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Model for the drop scene of “While the Billy Boils” 1918, painted by William Merric Boyd

While the Billy Boils

The Boyd landscape in the Queen’s archives

 

In the college Archives is a charming small landscape painted in oils. At first glance, unremarkable, yet it has an intriguing back story.

Handwritten notes pencilled on the reverse explain that it is, in fact, a model for the drop scene or back curtain of the “Australian Night’s Entertainment” performed by members of the Australian Flying Corps at the Minchinhampton Aerodrome in Gloucester, England in July 1918. The production featured a dramatisation of C.J. Dennis’ poem “While the Billy Boils” written and directed by Wesley old boy and Wyvern F. Beaumont “Monte” Phillips.
Monte recalled:

“We had a camp fire on the stage with a billy, pannikin, saddle, bridle, whips, Australian riding togs—and other indicia of the atmosphere of Australia. Billy Boyd, brother of Pen Boyd, the Australian artist, manipulated the paints and brushes—this model is his own remembrance of the Healesville valley. The wings are gums.

Our little effort met with official success and seemed to get across. Personally I put a lot of time into it—at rehearsals, manufacturing a libretto, and in general organisation, but felt repaid at the favourable impression people seemed to have gathered of the Australian talent—and what is more to the point, of Australia, as feebly represented by our humble efforts. The sketch is painted on old fabric from one of our aeroplanes.”

The model was framed and kept as a momento by Monte and eventually bequeathed to Queen’s after his death in 1957.

A talented musician, composer and actor, Monte Phillips played an important part in developing the College’s reputation for dramatic excellence. He was a frequent actor in Dr Sugden’s early Foundation Day plays, and continued to direct and act in the college’s productions after graduating with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) in 1913. His last appearance was in the 1920 production of Sheridan’s Critic, shortly before leaving Australia to take up a position as a special judicial commissioner in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate.

His theatrical skills were apparently put to good use there as he adjudicated difficult and potentially dangerous inter-racial land-ownership disputes. As a result of his work, Phillips was appointed judge in the mandated Territory of New Guinea. His career reached a climax which he became first Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of PNG from 1949 to 1953.