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Bud Tingwell and I


Bud Tingwell in TulipCharles 'Bud' Tingwell, 3 January 1923–15 May 2009

I only met Bud Tingwell once. Like so many others, I went away the better for the brief encounter. But the meeting also led me to ask questions about what matters, and how we should nurture it in Australian society.

I had not planned to see him. I was cycling through rural Victoria enjoying myself and also learning a lot about life in the country as I went. One Sunday I arrived at Yarram, a Gippsland town. I discovered that I had arrived in time for the Yarram Film Festival. So I decided to go along.

The whole town was involved in staging and attending the Festival. For a hungry cyclist the afternoon tea alone justified the modest price of admission. The film was a retrospective — the 1957 British film, The Shiralee, in which Tingwell had a minor role.

The film wore its age surprisingly well. But the highlight came at the end of the film, when Tingwell himself came on to the stage, talked about the movie and reminisced about his life as an actor.

I was struck particularly by the generous way in which he spoke of other actors. He mentioned their foibles but always in the context of their professional skills and personal qualities. To him they were part of a guild who practised their skills as a gift for their audiences.

Bud Tingwell in TulipIn particular I remember his stories about Margaret Rutherford whose films with Alastair Sim had given me great delight as a child. Tingwell spoke of her as a genial and hard-working actor whose passion was a project to turn around the lives of troubled young people by involving them in theatre.

When I met him I mentioned how much I had enjoyed his acting in Tulip, a short film based on a story much told in our family. His immediate response was to talk generously of the people with whom he had been involved in the film. He spoke of them as actors, but first as persons.

As I reflected on the event afterwards, I was struck by the fact that Tingwell, by then an elderly man, should give so fully of his time and energy to contribute to a country festival. He instinctively saw the importance of community events, and had put himself out to encourage people to make connections.

For him acting was about making connections: the actor's connection with an audience, but also the connections between the members of an audience, and between the audience and their wider world. What was done on the stage at Yarram was as important to him as what was done in Melbourne. In this he represented the best of the repertory tradition in Britain.

I was also struck by his dedication to acting as a life's work. For him it was a craft to be respected, and he saw himself as a modest, painstaking craftsman. He measured his fellow actors, not by the celebrity that they had achieved, but by their commitment to acting and the generosity with which they gave themselves to acting and to the community. He enjoyed others' gifts and also their success.

Bud Tingwell in TulipTingwell's values give us pause to think about what matters to us as Australians. They suggest that Australia might be a better place if we valued what he valued. People with skills in performance — in music, drama, film, even in sports — are often measured publicly by their celebrity. Although their peers may recognise them for their skills, in public representation their skills are defined by their recognition.

In itself this is not problematic, but the cult of celebrity means government funds follow celebrity. Governments favour the organisations at the top of the tree that produce celebrities. They get the parkland and subsidies, direct and indirect. If nurturing the craft matters, as Bud Tingwell's life suggests, governments would benefit Australia more by offering small grants to local theatres, concert halls and ovals where people learn to perform.

Tingwell's visit to Yarram also suggests the importance of making connections and of encouraging the activities that connect people. He saw acting as a way of making connection, and valued both the craft and those engaged in it. He saw the importance of things that gather people together: country film festivals, small theatre companies, projects to help young offenders make connections. He encouraged the local and the small as the embryo of connection.

If he was right in this, it suggests that in encouraging social inclusion, economic efficiency is an ineffective master. Economy of scale, the preference for profit making organisations can deliver services. But small community groups connected organically to local communities are much more likely to touch human lives and offer invitations that people will accept.

If, as Bud Tingwell believed, it is people who matter, then nurturing and healing begin at the roots and not at the flower.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He also teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne. Images from Tulip courtesy Film Depot.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, bud tingwell, yarram film festival



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Existing comments

Thank you

As always, so worth the read and a timely reminder to nurture where it really makes a difference

Pondering seriously as I read about whether the Rugby League and indeed many sporting groups could restructure on this principle....what a difference for all young players in school if there was a concerted effort to give back to the community

Judy George | 20 May 2009  

Tulip is a short gentle film directed by a famous Australian actress [Rachael Griffiths?]. Tulip is the milking cow of an old couple on a farm. The beloved wife dies and Tulip will not be milked by anyone else and bellows in pain. The husband tries everything but manages to milk Tulip by donning his wife's clothes to trick Tulip. The subliminal message is that the husband needs to be more like his lost wife, gentle and giving and patient.

Margaret O'Connor | 20 May 2009  

Thanks Andy. What a lovely memory to recall. A chance meeting with a 'real' person in a 'real' place with 'real' stuff to say makes the cult of celebrity seem even more hollow. A definite yes to respecting Australian performers for their skill and commitment rather than status on the celebrity ladder.

Clare Locke | 20 May 2009  

Thank you, Andrew for reflecting on and writing about Bud Tingwell's human qualities, some of which have been written about by others, though not so succintly.

I had never met Bud, but had enjoyed his appearances in films and on TV over many years. It is always encouraging to know that the real person behind the actor is a very whole human being.

Maryrose Dennehy | 20 May 2009  

A generous, warm piece, Andrew. You do what you admired in him.

Joe Castley | 20 May 2009  

Thanks Andrew - and perhaps you are asking us to think more carefully about church and theological college priorities and living?

Charles Sherlock | 20 May 2009  

Thanks Andy,

I enjoy reading your thoughts and articles, and have never told you so! Hopefully we'll re-connect some day, maybe even at Fitzroy. Peace, Michael

Michael Herry | 20 May 2009  

Tulip is a wise gift of a film, with many subliminal messages and powerful images of what the experience of grief often is. I'm not surprised it was loved in your family, Andrew. I have used Tulip for the last few years in teaching about grief to students in postgraduate palliative care courses, both in Adelaide and in Singapore ( to students from all over SE Asia). Despite its quintessential Australian-ness, the film's images and symbols speak eloquently to all of the students, in ways much more effectively than I can in mere words. Bud Tingwell's understated and poignant acting is a rich part of this.

Meg Hegarty | 20 May 2009  

Dear Andrew,

I particularly valued your remarks about Bud Tingwell and his focussing on the things that matter. For several years I worshipped in the same church and had quite a bit of contact with him. He was generous enough to me to read one of my poems at a book launch. He was always the same: a gentle caring man with a huge loving heart. We will miss him.

Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 20 May 2009  

Thank you Andrew. I also had a brief meeting with Bud when he volunteered his time on a student film on which I worked. I can vouch for his warmth, patience and enthusiasm working with a young crew learning their craft, and was struck by both his commitment to acting and to the film community.

Luke | 23 May 2009  

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