Theatrical family history

In my research for my new Ward of State Dance Film, I have researched many cases of children who were wards of the state.  I have also been researching my own family history. My Mum and her cousin have done extensive research over the past 7 years and it’s exciting to build on this with some recent findings.

The greatest mystery for me is in trying to understand why my grandmother (who I called my Nan) and her sisters were taken from her parents. The ramifications for all of them were significant and very traumatic. In addition to wanting to understand why my Nan was taken from her parents, I’ve also been trying to understand what her parents were like? What sort of people they were?  Why were they not able to continue to raise their children? What went wrong?

I’ve tried to imagine life in the 1920’s and 1930’s – taking into account social, cultural, and economic factors. I’ve visited streets where they lived, looked at newspaper clippings, and examined what few photos exist. I’ve used this to try to build profiles for my Nan’s parents (as well as from what my Nan and her sisters had spoken about). Through this, a few theories have emerged as to why my Nan and her sisters were taken from their parents. There’s a lot that I struggle to understand, and what I have learned is very sad.  Some elements of this will be woven into the dance film Ward of State. But because I don’t know the entire facts or certain truths, the film draws from a mishmash of my family story as well as from researching others. But this blog is not about those theories.

MYSTERY OF THEATRE:  My Grandmother’s Father:

This is the story of researching my Nan’s father – a man called Charles Thyer. It’s connects with an aspect of Brisbane history that I am very interested in – old Brisbane Theatres!My Nan had always said that her parents were entertainers. Until recently, we’ve had no photographs. And there is very little documented.

The Australian Variety Theatre Archive 1850-1930 – an independent, research website devoted to the period of theatrical activity in Australia makes this interesting point:

It is perhaps not surprising that variety theatre has never received sustained or rigorous attention from historians, given that popular culture entertainment has long been viewed as the poor cousin of  “legitimate” drama and literature. A consequence of this lack of attention, however, is that our understanding of Australia’s developing national identity and social construction, especially during the pivotal Federation and World War I eras, is not reflecting the cultural processes that occurred.  (This is a great site)

Earlier, my Mum had researched the Thyer family. She was able to trace the family back to England through the British Census Records.  However Mum was not able to connect it too much further. There was not the evidence of Charles Thyer performing in theatres that we’d hoped to find.  However, more recently my Mum has been able to find and connect with other family members, and through this we have learned about my Nan’s father Charles Thyer –  about him performing in early Australian Theatres.


My brother Grant Marshall and I have a lovely friend called Brodie. For as long as we’ve know Brodie (20+ years), we’ve know one of her close friends –Lucas Thyer. Like my brother Grant, Lucas is also a filmmaker. Some people have even said that Grant and Lucas look somewhat a like.

A few years ago, my Mum noticed Lucas’ last name was Thyer and we discovered that Lucas is related to us –  his father being the grandson of Charles Thyer’s brother George Thyer. George Thyer had a successful business as a hairdresser in Logan road. To put it more simply, my great grandfather and Lucas’ great grandfather were brothers.

Mum invited Lucas and his father Neil to dinner. Neil brought with him, his elderly mother’s photo album. From this we were able to scan 2 photos of Charles Thyer. The one is below is from 1899. It shows my great grandfather Charles (“Charlie”) Thyer performing with his brother and 2 sisters at the Tivoli in Sydney. From the photograph, it would appear that they were a vaudeville act. It was a strange feeling to see this photo – as my Nan had never seen this photo of her own father.

The writing on the photo reveals the children performed under the name of ‘Les Theirs’ (Les Thieres) at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney in 1899. The Thyer family lived in Brisbane at this period so to perform interstate would have been a significant achievement when he was about 9 years old. There were a family of acrobats, dancers, and even had a cycling act – as the photo suggests.

My great grandfather Charles in LES THIERES:

Les Thiers


Seeing the name written on the photograph “Les Thiers” (Les Theires) was an exciting clue!

Through the digitisation of old news papers at I searched the name “Les Thieres“ – as on the photograph.

I was able to find about 40 clippings mentioning the Thyer children spanning from 1894- 1904. Initially they were called “The Thyer Children”. Charles would have been aged 4-14 over this timeframe. Here’s a selection of some of these clippings.

Les Thieres 1894-1903 1

Les Thieres 1894-1903 2

There is very little information available on the Gaiety Theatre. However the Australian Variety Theatre Archive says:


(1881-1999) The first Albert Hall, situated in Adelaide Street between Edward and Albert Streets, opened on 20 September 1881. Seating around 1000 people it was initially used for musical concerts and dramatic performances. The building was remodelled and renamed twice – he first in time in 1884 (Academy of Music) and again in 1886 (Gaiety Theatre). It was also known briefly as Liddy’s Gaiety (1890-91). The building became a parcels Post Office in 1899 and was demolished in 1909 to make way for extensions to Finney Isles’s shop frontage. NB: The second Albert Hall (opened in 1901) was located on Albert Street between Ann and Turbot Streets.

Les Thieres 1894-1903 3

Les Thieres 1894-1903 4

As I followed these clippings chronologically, it would seem that they later changed their name to Les Theires Quintette.

They toured not only to NSW, but also to Adelaide, Perth, and New Zealand. This is further than I have been able to tour any of my own work. What a feat!

Les Thieres 1894-1903 5

Above: These clippings cross- validate the information on the photos in the clipping that mentions “Les Theires” who go by the ever day name of “Thyer”.

Les Thieres 1894-1903 6

The trail of information ceased in 1903, but I wondered if they changed their name again.


Oral history suggests that Charles performed at the Cremorne Theatre in Brisbane. This theatre was opened in 1911 – Charles would have been 21 years old. The other photo that Lucas Thyer’s father showed us is a group family photo. My Mum is sure that Charles is the one sitting on the right.

I do not know how old Charles was here or where this was taken. But they are certainly a very theatrical looking bunch!

chales thyer (right hand side sitting?)

Charles and Emily married in Newcastle 1915. Emily and Charles moved to Queensland in 1915 – so Charles would have been the age of 25 when he performed at the Cremorne.

Charles also was a French polisher by trade and his business listed in Ann Street Fortitude Valley.

Charles and Emily had 5 children between 1918 and 1927. My Nan was the youngest. They lived in Bank Street West end at this time.

It was the following year that my Nan and sisters were taken and became wards of the state.

Charles Thyer died in 1935 of a brain haemorrhage, cerebral softening, and coma.

I also found this story on Trove that mentions Charles collapsing 21 days prior to his death.

10th July 1935 Charles Thyer

I’m currently crowd sourcing funds to make Ward of State – a dance film set in the 1930’ s-1940 about a young girl who was taken from her parents and put into care as a “ward of the state”.