Diane Cilento – Interview with family 2012

Anthony Shaffer

Diane Cilento with her husband Anthony Schaffer – In their Queensland home Nr Mossman

(Excerpt from Australian Story interview, 2004)
DIANE CILENTO: Tony and I met in the early seventies I did a picture of his he wrote called ‘The Wicker Man’, which has become a sort of cult film now. I even had to sing in it, it was ridiculous. But- and to have a sort of Scottish accent (in brogue) like that. And when I finished the film he just sort of didn’t leave.
(End of excerpt)

BILLE BROWN, FRIEND: He was certainly immensely successful. The respect came from the fact that ‘Sleuth’ was a huge success financially. I met Diane and Tony at the beginning of their romance. It was an extraordinary and tempestuous friendship – a passionate friendship, I thought.

DIANE CILENTO: I did actually try to finish this. That’s why I came to Australia in 1975 – because Tony was married at that time and I wanted to get away. But I was at the Queensland Theatre Company and a taxicab drew up and it was boiling hot and this man with a trench coat and a hat pulled down and a suitcase got out and he said ‘Not so fast!’ I went up to direct a documentary in north Queensland and he came too. And that’s when I saw this extraordinary place and put a down payment straight away on this land between two waterfalls, backing onto national park

Interview 2012

Karnak-Playhouse 2

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: And she literally fell in love, and she just said ‘I’ve bought a farm, I’ve bought a farm in Queensland’. And I remember thinking ‘She’s gone mad. She’s gone completely mad’. Because when she pointed out where it was on the map, we all looked at each other and went ‘Where’s that?’The Karnak Playhouse Nr. Mossman

The Karnak Playhouse Nr. Mossman 2

ABOVE – A couple of the pictures taken when I was lucky enough to visit this unique location inland of Mossman in the Rain Forest North of Cairns in Australia.

At that time the Theatre was not open but last year my daughter and her family went there to the Open Day.  She told me that there was still a lot of work to do – but they were making good progress.

Karnak Playhouse 2018

A more recent view – ABOVE – and looking much better

JASON CONNERY, SON: Karnak was a spiritual retreat and not only for her but for many other people. She wanted to build a sort of sanctuary where there could be teachings. And I thought they were all mad, really, because they did meditation, which I didn’t really understand, and they had movement and they had various other practices.

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: I think Tony used to call it ‘the great green hell of Whyanbeel’ when he first got up here because he couldn’t believe that people actually lived up here. You know, and this is this extremely cultured man. He’s always been a kind of international traveller. He did call this place home, though, and as he said, gradually he came to really love it and appreciate what he had here.

JASON CONNERY, SON: She created lawns and then houses and then she had the idea of building this theatre, this amphitheatre in the middle of the rainforest. The theatre was a real co-production between them. They had very much the idea that what they wanted to create was a place where people could go instead of going to just the pub at night.

(Excerpt from Australian Story interview, 2004)
DIANE CILENTO: If I think about having built such a thing, an open air theatre in a rainforest, obviously, it sounds a bit cracked. And I suppose people could say it’s a folly but I don’t think so. I see it as a sort of a return to what the theatre was at one time when it began.
(End of excerpt)

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: Certainly right up till the end it was a very collaborative and creative marriage. She had finally got a partner who knew what she was talking about and understood her real love of drama.

(Excerpt from Australian Story interview, 2004)
DIANE CILENTO: But then what began to happen was that Tony got ill. He’d already had a brain tumour and he got very ill after a fall down the stairs. And then Tony had this terrible third operation to have half his intestines out and was sort of fitted with a colostomy bag – all this stuff – and then this lady was on the scene.
(End of excerpt)

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: They’d had this flat in London for a very long time and often Tony would be there and then she’d just surprise him and just turn up.

(Excerpt from Australian Story interview, 2004)
DIANE CILENTO: And when I got to the flat I saw that there was a lot of luggage and sort of a lot of make up and stuff and that’s when I found out. Tony was mortified and he was standing like that (goes rigid) – looking very grey and very worried.
(End of excerpt)

JASON CONNERY, SON: It was very obvious that someone else was living at the apartment, ah, later to be known as Mrs Capece.

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: I think she was very hurt by it, by the fact that there was somebody else, and she felt very divided about what do you do?

(Excerpt from Australian Story interview, 2004)
DIANE CILENTO: And I did say to him, you know ‘Well is that lady still there?’ and he said ‘No, no she’s wandered off’. And I said ‘Where? What do you mean she’s wandered off?’ He said ‘Over a cliff!’ But that’s how he used to talk. (laughs) But from then on he called me every day and I did say ‘I- look, I forgive you. I don’t want to… I do think that you must come and recuperate and get better’ but he never got there. I got a telephone call from his brother to say he’d had a heart attack and passed away. I couldn’t believe it, actually, and then I got a telephone call from this lady. When I said to her ‘Well I’m coming to England now straightaway and I’d like to stay at the apartment’, she said, ‘Oh no, I live here’ and she’s changed the locks and that was it. And I mean, I couldn’t believe it. It was a very, very bizarre feeling to be going to your own husband’s funeral that you’ve been with for- been married to for twenty years or something, with some other lady. She was sort of pushing against me at the thing and with a rose and sort of sobbing, you know? It was ridiculous and it was one of those… almost like a, a strange dream.
(End of excerpt)

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: After Tony died in 2001, the housekeeper who had been looking after Tony, Mrs Capece, claimed that she and Tony had had a relationship and that he wanted to marry her. It became apparent that this other companion that Tony had was going to contest the will. And there are names for people like that… and they’re not complimentary. Unfortunately there was a legal battle about where Tony was domiciled. And of course if he’d been domiciled in England and she’d had a relationship with him, she could’ve claimed part of the estate.

Karnak Playhouse Renovation 2017

Karnak Theatre Renovation 2016

(Excerpt from Australian Story interview, 2004)
DIANE CILENTO (to Giovanna, sitting by a stream): It’s looking pretty incredible, I think, this year we’ve had a very big wet. Because I gifted to him half of Karnak, Karnak was being thrown into the pot of his estate so therefore, if I’d lost the case, it would have gone too.
(End of excerpt)

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: She had to then go to court and prove that she had this life with Tony, but she had to go and expose the intimate details of their life together and bring pictures and books and papers. It was a very bitter battle.

(Excerpt from Australian Story interview, 2004)
DIANE CLIENTO: The thing that upset me most when I went to England was that the whole of the other side was trying to sort of, denigrate everything that he’d done in Australia, which was write all these plays, live there, build a house, build a theatre, do all those things. It was just like ‘Oh no, he’d abandoned all that’. And all of that sort of thing was a bit shocking to me because I hadn’t expected people to actually try to… obliterate Tony’s life in Australia.
(End of excerpt)

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: My mother prevailed. She actually created a precedent in law. And the court ruled that he was domiciled in Australia. And that meant that Mrs Capece, she couldn’t claim Death duties, which would have been due in England were not due. It also meant that the fact that mum had given Tony part of Karnak. In his will, he gave it back to my mother. All those things my mother believed that that had brought this whole issue to a close and she really thought that now that the court had ordered that the will be distributed and that there was no impediment, that it would be distributed. And she had great hope in that and unfortunately, she still doesn’t have what she was left by her own husband after 11 years. And she was constantly worried about it and constantly going to England and requesting that they finalise this will. They haven’t. And why is it still going? Jason and I don’t know. Why is it eleven years and not completed? Can’t tell you. Mum sold part of Karnak so that she had enough money to keep Karnak going. And we feel that my mother’s health really suffered from the stress of dealing with this interminable legal issue. The constant worry had led her to get a stomach ulcer, which had been treated and it had actually repaired. And then she started ringing me and saying ‘I’m not feeling very well, I’ve got a spider bite’. And of course the spider bite turned out to be actually breast cancer. And I said to her ‘You know, if you let the community know they would really rally’. And she said ‘I hate showing people that I’m weak’. She refused to have straightforward treatment; she wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

MICHAEL GOW, FRIEND: We just supported her as she became frailer and more incapable of getting around quite as much and then she went on this trip to Mexico, to this clinic, which she knew I was always very sceptical about. I called it her eye of newt and toe of frog cure but she got a lot out of it.

JASON CONNERY, SON: My mother felt extraordinary. Unfortunately upon her return to Australia – and this is very much my mum – she was told not to do any physical activity and to totally relax and not do anything. So she immediately went to far north Queensland and mowed two hundred acres of lawn on her tractor and unfortunately in doing that she ruptured her ulcer and then things went downhill very quickly from then.

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: The surgeon rang me and said ‘It’s inoperable, there’s nothing we can do about it’. And so I flew up with my husband and a couple of other close friends and she died in Cairns Base Hospital with us. (Crying) We sang to her and she knew we were there. But I’m not unhappy at how she died, because she died with a- if you like, she died in the saddle. And I couldn’t stand the thought of her melting into a hospital bed. And I love her for her bravery.

(Tribute night – last month)

MICHAEL GOW, FRIEND: It seems extraordinary that it’s exactly a year ago today, October 6th, that Diane left us.

JANE RUTTER, FRIEND: When Diane died, there was a sense amongst close friends of Karnak and of Diane’s – ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen to this place?’ It’s worth a fortune. And Jason has his own very significant career as a director based in the United States. Giovanna has got her life in Sydney. So it wasn’t as if either of those two were going to just uproot and come and run the place the way Diane had

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER: Jason and I came up after the funeral and looked around Karnak and then looked at each other and went ‘What are we gonna do? What on earth are we going to do?’ Because this was Tony and D’s magnificent obsession. We felt that the easy decision would’ve been just to sell Karnak. And- but Jason and I looked at each other and went ‘that would be a complete betrayal of everything mum had fought for and suffered for, and everything Tony had invested in’. And I remember ringing Jason and said ‘I’ve got it, I know exactly what we can do. We can- we can approach educational institutions and see if they’re interested in coming and using Karnak as a resource’.

GIOVANNA VOLPE, DAUGHTER (on stage): And so tonight we’re announcing the formation of the Diane Cilento Foundation and that we’re going to partner with a couple of Queensland Universities to make Karnak a centre of excellence for performing arts. Thanks very much. (applause)

JANE RUTTER, FRIEND: I’m thrilled to bits that the place is going to keep going. And I, you know, I really see that Diane’s vision can can actually blossom into something amazing in the future.

JASON CONNERY, SON: For me, the way I would like my mum remembered is that she was a person who did things her way. I mean, who builds a 600 seat amphitheatre with a restaurant and a bar in the middle of the tropical rainforest? But it’s very much my mum and I will always love her for that.

End of Interview

However despite the problems with Tony Shaffer’s estate Diane Cilento died without leaving a will. She was 78.

Her son and daughter say a formal investigation into Mr Shaffer’s estate is now underway in the UK.

Central Queensland University hopes to hold its first residential theatre course at Karnak next year.




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