Peter cooks up a dream for Cunnamulla kids

Peter Cook always thought he was going to follow in his brother’s footsteps and one day run out in the gold of a Wallabies’ jumper.

Michael Cook was an inside centre during the magnificent Ella Brothers era in the mid-1980s when Australia dominated world rugby. He was a bloody good footballer, and Peter wanted nothing more than to emulate his brother.

“That’s all I wanted to do,” Peter tells the NIT. “I was determined I was going to be a footballer.”

But it was not to be. Instead, he ended up in a completely different space, directing, acting and guiding those interested in making a living from the theatre.

“I went from the front row to the stage,” Peter laughs. “Funny how things work out.”

And the people of Cunnamulla in south-west Queensland – especially the kids – should be very glad it ended up that way.

When NIT talks to Peter he’s busy preparing the Paroo Shire Hall in Cunnamulla for the world premiere this Saturday night of Cunnamulla Dreaming, a documentary by PixelFrame director Lucas Thyer on Peter’s theatrical work with the predominantly Indigenous kids at Cunnamulla State School, 750 km west of Brisbane. It will be shown a little bit before NITV does so on the same night.

The documentary revolves around Peter’s work in encouraging the kids of Cunnamulla to create Cunnamulla Dreaming, a play that confronts the various social issues they face on a daily basis. In doing so, the youngsters were able to find their voice, grow in confidence and feel good about themselves and their community.

You see the awkwardly shy blossoming in front of a 200-strong audience as they act out the ups and downs of their lives, the confusion and distress that comes in the form of Facebook, grog, domestic violence and drugs.

But more importantly it’s also a celebration of empowerment, as the kids get to understand as they go along that they are in charge of their own destiny.

“It was great to watch these kids go from being very nervous on the first night to being really confident young actors after the third show,” Peter said.

“What we’ve been able to achieve, I think, is that the kids now know that they can achieve anything they want with hard work and determination.

“They just need an opportunity, and why shouldn’t they get it?”

Cunnamulla locals came in their droves to watch the three shows. Almost immediately people saw the town and its youth in a different perspective.

It’s almost been eight years since Peter and fellow actor Amy Humphries, both then from the Queensland Theatre Company, came to Cunnamulla to take up an artist in residency position.

“It’s a great place and it’s really got under my skin. I love it here, I love the kids and the community, and I’ll guess I’ll keep on coming back,” Peter said.

Cunnamulla Dreaming airs on NITV this Saturday at 7.30pm

Tony Barrass







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