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Musical gives voice to the voiceless

Michele Frankeni  |  29 October 2018

John Brown and Warren Wills rehearsing for Night of Broken GlassA protest against racial persecution, held 80 years ago, is the catalyst for a multi-ethnic, multi-diverse, multi-media musical in Melbourne in November.

In December 1938, William Cooper, 77, a Yorta Yorta man and secretary of the Australian Aborigines League, walked with friends and family 10km across Melbourne to the German Consulate to protest the persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government.

That event forms the basis for the musical theatre production Night of Broken Glass, directed by Warren Wills.


Warren said a newspaper report of the oppression of Jewish people on what is referred to as Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) so incensed William Cooper he wrote a letter asking for the Nazi government to end the persecution of its fellow citizens.

“Of course, the letter was rejected at the time. However, it has now been accepted by [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel.

“William Cooper stood up rather than stood by.”

Warren, who works with the Haringey Shed Theatre Company, an organisation that helps North London’s troubled teenagers, first heard of William Cooper in 2011.

He was invited by Dr Beth Rankin, of Australian Catholic University’s Creative Arts department, to do a theatre project with youth in Shepparton.


“There were a number of disengaged youth and a high degree of illiteracy and innumeracy. It was while I was looking for somebody or something that would interest the young people, I came across the story of William Cooper.

“I thought ‘why didn’t we know about him?’ After years of Australian schooling I think the only Indigenous person I could name was Evonne Goolagong.”


While William Cooper’s story is central to the performance, the 300 participants will also tell other stories connected with the time.

“We want to give voice to the voiceless by engaging as many different groups as possible. We do not discriminate on ethnicity, gender, race, ability or disability, students or youth,” Warren said.

A performer, as well as creative and technical assistant, John Brown has co-written a song about American radio journalist Dorothy Thompson, who was ejected from Germany for what she termed ‘blasphemy against the Fuhrer’. 

John, who has been homeless and a member of the Choir of Hard Knocks, said he loved being part of the project.


Warren said there were specific elements of the production of which he was proud. These include the testimonies of William Cooper’s grandson Alf Turner (Uncle Boydie), who has become a friend; Kurt Wildeberg who was seven when he escaped from Germany the evening of Kristallnacht and Gary Sokolov, the son of Lale Sokolov whose story has been told in the book the Tattooist of Auschwitz.  

“You might think this is grim viewing but we have a group of pre-schoolers who sing about Lale and Gita, the woman he loves. They are not too young to learn that good people can end up in bad places.

“We have five generations of people involved,” Warren said.

Performances will be held on Sunday 18 November at Cathedral Hall, Australian Catholic University, 20 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, at 3pm and 6pm. Tickets are available from  

Image: John Brown and Warren Wills (at piano) rehearsing for Night of Broken Glass.

William Cooper Song from Kaleidoscope, June 2018:



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