At the UNE School of Law we are proud to say we have a number of amazing law students with diverse and interesting lives. One such example is Chris Dockrill who is an incredibly talented writer, producer and director. In fact Chris is the main creator (with his wife Lyn, the composer and musical director) of the very successful rock musical, The Island of Dr Moron.® You may be wondering how Chris came to write a rock musical. Chris was a high school English and Drama teacher for 35 years. In fact, The Island of Dr Moron® was originally written for students of Kempsey High School for their annual school musical in 1998. The musical was so popular that 2,000 people from Kempsey saw the show. Chris immediately identified the potential of this musical but put off exploring these opportunities until fairly recently, due to his genuine passion for teaching.
After Chris retired from teaching he started the process of realising his dream to professionally stage The Island of Dr Moron®. As you can imagine this was a long and arduous process which was also very costly. Interestingly, one of the first things Chris did was recruit an Intellectual Property lawyer to copyright and trademark his rock musical.
The talented law student then had to find the perfect venue to show the musical. As luck would have it, Chris was able to lease the long disused Palace Academy Twin Cinema in Oxford Street, Paddington. Chris and his team built a two-tier stage for the production, imported and installed 260 new theatre seats and installed a massive stage lighting gantry and rig. They also breathed new life into the long-disused building, renaming it The New Olympia Theatre in deference to its original 1900-name of Wests Olympia Theatre. During this stage, they auditioned and employed a cast of 35 actors, singers, dancers and musicians and started rehearsals.
Almost from the beginning of its run, the show was wildly successful. Perhaps the secret to its success was that it appealed to the average person on the street rather than just serious theatre-goers. In fact, many people who watched The Island of Dr Moron® had never before been to a live theatrical performance. Some returned to see the show up to seven times during its four-week premiere season.
The famous Australian actor – Jack Thompson AM – is a great fan of the rock musical. Jack endorsed the live show and the film and noted the ‘show is amazing.’ Matthew Reilly-who is an action writer- and, in fact, Australia’s biggest earning author- has also endorsed the musical after attending the opening night’s performance. He posted on his Facebook site that night, – “If you want a good night out, go and see Moron!” He too then publicly endorsed the film when it was released.
During the successful live season, Chris employed a professional team to film the stage show over a number of performances with 14 cameras per shoot. They then produced a film of the show so more people could see it. The film took 10 months to edit and produce in 5.1 surround sound. The movie of The Island of Dr Moron® is the first and only film of its type to have been produced in Australia to date.
The official launch of the film at The Dendy Opera Quays in Sydney sold out two weeks in advance. It has now been shown in 4 states across Australia in a variety of venues including small community and Arts halls though to large cinemas including the Mercury Cinema for The Adelaide Fringe Festival and The National Library of Australia where it was opened by the Minister Assisting the Deputy Prime Minister. Chris is currently in touch with interested parties in the USA who are discussing a film tour over there.
When Chris isn’t immersed in ‘The Island of Dr Moron’ he launches himself into community projects and issues which are important to him. One cause which is close to Chris’s heart after teaching at disadvantaged schools is funding in education. He recently noted in a Teacher’s Federation publication that- ‘The one simple fact is that countries that spend all or most of their funding on government schools (e.g. Finland) perform highest on any OECD scales. Australia will continue to decline on those scales as long as it divides its limited educational resources.’
Chris is also currently fulfilling a lifelong dream to study law. When Chris left school in the late 1960s he wanted to study law but missed out on being accepted into a law degree by 5 or 6 marks. In those days students could only study law at a limited number of Australian universities. Instead, Chris became an article clerk at the Sydney law firm William Dibbs & Co. Within this position he did agency work, land title searches and some divorce petitions.
Whilst working at William Dibbs & Co, Chris started a SAB (Solicitors Admission Board) degree which, although interesting, was ‘soul destroying from an educational point of view.’ You see, the classes were conducted at night when everyone including the lecturers were tired.- As Chris recalls, ‘lectures were impersonal, there were no tutorials, no feedback and little or no on-going support for students. Then, at the end of each unit, at least 50% of the class ‘failed’ due to criteria which was never explained or justified.’ Disheartened by this form of education and longing for a full-time university experience, Chris decided to terminate his SAB studies and article clerkship and go to university full time. His HSC pass was sufficiently high for him to receive a much sought-after teachers scholarship with an independent living allowance which meant he also received a $10 a week pay rise! Chris extended his studies by an extra year to receive a BA at Macquarie University with triple majors in English, History and Politics and a Diploma of Education. In addition to his teaching career, Chris has also written four other rock musicals, had five books published and contributed many articles to various professional publications. He has also been a strong advocate for indigenous students and even started a Theatre Company called The Sanctuary Players for students and ex-students in Turramurra.
Since studying at the UNE School of Law, Chris has also expressed his genuine appreciation for the support and teaching quality he receives as an external student. Chris is intrigued by the philosophical and intellectual challenges the subject constantly presents. He jokingly likes to describe Contract Law as a study of ‘unequivocal qualification.’ Chris has especially enjoyed criminal law and is fascinated by the complexity of problems people dig themselves into. When studying Criminal Law, he was keenly aware from the outset of the fact that rather than defining a ‘crime’ as a moral problem, instead, it is necessary to look at what the elements of the statute are – after all what have morals got to do with the law?
We are secretly hoping the UNE School of Law will be the subject of Chris’s next rock musical- perhaps the name could be ‘The Moral Island of UNE School of Law!’