A Trip Back in Time – Augustine: The Way – The Fall of Rome – The Impact on Australia – As Told by the Accidental Composer

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Augustine: The Way is a story of LOVE, LOSS and LIBERATION in captivating song performances.

This true story is set towards the end of the Roman Empire era and ties into Australian history.

The Augustinian Order has a long history in education reaching back 700 years. A love of learning and pursuit of understanding are hallmarks of the Order, which Villanova, a college in Brisbane, Australia, has made part of its character since day one.

The stage production will be Performed by SIMON HYLAND (Hot Shoe Shuffle, The Boy from Oz, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Hair the Musical, the movie South Pacific) and SAMANTHA SHAW (London West End Singer and Actor Les Miserables, Oliver!, The Beggar’s Opera, Little Shop of Horrors, The Wizard of Oz).

This fascinating story will take you on an all-consuming journey of rapturous musical performance. A concert of class and broad appeal!

Mick Dundee meets Tchaikovsky

Radio interview transcript:

The Way - Interview with Tony MacphersonAndrew: Thank you for your company once again. We are in the studios of 101.5FM 4OUR – Morton Bay’s own radio station. We have a very special guest here with us, his name is Tony McPherson. He’s got one tremendous story, you’re probably going to find it one of those very, very interesting journeys along the way. We’re going to take the time to have a good talk with Tony McPherson. Because there’s an event coming up and if you get a bit of the background of the story as to how it all came about, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to find it somewhat intriguing. You may want to come along and see this show. So first of all Tony McPherson, how are ya?
Tony McPherson: Never better.
Andrew: First of all we need to learn a little bit about you and how this phase of the journey started. But let’s go right back to your younger years, what did your home life look like? What did your upbringing look like?
Tony McPherson: Ah it was wonderful. I grew up down at Wynnum, a beach side suburb of Brisbane and I used to call Wynnum the capital of Brisbane. Lived right on the beach.
Andrew: Not biassed at all, right?
Tony McPherson: Well you know being a South sider it goes against the grain.
Andrew: So what’s wrong with the river? We’re North side now.
Tony McPherson: Oh I like it. I do like it, it is good. But yeah life was terrific, a big family, Catholic family. I had five brothers, my sister was lucky she had six. One darling sister as well, so yeah it was a great family upbringing. Went to Guardian Angels school at Wynnum, run by the Sisters of Mercy. That’s a bit of a misnomer. Then I own a college, so a great life growing up. Good fun.
Andrew: With your schooling, and I’m interested in this because in later years you became a teacher.
Tony McPherson: Yes.
Andrew: But your subjects, what were the subjects that you were most interested in at that time of your life?
Tony McPherson: Well my mum, my dear mum, Laurie McPherson, who just very recently passed away. She said to me when I was a little boy, she knew I was different. I’d set up my own museum, my brothers and I we’d go out catch blue ring octopi. So I had animals at home, I went out collecting rocks. My first fossil I dug at seven, so I was fascinated with science and set up a laboratory in the backyard, my own chemistry laboratory by the time I was 10. Nearly gassed one of my brothers accidentally with chlorine that I made.
Andrew: Has he forgiven you for that?
Tony McPherson: Oh yeah, but you know he’s done a stack of things to me as well.
Andrew: Fairs fair.
Tony McPherson: It was a great upbringing. But anyway yeah I was fascinated with sciences and mathematics. I had amazing maths and science teachers at school. I loved literature and poetry though as well, but I really was fascinated with how things work, the order of nature. So hence I had to study science at university.
Andrew: So you studied science at university and then you became a teacher. Tell us a little bit about that.
Tony McPherson: Well it was fantastic, in those days there wasn’t as much rigmarole with education. So my first job was Catholic Girls High School in McKay, it was amazing. I blew up an engine, a six cylinder engine on the way up to McKay. So I thought, oh well I’ll rebuild this engine with the girls at school.
Andrew: So that became a part of their selection path, their education?
Tony McPherson: Yeah the head nun, Sister Mary Stellard came into class one day and my year 12 chemistry class were on the floor with my Sid chrome spanners pulling the pistons out of the engines. It was cheap labour.
Andrew: What better way to learn about chemical combustion, is the official line bud isn’t it?
Tony McPherson: That’s right. Yeah well we were brewing beer as well, yeah. We did beer brewing. But it was really a rich education, and so you could splice things like that into a curriculum. But they still did really, really well with their schooling. But there was less rigmarole and there’s a lot of constraints. I’ve worked with a lot of young teachers in recent years and we do have a lot more rules and regulations with respect to how things have to go in classroom. That’s a good thing too.
Andrew: Yeah. Now you ended up through your career coming across Villa Nova College. Tell us about that?
Tony McPherson: Yes, well I wasn’t even looking for another job, I had several career path ways that I could follow. I’d seriously considered being a detective involving forensic work. So I was fascinated with solving crimes, and used to take my students into the section that dealt with that in the police force, in the early 80s. So yeah I had been considering other careers, I’d considered going into mining. I’d also done geology, so I considered geo-chemistry that type of work. There were other teaching jobs, I had two teaching jobs to go to as well.
Tony McPherson: One day a newspaper fell off the table, toward the end of the year in 1983, I wasn’t even looking for a job. My wife Mary picked the paper up and said, it was open at the page, she said, hey Villa Nova wants a teacher. All my brothers went there, it’s a great school. That’s how I got to meet the [inaudible 00:06:04] completely by accident. I was not even looking for a job.
Andrew: So the Augustinians, did that fascinate you at that point right from the start as soon as you came across it? Or is this something that grew over time?
Tony McPherson: Well when I was at Iona, I had a brilliant logic teacher. So we studied logic and philosophy at school, and I then got into teaching adults. In my work teaching philosophy in the early years to adults, I began to talk a little about Augustine, so he was a great philosopher. The question of evil, things like that, so I’d already heard a little about him.
Andrew: We’re going to learn a lot more about him throughout this interview. But your journey as you started to learn more about him, and you were mowing a lawn and is it an intervention, what happened? What happened when you were mowing that lawn?
Tony McPherson: Well a few years into my time, so I’d arrived at this school in my 20s, and I was a pretty wild young fellow.
Andrew: It’s good that you can say that with a smile.
Tony McPherson: Oh yeah.
Andrew: It means you came out the other side of it.
Tony McPherson: I had a smile back then too Andrew. I loved teaching. Yeah one day just completely out of the blue I started humming a tune. So I’d never been in a music class. I’d never studied the writing of music or anything like that. Completely out of the blue I just started humming this tune. It was incredibly peaceful, I just hummed it over and over for weeks, and weeks.
Andrew: So at that point in time as you mentioned you had no history with technical music. You had never picked up and played an instrument of any meaningfulness or anything like that. Maybe had an appreciation for music, but your focus at this point in time was science and maths, which quite often that’s fairly removed from the creative streams of music and stage productions and things like that. So what was happening to you? How were you dealing with this and starting to figure out the technicalities of okay, I’m humming this tune I want to do more with it?
Tony McPherson: Well I call myself the accidental composer because there was no science or anything to this, I had this tune.
Andrew: The serendipitous composer yeah.
Tony McPherson: Yeah, so like I couldn’t play an instrument. The only thing I was good at was playing the fool actually.
Andrew: You did that well, good.
Tony McPherson: Ah really well, PhD in that one. So yeah humming this tune and a long time after that my eyes, I was at Villa Nova, the Augustinian priests there, my eyes caught some words written by Augusta. Now here’s the amazing thing, he wrote in Latin, but when the Latin words are translated into English they form this nice neat run on syllables, which instantly fitted the tune that had been in my head. So I picked up a pen, I needed a couple of extra lines from his words, and at five minutes. The first song was penned, that’s how quickly it was done. So I just say, I held the pen, I believe that was what they would call inspiration. Divine inspiration if you want to call it that, so it was not of myself. It was literally effortless and that’s how I stumbled into the music industry.
Andrew: There you go, so to put a bit of context around that first song, and there were to be many more after that. I think just off air you were talking about there’s 40 songs that you’ve got now in the library.
Tony McPherson: Yeah.
Andrew: Saint Augustine, can you tell us a little bit about him? Put some context around it so that we can get a bit of an understanding of what these songs are about?
Tony McPherson: Well yeah sure, he is quite a character.
Andrew: So you identified with him? Is that what you’re saying?
Tony McPherson: Oh heck yeah.
Andrew: Okay so you tell us a little bit about him and then we can get a bit of an understanding about you as well.
Tony McPherson: Well he’s the patron saint of brewers, he lived a very rich life. The album that I’ve written, I call it songs of love, loss and liberation describing his amazing action packed life. So the key thing he was born into the greatness of the Roman Empire, he was born in 354. I’ve actually got a coin from that year.
Andrew: Have you got those there, we’ve got the cameras rolling so by all means I think they’re down at your hands there.
Tony McPherson: I almost gave it to the waitress back at the café before.
Andrew: Did they start talking to you about legal tender? So you carry these around with you, so this, Saint Augustine, everything that you’ve learnt about him and the era it ties back to your younger years wanting to get an understanding of history. Putting a museum together and all of that sort of stuff. This has become an absolute core passion of yours now right?
Tony McPherson: Oh most definitely. Yeah so here’s this coin here, this was minted in 354 and on the back is the great Constantine, in Latin it reads [Latin 00:12:16]. Our master, Constantine. Yeah on the front there’s a picture of a Roman centurion, and he’s holding what looks like a Darryl Kerrigan jousting stick, it’s a big spear. He’s throwing it right through the stomach of his opponent on a horse. So this coin was meant to intimidate and let people know that the Romans were people not to mess around with.
Andrew: They meant business.
Tony McPherson: In that year the great Augustine was born. So he was born in the greatness of the Roman Empire, and he was to die in the time and place of it’s demise in Northern Africa during the Siege of Hippo. So the eternal city through his lifetime was sacked. So here’s a coin 1100 years continuous Roman rule, and 408, 410 Rome was sacked.
Andrew: So why was Saint Augustine, why has he had such an impact when you look at the history of Rome through that era?
Tony McPherson: So his impact is considerable, so his life back to the story about his life, and then impact. He lived an exciting life, he had a lover at the age of 17, much to the upset of his mum. His mother Monica, then an illegitimate son. His mum was very devout, Augustine was not devout, and he didn’t convert till his early 30s. But once he did convert to Christianity he became a very dominant figure in the Catholic church. Through the fall of Hippo, the Siege of Hippo, it’s in the dictionary of battles, where the hordes outside. 80, 000 surrounded Hippo, he had amassed within the walls of Hippo a magnificent library. Just before he died he said, protect my library, and they did.
Tony McPherson: So even though Hippo was eventually sacked a few years later, they managed to get out from the walled city of Hippo over five million of his words that survive to this day.
Andrew: So essentially would you say that it’s his works of writing that have become his legacy?
Tony McPherson: Yes indeed, that’s a great way of putting it. His writing has indeed become a legacy. Recently you might have heard that Steven Hawking died, yeah he was on the Simpsons, you might have seen him on the Simpsons at one stage. Homer mistook him for Larry Flynt, but that’s another story. Yeah Steven Hawking in his brilliant work, his book ‘A Brief History of Time’, he talks a bit about Augustine and Albert Einstein. Why Steve Hawking mentions Augusta, and this will give you some insight into the brilliance of Augustine. He speaks about Augustine as having a concept of the origin of time itself. So Augustine argued 1500 years before Albert Einstein, that time itself had to have had an origin. So he argued that there was always God, but at some point time began. Then Albert Einstein picked up on that with his work on relativity and started to talk about origins of space time.
Andrew: Fascinating stuff, so you have now brought this into a music production. To see all of that come together and you had a run with this last year, what’s the sense of how it tells the story of Saint Augustine?
Tony McPherson: Well Augustine, he wrote over 200 books and here’s just one of them. This ones called ‘Confessions’-
Andrew: That looks well read.
Tony McPherson: Ah yes indeed, parts of this I’ve read hundreds of times. It’s a wonderful picture, a snapshot of ancient Rome. So in it Augustine speaks of what it’s like going to watch the gladiators. The wonderful thing about this is it tells the story from when he’s a young man, how he grows up. He’s a wild young fellow growing up in Carthage. He describes it as this cauldron of lust. So he describes in graphic detail his early passions. So I often say you don’t have to read between the lines with this man-
Andrew: Just read the lines.
Tony McPherson: … you just read the lines and understand them. He says, I had no reason for malice except that of malice. So for me that’s a line for a song, you know. No reason for malice except that of malice. I fancy a night with Cleo or Alice. So come to my palace. So you see it’s a story that is just, it’s a composers dream.
Andrew: Are there some life lessons that have come out of all of this? That you think like it impacts society today? To reflect on Saint Augustine and some of the work that you’ve uncovered?
Tony McPherson: Ah yes indeed. He speaks to us today, you could pick this up and it’s like you could get to know this man, I say I know this man as well as or better than my next door neighbour. He intimately describes his life, it’s a personal encounter with the man. It’s a brilliant piece of writing. It’s up there with William Shakespeare, it is really, really good.
Andrew: So for people that want to maybe attend one of these productions that are coming up, what can they expect?
Tony McPherson: Well what can they expect? So back to your last question this is what they can expect. Augustine’s story is every person’s story. So they can expect to see a story about what they will encounter in life. That every person that goes through life, the longer they live the more troubles that they will experience. Everybody will encounter problems, so Augustine did that. Augustine had this restless search for truth, people strive for purpose and meaning in their lives. So what can people expect? A story of restless search and resolution. They can expect to see the never ending love of a mother, a mother who never gives up on her son. So I’ve penned this song, Monica’s song, in her honour.
Tony McPherson: They can expect to see a bit of the raunchiness, Augustine he actually prayed to God, he knew that he should convert but he really enjoyed the sins of the flesh. So his prayer was, Lord save me but not just yet. So you know I’ve put that on the big screen, on the stage, the seduction of that. Another thing people could expect is that the truth of the matter is that not all relationships work. He did love this woman that he was living with but she had to go. She left him with the illegitimate son, so there’s a break up. He’s in agony and he must have been an amazing man with her. She vowed when she left to never be with another man again.
Tony McPherson: So I’ve put the lover’s story as well, so I’ve given voice to the women in his life. So people can expect to see passion, breakup of relationship, the quest and in fact if Hunters and Collectors hadn’t done it, I’d probably could have called this show, ‘Human Frailty’. So one of their albums was called ‘Human Frailty’ and it’s a great album I love it. It’s actually got some of their work, like arms around me, you know that’s the human condition. We might never meet again so the separation. The Holy Grail, that’s those themes are here in this story. Every mans search for a Holy Grail, for a quest for truth.
Andrew: So Tony would it be fair to say that when you say from the stage look back into the theatre, and you look at the audience, that you’d be able to look, it doesn’t matter what their backgrounds are. What race, what country they’ve come from, sitting there every persons going to identify with the story, the narrative that’s going to be on stage?
Tony McPherson: Oh yeah because if they have lived, if you’re an adolescent you’ve probably been in love-
Andrew: Before that this is going to give you a heads up on what you’re in for.
Tony McPherson: I don’t know, maybe if everybody knew what they were in for with love, some of them might think twice. It’s not bad making those mistakes is it? So what could every person in the audience expect? Well yeah, well in fact adolescents this is a great story for teenagers. In fact of the shows we’re doing, it’s sold out, it’s got 500 teenagers in the audience. So you know we’re taking this to schools because it’s such a great story for adolescents. It shows that you can work through struggles.
Andrew: So to believe it you must see it, and get along to one of these shows. Tony McPherson thank you very much for coming and spending time with our audience.
Tony McPherson: Oh it’s been a pleasure Andrew. I’ll give you a tip there’s a 354 coin there for you.
Andrew: Awesome, thank you.
Tony McPherson: Thank you Andrew ta.

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