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THE HANDS AND EYES DO MUCH OF THE TALKING WHEN IT COMES TO A CHAT WITH JACQUELINE HORNE. THE JOYS OF LIFE SPARKLE WITHIN THIS LAUNCESTON MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER, ARTS DOYENNE, CHARITY WORKER AND GIFTED COOK, MAKING IT EASY TO IMAGINE THAT THE PHRASE ‘LIGHTING UP A ROOM’ COULD HAVE BEEN COINED FOR HER.

With this septuagenarian, every turn of conversation brings an emphasising hand gesture, a twinkle in the eye or a contagious chuckling laugh that captivates the listener. Jacqueline has always loved the arts, theatre in particular, and the stage and Launceston audiences have always loved Jacqueline.

Her name is synonymous with some of the Launceston Players’ most lavish productions, whether it was treading the boards in a lead role – in Gigi, The Boyfriend and other dramas – or back stage as costume director, designer and dressmaker. And, as the Launceston Players celebrates an unbroken record of 80 years of continuous operation in 2006, it seems fitting to put one of its leading ladies, who include Margot Roarke, Pearl Treasure or Margaret Dick, in the spotlight. It could so easily have been a leading man – David Henty, Geoff Hockley or until Britain beckoned, Drew Fotheringham – such has been the commitment of so many to this northern community theatre group through the years.

As life has dealt each blessing or blow, Jacqueline seems to have performed the required roles with gracious ease. She’s revelled in the role of mother and grandmother – confiding only the tiniest regret that as much as she adores her grandsons, a granddaughter would have been wonderful so that she could have cosseted it in a fairyland of home-made fairy costumes, dolls’ clothes and princess tiaras.

For more than 50 years she was the devoted wife to one of Launceston’s most respected ‘grandfathers’ in business, Ronald Horne, who died unexpectedly in September, 2004. Neither merely played a cameo role in the community as throughout their married life each ‘pitched in’ to their full.

Ron founded the accountancy firm Horne, Stone and Welch, later Horne and Welch in Brisbane St, he was a justice of the peace and a dedicated supporter of the disabled and welfare groups, giving special attention to the St Giles Society from 1949. He was also the president of a clutch of worthy organisations, among them Rostrum, Lions Club Windmill Hill branch, and Lodge of Hope Masonic Lodge for 50 years, and a past president of the Launceston Players.

For Jacqueline, the theatre’s demand for timing precision, poise and pitching lines for maximum effect has also seen her in the role of chairman of the Launceston Arts Council and as an active life member of the Victorian League for Commonwealth Friendship and the St Giles Society. She lays claim also to being the longest serving “Meals On Wheels lady” in Launceston, a task she undertook almost 50 years ago in the days when married women were expected to undertake a ‘hobby’.

They were the days when she developed her skills as a caterer and dressmaker, and followed the diktats of the Mayoress of the day, Merlin White, who believed unreservedly in putting something back into the community.
 

“Even if you haven’t much money to give, you should give your time,” says, Jacqueline in respectful parody of Mrs White.

A medal received in recognition of her ‘contribution to arts and community organisations’ in 2003 confirms Jacqueline’s adherence to such a decree. “It was the time and the times for joining clubs,” says Jacqueline, explaining why club membership burgeoned in the late 1950s and ‘60s.

“I never had, nor will have, any intention of playing bridge, bowls, golf or taking up gardening,” she confesses. As she once told another community stalwart, Dr Lachlan Hardy Wilson, when he inquired as to what she would do as her energy levels began to wane, as they sadly but inevitably must: “I realise what I’m going to do is read books and drink gin.”

With similar matter-of-factness, following years of involvement with the Arts Council, more recently known as the National

Jacqueline also recalls the heady days of the opening night parties she instigated – and catered for – as a way to attract increased membership. “It was in the days of the Little Theatre when we needed to offer sprat to catch a mackerel, or ways to attract larger numbers of people to our opening nights, so I suggested the idea of an opening night party. This idea was taken up and we would entertain up to 400 people to a champagne supper on an opening night amid the grandeur and valuable paintings at the QV (Queen Victoria) Museum at Royal Park. Later these moved to the Albert Hall and various other venues, including a launch party at Inveresk to mark the opening of Fiddler On The Roof.

One of Jacqueline’s finest memories in her catering role, apart from a passing mention of wedding receptions for some of the more well-to-do landed gentry of the Midlands, was the welcoming supper for ballerina Margot Fonteyn, who danced in The Merry Widow at the Princess Theatre in 1977. “It was the largest and by

If you’re not a bit nervous, it means you don’t care enough.

Theatre and Fine Arts Society, and the recent wrangling over the future of the city’s museums, Jacqueline also admits to thinking that ‘some of our politicians should make theatre their stage’ given their propensity for pantomime in governance.

As chairman of the society she has been instrumental in achieving state and commonwealth grants for the arts, support that precipitated great change in the role of the original arts council. “Our once big membership used to entertain celebrities and work to acquire art for the museums, but since the merger into the Launceston Arts Council it’s more hands-on, which has disenchanted some of the founding members. We’ve graduated to community youth art, working with the disabled within the arts and within hospitals, which is very worthy.”

It’s a turn in the quick-fire conversation that has Jacqueline then pondering the changes being forced upon the Launceston Players in more modern times.

She reminisces briefly on the deep friendships that she and Ron made within the Launceston Players, lamenting the fast pace of today’s lifestyle that sees a huge roll-up for auditions and a commitment to ‘hoof it on stage’ for the duration of one production but will not see on-going dedication to the Players. “We don’t struggle for members and money is fine within the Launceston Players, but we do find it difficult to find people such as directors to commit. Meetings, too, have changed. We’ve always conducted them correctly but they once had more a feeling of a gathering of friends. Today, given the litigious state we live in, meetings are quite different in nature,” Jacqueline says.

far the best party, with 900 guests at the Albert Hall,” Jacqueline remembers of the pride the city took in hosting such a grand dame of the dance stage.

Other changes within the Players have included buying and selling real estate to house an enormous wardrobe and sets. “The National Theatre was a lovely theatre that could seat an audience of up to 700, but the ABC couldn’t fit in enough subscribers for its orchestral concerts and the Elizabethan Theatre Trust said it would come only if we could guarantee a larger audience, so we bought the Princess Theatre, which can seat 1,000 people.”

Today, that has extended to include another small theatre space to the side of the Princess Theatre in Earl St, which although it poses some problems in its seating design for elderly people, is continually booked out for performances. Launceston Players also once owned the site where the Design Centre of Tasmania now stands, which was known as the Little Theatre, but “we moved on to Chalmers Church, selling that some 10 or 12 years ago when rules and fire safety regulations made it too costly to keep and we received a quote for $56,000 to paint the exterior, “ Jacqueline says.

“Then we set up a costume hire service using our extensive wardrobe from a shop on Wellington St, but again insurance and costs involved became too great and we couldn’t get volunteers to staff it so began to lose money. These days we don’t have a home as such, but I don’t feel we need one.”

The Players’ wardrobe and sets are now housed within the Door Of Hope premises at South Launceston. Antiques valuer Di Tement and Jacqueline undertook the nostalgic and messy job of sorting 

out what to keep of the wardrobe. The costumes deemed dispensable were sold by auction at Victoria League House in Lyttleton St.

“We had an exhibition at Victoria League and the sale was fantastic. The retro stuff attracted collectors from Melbourne and Hobart.”

So how did Jacqueline get to hoof it on stage at the National, Little and Princess theatres in Launceston?

Jacqueline, who confesses to having more of a passion for ballet despite her height in childhood, recalls it was just while she was a very young mum of two daughters – Stephanie and Melanie.

“I gathered some females together and decided to have a women’s class in dance to keep new mums like me supple. I remember saying to Margot Roarke that I wished I knew more about the techniques of theatre, to which she replied ‘let’s have classes.’ Before I knew it, I was thrown into the role of Pearl in the stage classic The Year of the Seventeenth Doll with the Launceston Players and from then on it was several plays a year.”

Does she admit to ever having had stage nerves? “Of course,” Jacqueline says.

“If you’re not a bit nervous, it means you don’t care enough. Even the world-class people always admit to being nervous and some even hurl into buckets. Launceston relies on the Players and they know that they will see a good production, because we give it our all – nerves and all.”

For someone who ever-so-demurely acknowledges the genius actor Sir John Gielgud as a relative somewhere down the family tree, Jacqueline Horne herself can take a loud ovation as a community-minded soul who has mastered the arts to her life’s content.

Mary Machen

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Jacqueline Horne