Long serving Coffs Coast community theatre identity Shirley Barnett passes on at age 90

Shirley Barnett having a rare break during a rehearsal of CHATS Arsenic & Old Lace. Photo: Tom Caldwell.


SHIRLEY Barnett passed away in the early hours of Sunday 7 February at Coffs Harbour Hospital after suffering a stroke.

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She was a true stalwart of local community theatre, having presided over Coffs Harbour Amateur Theatrical Society (CHATS) for many years before slowing down in 2017 after directing ‘Frazzled’, which she wrote herself.

Born in 1930 into a theatrical family, Shirley Broadway first performed on stage at the age of three and was known as ‘Australia’s Shirley Temple’ around 1936.

Contracting polio at age seven, she went on to study drama at Melbourne Conservatorium, married at eighteen and later moved to Sydney in 1963.

Shirley appeared as a comic performer in television shows ‘In Melbourne Tonight’ with Graham Kennedy for two years and then on ‘The Late Show’ with Bert Newton for two years.

She acted and began directing at Melbourne New Theatre and continued directing throughout her life, with over 30 shows produced in Coffs Harbour alone.

After a twenty-year career as drama co-ordinator at Queenwood School for Girls, Sydney, she retired and moved to Coffs Harbour where she connected with CHATS and continued to teach and direct drama.

Renowned for her attention to detail and in depth understanding of the script, Shirley also wrote shows that championed marginalised people in society, particularly women.

Some of the many highlights of her time with CHATS were ‘MacBeth’ (2002), ‘Hamlet’ (2009), ‘King Lear’ (2012), ‘Mum’s The Word’ (2013) and ‘Mum’s The Word- Teenagers’ (2015), and her final production, ‘Frazzled’.

As well as directing and being an active part of the management committee for many years, Shirley created and ran a youth drama school called ‘Chatters’ and was awarded an OAM in 2006 for service to the community of Coffs Harbour, particularly through theatrical arts initiatives for young performers.

Current President of CHATS, Rex Madigan said, “Shirley was the driving force behind the group for many years, her determination, knowledge and work ethic is legendary.

“The company wouldn’t be where it is today without her.”

A memorial service is being planned for a future date.


By David TUNE

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