Actor, Director, and Playwright.
Ron was born on 11th February 1936 at his family home, 76 Queens Road. He was the first child of May and Bob Hamilton. Two years later his sister Shirley was born.
His Primary School education took place at Hermit Park State School and that was followed by two years Secondary Commercial studies at the old Townsville State High School on the corner of Walker and Stanley Streets.
In his youth he attended the Presbyterian Church on Charters Towers Road where he played the organ and taught Sunday school. In his teens he and Shirley joined the Presbyterian Fellowship Australia where he experienced his first taste of performing, appearing in church concerts.
After his schooling finished he went to work for Queensland Rail in 1952. After 8 years he changed jobs and worked at Woolworths for two years, starting as a trainee floor manager.
Following Woolworths, Ron moved to 4TO in 1962 where he was appointed as Office Manager. In 1967 Ron started at the ABC as a TV newsreader and weather man. He also fronted a day-time show called “Carousel”, where he interviewed locals with diverse fields of interest. These made him one of the most recognised faces in the North. After 5 years at the ABC doing shift work he decided that he needed a job with regular office hours because he had two young children at home, so he returned to the office manager’s job at 4TO.
For 10 years during his time at 4TO in the 70s and 80s, Ron broadcast the Anzac Day Ceremony live from the Cenotaph on The Strand to NQ listeners.
Ron made his first appearance on the Theatre Royal stage in April 1953 in the Townsville Theatrical Society’s production of “Knight’s Move”.
Later that same year he joined St. James’ Players where he spent most of his early theatre life. Their home base was at Synod Hall behind the Cathedral, on Melton Hill. He appeared in, or was in the production team, for more than 30 plays in the years 1954 to 1968, directing his first play, “The Reluctant Debutante” in 1959.
One part he particularly enjoyed was Pothinus in Shaw’s “Caesar & Cleopatra”. He was the manipulating power behind the throne of the boy king Ptolemy. The Bulletin critic wrote of his performance that he was, “deliciously evil”.
While with St James’ Players, he also began theatre workshops where people could learn the rudiments of acting and stage-craft and he had them performing in one-act plays which they took to church concerts and even Stuart prison.
It was around this time that a young lady named Jean Bird entered Ron’s life. She was one of the people who came to his theatre workshops and in 1964 they were married. Two children followed, Warwick in 1967 and Tiffany in 1970.
During the 1960s the North Queensland Drama Festival was a major annual event taking place on the Queen’s Birthday weekend. Theatre groups from Cairns and the Tablelands to Mount Isa in the west and south to Rockhampton took part.
He either acted in or directed plays for this event, receiving the Best Actor Award in 1966 and Best Production in 1967.
Ron also entered some play-writing competitions and, as a result, two of these were published. The first was “The Spiders”, written in 1964 and published by Queensland University Press in 1970 in a book of One-Act Plays. The second was “Vacancy” written in 1976 and published by Playlab Press in 1978.
Both of these plays have gone on to be performed around Australia at various Drama Festivals and have met with success on numerous occasions.
Ron’s proudest moment was when a group of actors from New York City asked permission to perform “Vacancy” as part of “An Evening of 3 One-act Plays” called “Here” (USA), “There” (UK) and “Down Under” (Australia). “Here” was “Birdbath”, by Leonard Melfi, a play Ron had previously directed for a festival, “There” was Harold Pinter’s “The Lover”, and of course “Down Under” was represented by “Vacancy”. He indeed was in very good company as part of that trio.
Meanwhile, in 1967, Lyle Hillway and Mal Hodges had formed the Stage Door Theatre in a rather small building in Flinders Street East. Their first play opened on 30th December that year. Ron joined this group as an actor and director. Plays were presented continually throughout the year. Each production ran for six weeks, on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. While one show was on stage, another would be in rehearsal. When the current play finished on Saturday night, the set would be struck, the new set assembled on Sunday so the new show opened just a few days later, on Wednesday night.
This was based on the English Repertory’s method of operation, however, all the Stage Door actors, directors, techs and back stage workers were completely unpaid. Other than that, it was truly professional theatre.
The final night of the Theatre Royal featured a short play by the Stage Door ensemble, and when the Civic Theatre was opened in 1978, they were asked to perform the first play on the new stage. The production chosen was “How the Other Half Loves” which had earlier completed a successful season at the extremely small home stage. The cast included Mal & Lyle, Esme Crocker, Lyn Tarring and Mervyn Smith. It was directed by Ron, who re-blocked it on the much, much larger Civic stage; it was a tremendous success.
The opening of the new Civic Theatre did, however, make it more difficult for the old Stage Door to survive as they were competing with a plethora of shows at the new venue, so in 1979 the decision was made by Mal & Lyle to close the small theatre after 11 wonderful years, and create the new Stage Door Theatre Restaurant in premises on Flinders Street East formerly occupied by the Edelweiss Restaurant, now Dynasty.
Patrons were treated to a 3 course dinner followed by a topical revue; this was a new concept to most Townsville audiences. As part of the first show, Ron was asked to write a satirical musical number about Flo Bjelke-Petersen. This was a smash hit with audiences so, as the shows progressed so did the number of clever and witty scripts created by Ron. He quite enjoyed the writing and when he was not performing, he sat behind the audience to get their reaction using this knowledge to fine-tune his work accordingly.
In 1981, Ron eventually left his job at 4TO to become the office manager of the Stage Door. They moved across the road to the then James Cook Tavern (now Cactus Saloon) which was an area that could house a bar and restaurant downstairs and dedicate the entire upstairs area for the stage, around 130 patrons and an office. Mind you as with the original small theatre, followed by the first Theatre Restaurant and then this one, there was still a chronic lack of dressing room space, to which those of us who changed there can attest.
The Stage Door Theatre Restaurant closed its doors in 1988. It had become a much loved Townsville institution over those many years. Mal & Lyle took the concept and name to the Gold Coast where they performed for the next 6 years before the era came to an end.
After the local closure, Ron, who had already been in some shows with the Townsville Choral Society, decided to re-join them to keep up his interest in theatre. Stage Door stalwarts Muriel and Charlie Jones were now also at a loose end so he also talked them into joining as well.
The Choral Society had started their own theatre restaurant with Rod Wilson at the helm and so started another 10 years of happy times with a whole bunch of new people.
He was also a member of “The Choralaires”, a group of seniors from the Choral Society led by Dawn Wakelin. The choir visited many of the Nursing Homes, providing entertainment for people most of whom could no longer get out and about.
At the end of his working life he was a door-keeper at the Civic Theatre from October of 1999 to July 2007; it was a job he loved, talking to people he had known throughout the years.
Ron was an early member of Friends of the Theatre and produced a very interesting and chatty newsletter for some years, always including an interview with a well-known theatre person in each missive; all of them were absorbing reading. Later, he and Jean helped with FOTT’S “Coffee Corner” at the Civic. He also took part in the FOTT Concerts at PIMPAC and helped with front-of-house.
Ron’s other interests included Townsville Rostrum which at the time sponsored “The Voice of Youth” public speaking competition. He was one of the adjudicators for most of these events and he met with many of the entrants afterwards to give them ideas on how to improve their presentations. He also helped friends’ young children to prepare for the Eisteddfod.
In 2013 Ron & Jean sold their home of 47 years in Bayswater Road and moved to Villa McAuley.
Ron past away peacefully on 2nd September 2019 aged 83.
(Ray Dickson – used here with permission)