Peter Allen exhibition, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide, South Australia
Peter Allen exhibition, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide, South Australia

When my baby smiles at me I go to Lismore

SINGER and flamboyant showman Peter Allen is usually associated with Tenterfield, where he was born Peter Richard Woolnough.

But a presentation at the Richmond River Historical Society this Sunday (March 17) will discuss the little known period where he lived in Lismore "at a particularly troubled and formative part of his life".

Dr Robert Smith from Southern Cross University's School of Education will be presenting 'Peter Allen's Lismore: First Steps to Rio' and argues that Lismore should embrace the gay icon as one of our own in conjunction with the annual Tropical Fruits Festival.

"The second largest gay and lesbian festival in the country is held here in Lismore and brings thousands of people and thousands of dollars in to this community...What's distinctive about this community should be celebrated and this is a very famous person at a very formative time in his life," Dr Smith said.

The special presentation on the life and budding career of Peter Allen growing up in northern NSW will draw upon published sources, historical documents and a series of interviews Dr Smith has conducted with locals who had direct contact with Peter at that time.

Peter Allen (Woolnough) moved to Lismore in 1958 with his mother and sister soon after his father had committed suicide in Armidale.

"So it was a healing place, somewhere to get away from troubles up there; a new territory," Dr Smith said.

He said Peter would sneak into local hotels as a 15-year-old and perform on the piano.

"He'd jump up on stage at local dance halls and do these outrageous performances, playing between his legs and all that stuff, even as a youngster," he said.

"When he leaves Lismore, he is well onto the trajectory that will take him to the world's stages."

Dr Smith said the impetus for doing the presentation was to share the story and make it more widely known about Peter's connection with Lismore and he is also planning a publication based on the material he has gathered, and hopes to do another presentation when Tropical Fruits is on.

"Although he is so closely association with Tenterfield, he said he would never go back. I think his fear was that he wouldn't be accepted for the person he became in the country Australia that he remembered. But I think he would be celebrated in Lismore as part of the Tropical Fruits celebrations."

Dr Smith is still keen to hear from others who had direct contact with Peter (Woolnough) at that time and can be contacted on 6620 3753.

The presentation at Richmond River Historical Society will be held at the museum at 165 Molesworth Street (opposite The Echo) from 2-4pm.



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