The Darker Side of Bowden is a historical walking tour written and performed by Shannon Norfolk and presented by Oily Rag Theatre. It centres around stories of death, dastardly criminals, daring women, and even decapitation, all originating in the early days of the Adelaide suburb of Bowden.
The tour starts when Beatrice, the ghost of a shirt factory worker, appears on the street corner. She leads you from the tannery of 140 Drayton Street all the way to the old Bowden train station, stopping every so often at particular historical buildings and places where factories once stood.
This walking tour is a twist on the usual historical exploration, focusing on the interesting anecdotes and darker stories of the past, as explained by someone from that era. With tales of scorned men, brutish robbers and gangs, gutsy women, hazardous workplaces, suicide, and untimely deaths. Beatrice tells some of these tales through a feminist lens, commenting on the ridiculous excuse’s men used at their murder trials and their erroneous perceptions of helpless women. The history of various locations, their owners, and connections to the community is also explored in stories of workers’ rights and influential historical figures from the region.
While the presentation of the information could be a little stilted at times, Beatrice was able to hold a captive audience through her inciteful looks into the past. Her entertaining anecdotes and comparisons of the modern world to “how things were in her day”, shows how much the area has changed from its origins as a village of industry and factories. Beatrice keeps in character the entire tour, seemingly only needing her notebook of newspaper clippings to remind her of the next topic, as she regales her audience with a fluent knowledge of Bowden’s history.
The occasional loud car and barking dog did make it difficult to hear the tour guide, however that isn’t something that can be helped when doing a tour outside. Further, with a maximum of twenty people on the tour, it is rather close nit, and thus easier to stand closer to Beatrice without invading the space of others.
The walk itself is not overly strenuous, covering a distance of 1.7 km, with various stops factored in with benches nearby to rest. The tour does take just over 70 minutes to complete, so be prepared for it to end after the sun has set. As such, parking closer to the final destination would be recommended for those who do not wish to take a long walk back to their cars in the dark.
The Darker Side of Bowden, as a whole, is a very interesting and innovative concept, which was executed tremendously. So, grab your walking shoes and your inquisitive nature, because this show is a must-see for any history lovers this Fringe.