight.
We were infectious, with a larrikin, kiss-my-arse style, and the venue owners at several folk lounges soon took notice of us — and especially the loyal, overflow crowds we attracted. Our regular venues were the Opal Mine, the Bastille, the Colonial Inn and a couple of others. We were also in demand for private functions.
We even featured on ABC television as part of singer-actor Jim Smillie’s national folk music program.
In 1966 we recorded ourselves simply to have a memento to keep for ourselves, which promptly disappeared until, in early 2015, a CD arrived from Dennis, now a Professor of Electrical Engineering with a global reputation in green energy generation and power transmission over very long distances, arrived in the mail. It was a very happy surprise.
- Listen to a track from our home-recorded album: “Follow Me Up To Carlow”
My second singing group was a jug and skiffle band, formed through serendipity. My good mate and business partner, Greg Simmons, and I were jamming with a new friend, John Warner, a folk music enthusiast from Leongatha, a neighbouring town.
We were at our home because I was babysitting the kids in 1974 while Lynne was at a planning meeting for the local hospital’s annual charity ball. We’d only just met John, who played a really mean blues harp and the three of us were well into our impromptu jamming when Lynne arrived home to fetch something she needed at her meeting.
She heard us playing, listened with interest, then informed us that the floor show act her committee had booked had just bailed on them, leaving them high and dry, with only days to go until the ball. We, she declared with finality, were the new floor show!
So Greg and I got to work to create a name and visual presence for us in time for the ball.
We chose the name The South Dudley Sewerage Authority All-Electric Light, Bike, Pipe and Dyke Ensemble (for the contractors installing the new sewerage system in our town, with about the same level of skill as The Three Stooges.)
Long story short, we were a smash hit, right from our opening number “Walk Right In, Sit Right Down”, and were inundated with bookings and enquiries. Unfortunately, this was to be our onlyperformance because John Warner was moving the very next day to Canberra, where he lived for years before moving to Sydney.
So we recruited our wives — both art/craft teachers at local primary schools — and my long-time friend, Jo Stone, the art/craft teacher at the local high school, to pick up the opportunity… and all those lucrative bookings!
We played together for several years until Greg and Lyn moved to Churchill, Victoria, and Jo moved back to Melbourne. But it was a LOT of fun while it lasted!
That’s nowhere near all of the different influences that have moulded me over the 73 years I’ve been alive.
If you’re really interested in learning more about me — or you’re just a glutton for punishment (sorry, I can’t help fix that) — you can learn about my professional and business careers, mentors, peer opinions, etc in this PDF profile document…
Some of my successful business books, several published in multiple languages…
I hope you’ve enjoyed this very brief glimpse into my life, and that you understand that this is only a tiny part of who and what I am.
Thanks for sticking with me this far!
PS: Did someone say something about Aspies having no sense of humour?
PPS: Learn more about my public and business lives here: Who’s John?
PPPS: View my original announcement to the world at large of my Aspie status at About.me in 2003.
©2018 John Counsel. All rights reserved.