Good Friday Appeal 2011

Good Friday Appeal 2011

Below the photo gallery is the article about the Good Friday Appeal, first published in Dark Matter issue #4.

To tag photos or have photos removed, please either comment, DM or email me.  Cheers.

Being fairly new to Melbourne I’d picked up on the fact that the Good Friday Appeal was on TV, but it wasn’t until I was invited to tag along with the 501st and Rebel Legion that I discovered the full extent of what happens in the Docklands to celebrate Good Friday and raise money for the Royal Children’s Hospital.

On Good Friday I caught the train into the city, to discover the trains weren’t running the city loop. I hot-footed it from Flinders Street Station to the Docklands, a short distance that seemed a lot longer because I was running late. Coming up to Etihad Stadium, I found set-up well under way at about 10:15 a.m. and people starting to arrive to enjoy the event. Following the directions I was given, I found myself at a bar on level 1 inside Etihad Stadium then called Rick, aka Obi Wan Kenobi, as instructed. He walked out a door straight away – I was there!

The 501st and Rebel Legion were set up in the studio room on level 1. A large window made this an ideal place from which to watch a football match, but the stage in the oval for entertainment on this day was too far away to see what was happening. This was a spacious room with tables, chairs, a bar well stocked with water, tea, coffee, and nibbles as well as adjacent toilets. When I say spacious, I should add that the 501st and Rebel Legions were making excellent use of the entire room. Men in black were pulling on white Stormtrooper armour, black armour or even Boba Fett armour. X-Wing pilots of all ages were getting kitted out. An Imperial Officer or two marched around. Darth Vader pulled on his outer layers. Parents were helping their children into costumes. It was delightful to see a family in costume, father, mother and daughter all as X Wing pilots. I think one of the boys in another costume may have belonged to the same family.

Watching parents and children all get ready in the studio room was great – the family who plays together, stays together.
Edward and I were included in the support team so we donned the appropriate tee-shirts. Edward tagged along with Darth Vader in an effort to help. Rick warned Edward that Vader’s helmet is like looking through 2 toilet rolls, limiting vision. Vader is always mobbed by crowds wanting photos with him, so support from people out of costume is essential. A surprising number of dads wanted their kids to have photos with Vader – with the dads too of course. A lot of kids prefer Clone Wars and Clone Troopers.

My camera and I walked around trying to capture everyone in action. There were times when distressed children appealed to me to help them capture the attention of Vader or a Stormtrooper. Unfortunately it’s hard to see and hear in the helmets they wear, and so many people want photos with them. Wranglers are needed to help manage crowd control, so I’d tap a Stormtrooper or Vader on the shoulder to get their attention for photos and donations.

There were quite a few favourite moments of the day. One was seeing Stormtroopers belly dancing with the belly dance ladies, complete with hip scarves. Another was the Firies (firefighters) asking for photos with the Stormtroopers – ‘for the kids’ but I couldn’t help asking exactly who the kids were!

Edward saw some police officers talking amongst themselves. One saw Vader and reached for his handcuffs, as if he was going to arrest Vader. The force was used – laughter ensued but no arrest.

Some really heart-warming moments occurred, like when kids raced after troopers to put money in tins. They didn’t even want their photos taken, they just wanted to give. At the end of the day, troopers were also commenting on the generosity of so many people, with so many tins filled. While these tins were not counted separately, the overall amount raised for the hospital was in excess of $15 million. It was awesome to be part of such a good cause.

Behind the scenes was also very interesting. Every hour or so troopers returned to the studio room to rest, drink water, then venture out again. It’s surprising how tiring it is to wear the costumes and engage with the crowd, so this is very important. Vader has a very heavy and hot costume. Even though the weather was perfect on Good Friday, when Vader went in for a break, he had sweat dripping down his face. He was only able to do 2 stints outside then he was too exhausted to continue. Other people came and went according to their schedules and their resilience. This was excellent because it meant that Star Wars characters were present for the entire event, even if the individuals came and went.

Bradley Bristow-Stagg talks about the Good Friday Appeal

Edward and I talked to Bradley Bristow-Stagg, BeeJay, one of the 501st who organised the group for this event.

B – This is the 4th year that the 501st has been involved in the Good Friday Appeal.  The Rebel Legion has only been involved with the 501st here in Victoria for the last 2 years. That came about because of the Science Works Where Science Meets Imagination Star Wars exhibition. Predominantly it was only the 501st here. With Science Works we met a lot of people from Star Walking. Star Walking is predominantly a fan club whereas the 501st and Rebel Legion are costuming clubs. The costumes worn by the guys at Star Walking were not to our level, so these were people who were looking to do a little bit more. They got on board with the Rebel Legion. As a consequence we have a fairly good mix of Rebel Legion and 501st now. I believe the 501st is still the biggest costuming club in Victoria.

N – You’ve been doing this for about 4 years; do they contact you every year?

B – Yes, they invite us back. With a lot of these things you can make the initial contact but they have to invite you. Like with Myer, we get invited every year to re-attend. So for Good Friday they say, ‘Hey, we’ve got Good Friday on, are you guys coming?’ and we say ‘Hell yes!’ Good Friday and Myer Christmas parade are our biggest troops of the year. But the Good Friday appeal is a group favourite. People just love doing the Good Friday because you get so many kids out there and you also see some of the hospital kids there as well.

E – I was staggered at the amount raised. It was phenomenal.

B – Some of the guys were saying towards the end there $20 and $50 bills were going in the tin.

N – Some people were finding it difficult to stuff the money in as well.

B – Yeah, well, what I’ve seen with some other tins is that the have a circle for notes so they can roll it up and pop it in the circle. We do Good Friday because it is awesome, so much fun. One of our troopers, Troy, couldn’t attend and he was devastated because it’s his favourite troop.

E – We had a lot of fun on Friday.

B Yes, you do. We had 30 costumers there. The 501st, Rebel Legion and the Galactic Academy. The Galactic Academy is a brand new costuming club set up by Albin Johnstone the founder of the 501st for the kids because in the 501st and Rebel Legions we cannot have anyone under 18 trooping for legal reasons and responsibility. So Albin has set up the Galactic Academy for all of those parents who are members and their kids want to troop as well. It’s so cute to see the little girls in the X wing pilots and the boys in the tie fighter pilots.

N – And mum and dad and daughter in matching outfits.

B – Yes. It’s really, really cute. So we had about 6 Galactic Academy, about 20 from the 501st, and about 5 Rebels. There were about 30 of us there.

N – There was a bit of the changing of the guard as well.

B – Yes, some of the guys had to leave.

N – You don’t count the money?

B – All of the shaker tins we get are sealed and we return those tins to the organisation complete. Our charity officer would like us to look at counting the money ourselves so we can say how much we raised but I don’t know if that’s feasible because of the accountability .

N – When you shake tins for the TLC it’s the same.

B – Yes, whatever charity we’re raising for we get the tins from them, we shake the tins, we put them away when they’re full and then we hand them in and give them back to the organisation. TLC for Kids is our nominated charity here in Victoria. Every $500 is another child they can do something special for. Usually when we do a troop we raise at least $500, so every time we troop we help a child. They love us, they love what we do for them and they’re really supportive. The Good Friday Appeal is a different sponsor but we get invited and we are more than happy to rattle the cans for them. The 3 concepts the 501st is built around are 1) promoting Star Wars, 2) raising the art of costuming and props and 3) giving back to the community through volunteer and charity works. Charity work has come about more recently. The club’s been around 13 years or so, but has only really grown in size 5 to 8 years ago as the charity work became more of a focus. Some people come just wanting a costuming club but a lot of people come knowing its not just costuming, but what we do with our costumes.

It was great to see Doc Brown the guy that has all the Back to the Future stuff. You would have seen him at Supanova. We’ve never seen Einstein before, it’s the first time he’s come out, and to see Doc Brown with a dog that looks like the dog from the movie was unreal. It was really funny.

N – He made sure I got a good photo of Einstein.

B – Cool. He’s such a nice bloke too. We see him every year. We see him at Armageddon and now we see him at Nova.

N – So he’s not actually part of a club or anything?

B – No, that’s his, he owns the Dalorean, he’s done the Dalorean up, he owns the memorabilia that’s in the car, the majority of which is screen used props. He’s just a very big Back to the Future fan. We first saw him at Good Friday one year, then he wheeled into Armageddon that same year. So every year we go up and say hey, how you going?

N – The firies asked for photos with the Stormtroopers, they said it was for the kids. By the end I’m asking ‘yes, and who are the kids?’ Edward saw a police officer going to get his cuffs out –

E – He was joking with his partner that he was going to arrest Darth Vader.

B – The volunteer forces, everyone loves Star Wars. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a copper, a firie, a nurse or Joe Blogg in the street, an accountant or a high level manager. Everyone loves Star Wars. Don’t give me that stuff ‘oh only nerds like Star Wars’ – it’s crap. They’re really iconic and it’s part of our culture.

N – We grew up with it

B – That’s right, so many people have seen the movies and loved the movies. If you only like one movie it’s Star Wars. I was talking to a dad in Target the other day. I was cruising the aisles looking at the Star Wars stuff there, he was there with his little boy, holding a Tie Fighter. I turned to them and said the movies are being re-released in 3D starting with Episode One next year. He said ‘Oh you know Lucas, out for more money’. I wouldn’t say that, I’d say so many people love Star Wars. He said he didn’t like the prequels, they’re not as good as the originals. I said ‘yes, but that’s only because that’s what you grew up with’. I bet your son likes Clone Wars better than the originals. And the son said ‘Yes! Clone Wars are awesome!’ That’s my point. Each generation has it’s own Star Wars now.

N – It’s like Dr Who, who’s your favourite Doctor, if they’ve watched Dr Who it’s the one they grew up with.

B – Yes, well for me it was Pertwee and Baker. I mainly grew up with Baker but then as I got a little bit older they did some reruns. Of course Pertwee was there and I loved his very Shakespearean style and his cape and velvet and Bessie whereas with Tom Baker it was all about the scarf and jelly babies. That was really cool. It’s what you grew up with is what you really like. Someone was really hanging on the Jar Jar. So I said, ‘you’re going to tell my best mate who’s 6 foot 3, built like the proverbial, whose favourite character happens to be Jar Jar Binks, that Jar Jar Binks is crap?’

E – Mesa thinks

B – He loves Jar Jar Binks and thinks that he’s the funniest thing ever. And a lot of people don’t appreciate that Jar Jar had several roles. Ultimately he’s a tragic character. He always has the best of intentions, he’s so innocent and naïve, he’s eventually manipulated into giving the emperor exactly what he wants while he thinks that he’s doing good. You have a look at that scene where he says we should grant the chancellor executive powers, and then everyone is roaring applause and he thinks yes, I’ve done the right thing whereas Palpatine’s sitting there thinking ‘you’ve played right into my hands’ People don’t understand he’s such a tragic character.

E – That Vader costume looked really heavy. Hammer had beads of sweat just coming down him after a bit.

B – He can only do it for a bit. He was also saying he broke his collar bone so the helmet, because it’s the 3 part, the faceplate, the neck and the helmet on top and the shoulder armour pressing on that he can’t troop for long he can only do very short stints.

N – So how recent was the break?

B – I don’t know.

E – So it wasn’t broken because of the costume?

B – No not because of the costume it’s not that heavy.

E – So that explains why he said he would pay for it later.

B – Yes. It’s hard work.

N – There seem to be a serious number of Stormtroopers.

B – We’ve gone from very humble beginnings a couple of years ago, we only had about 20 members on the board from Victoria and Tasmania. Of that maybe about 10 were active. Now we have about 50 members on the board and maybe 30 to 40 active, which is just massive. I suppose that’s why I was trooping all the time in that first year because that first year there weren’t many of us. If there was a troop on you went and did it because there was no-one else to cover whereas now, after the influx of all the people, you can pick and choose the troops you want to go to. This is the 4th year the 501st has been involved and the 2nd year for the Rebel Legion. The 501st and the Rebel Legion are sister organisations but we are separate organisations. The 501st concentrates on Imperial or bad guy costumes and the Rebel Legion concentrates on the good guy costumes. The slogan is that we are Lucas Films preferred costuming organisations. We have grace from Lucas Film to use their copyrighted characters because of all the charity work we do but there are certain restrictions. If we make a costume we cannot sell it outside of the Legion to non-members. Any merchandise we produce, you see my jacket I have all these patches predominantly 501st but also Rebel Legion. These can be created by us using Lucas Film’s copyrighted characters but can only be sold to members for cost.

N – Which is why you won’t see them for sale at Good Friday or at a convention.

B -That’s correct. You should never see them for sale. But you can certainly be given them by members. This is the 4th year and the 2nd year for Rebels at the Good Friday Appeal. And the people who run the Good Friday appeal really look after us. Last year there was a football game on so we didn’t get the studio room. We were down in the bowels of the earth but they still looked after us and gave us a snack card and whatever. Usually we have the studio room which is what you were in on Friday.

N – Lots of room and the toilets and bar with all the non-alcoholic drinks, tea, coffee and so on.

B -Yes and snacks donuts and hot cross buns. They just put it on for us. We go in there and have this massive area, we can relax in there, go out and troop, come back and refresh. There’s always water there, which is always really important for a trooper to keep up their water. You don’t realise until you costume how tiring it is. You’re just wearing a costume, you wouldn’t think it’s any different from wearing your normal everyday clothes but you go out there and after an hour you can be really drained. You have to go back. Because of the enclosing nature of the costumes you have to keep your water up, particularly on hot days. It was good weather, good trooping weather on the Friday but 2 years ago on the Myer Christmas Parade it was a stinking hot day.

N – How did you cope?

B – A lot of our troopers found it really hard and Vader almost passed out. One of our imperial officers found it very hard towards the end. They looked after us a little bit as well because we had the shaded area and the water before we went out. That parade route was a killer in the heat in the costumes so we always try to go out for about an hour or so, come back in and refresh, top up on water, then go out again and just keep on doing that.

N – But you can’t really do that for the parade.

B – No we can’t. What we do for the parade is park at the end of the parade route, kit up so we get into costumes in the car park without our helmets, or buckets as we call them, off. We walk the parade route back to the top with our helmets off so we won’t get stopped because if we’ve got our helmets on we won’t get there.

N – Because you’ll get mobbed.

B – Yes, we’ll get mobbed. And then we sit around for 3 hours drinking water. They’ve been providing fruit which is great, so you sit around for a couple of hours in shelter and some seats and it’s great and then marshal. It’s probably an hour before you get to the end of the parade route after marshalling and waiting for everyone to slowly make their way down. You get down to the end and get your kit off and just chill. That is why we park at the end.

N – Why the waiting for 3 hours?

B – They’ve got to make sure everyone is there and ready.

N – The practicality of it – you can’t go to the toilet in those costumes.

B – That’s correct. You go before you suit up. 3 hours is probably an exaggeration, it’s probably more like 2 hours. But even still that’s a long time to hurry up and wait. But you’re right, the practicalities of going to the toilet in a costume – some people put in a liberty fly in their under-armour so they can lift up their codpiece and do what they have to do, but most people don’t, so to go to the toilet is quite a chore.

N – So they have to strip off.

B – Yeah. With my costume, with the clone, there’s about 25 different pieces to put on.

N – I’ve worn a normal Stormtrooper costume, how different is that to a clone?

B – It’s quite a lot different because the Stormtrooper doesn’t have knee or elbow pieces. Apart from that I suppose it is similar. On mine I have shoes, shins, knees, thighs, cod, ab, chest, shoulder bells, forearms, elbows, biceps, hand plate, gloves, neck seal, helmet. The extra bits are mostly knees, elbows, having a separate cod and buck plate. But a lot of the TKs do that as well. It is different but similar.

Recently we’ve managed to negotiate a national agreement with Supanova and Armageddon for the Australian Rebel and 501st Legions. Very, very special. This was our first year back at Nova, but traditionally we have a big weekend for Armageddon. A lot of interstate troopers come down. Because it’s in the exhibition centre there are those stairs going up to the mezzanine level and we usually do the 501st and Rebel photo shoot there.

E – That was our first exposure to the 501st.

N – Yes, the year before last, we were at Armageddon for the first time ever. I saw R2D2 and he looked like he was a man on a mission and I’m like –

E – Follow that droid!

N – I’m following R2D2 to the photo shoot, which was how I found out about it. Then I’m looking around seeing all these costumes and I thought ‘oh there aren’t many people in civvies here’. I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t be here and I thought right, well, I’m not going to talk to anybody and I’m going to make like I look like I belong and maybe no one will kick me out. I took lots of photos. And there was this really short guy standing really close by and I’m looking thinking I know him, where do I know him from, and then I realised it was Seth Green.

B – Yeah that was awesome.

N – He’s so short!

B – Yeah, he’s really, really tiny.

E – We just fell in love with the whole costuming thing.

N – But we didn’t realise they were clubs at that stage, we hadn’t cottoned on.

B – At Armageddon I was looking over my photo album, I’ve got three years of Armageddon photos on the steps. The first year it’s a small group, then a little bigger, then voom, we’re taking up the whole staircase. This year we’ve started planning already for Armageddon because I want it to be big. Supanova was good but there wasn’t enough commitment from people to man the desks and areas and do the things that needed to be done. That wasn’t fair to the people who got stuck on those props. So I want to organise it now and really get a big commitment up. We traditionally do a mixer on the Saturday night, go on a river cruise, a pub and chill out or a road trip.

Last year at the Euroa Spring Festival, they wanted us in their parade. They contacted us a year before, it was going to be a space theme. We organised it and we descended on the town. We took over a motel, it was all the 501st in this one motel and we took over their dining hall. They loved us in their parade; we had 15 troopers with Vader for their parade and they were stoked. This tiny little town and the 501st descended on them.

I’m starting to organise the mixer now as well, I’ve already invited some VIPs, Stewart McKenny the artist, Tom Taylor and Colin Wilson who write and pencil the Star Wars Invasion comics for Dark Horse and hopefully I can get in touch with some other people. There is talk we might do a boat cruise again because that was good. When we went to Adelaide we went out for dinner at a restaurant but we were at 2 separate tables and it was nice but we didn’t really mix it up. So I don’t know whether it’ll be a boat cruise or take over a beer garden. It has to be close to the exhibition centre and it has to be family friendly.

N – Rick mentioned doing hospital visits. Does that happen very often?

B – Probably not as much as we’d like or should. We try to do a hospital visit at least once a year. That’s one of the things that usually happens around Armageddon. Because we’ve got so many interstaters, we try and organise a hospital trip on the Saturday afternoon. So we’ll get a lot of interstaters and locals and do a hospital visit. Rick was saying we do about 3 a year recently, but I haven’t been involved that much in previous years. I think it’s really important that people go on these troops because these bring it home, this is why we’re doing it. This is the whole reason that we have the grace that we have to do what we do. Being in the 501st is really inspiring because you get out there and you do these troops and you see these kids. You see what they go through and you think ‘I’ve got nothing to complain about, I’m healthy, I’ve got a good job’. Even if you’ve got a crappy job, you’re healthy. I’ve only done one hospital troop. They brought us into the Make a Wish room. They had all the kids there and they got us up on stage and we did all these dances and we were playing with the kids. We were playing Wii bowling with these kids, in Clone armour, TK armour, Biker Scouts, it’s just magic when you see these kids. Have you seen Heart of an Empire? It’s about the 501st, part of the documentary follows some troopers into a Hospital Troop. There’s one very heart warming tale of this little boy. All he wants is to be a clone trooper. He eventually passes away, but his dad gets the costume and carries on for his son. A couple of weeks before he passed away the guys got a clone bucket and did it up for the character that he really liked and gave it to him, made him an honorary member, his own TK ID, it was pretty special.

E – I can get really excited about what you can do to make a difference in kids lives, it’s fantastic.

B – When you see that, it makes it all worth while. And that’s another reason Amy (my wife) loves and is so supportive of my little hobby, because it’s not cheap. Let alone the costumes, the merchandise. You get into the costume then you get into the merch. We’re collectors already because we have our own little Star Wars collection already, then you come into this, then it’s like Oh! My God! Tee-shirts and jackets and patches and whatever. There’s something like 250 different patches and 300 different coins. The coins are spectacular. They’re specially minted. We have one for Knightfall, with the Knightfall logo on the front, made from pressed metal like medallions. Amro is into the coins in a big way. I think he has one full set and 2 partial sets of coins and he has these beautiful boxes to display them in. It’s like opening a Cuban cigar humidor. When you open it up and there are all these beautiful coins. The other thing we do with the merch is give it away. The coins we give to special people like VIPs and patches we give to friends. We do our own trading cards and we give them out to the general public so like your normal trading cards with a really cool figure on the front with stats on the back. It’s like a picture of us in the Star Wars universe. Over 5,000 members with over 8,000 costumes world wide, there is a trooper on every continent on the planet including Antarctica. There’s an Australian Doctor down in Antarctica who took his TK (Stormtrooper) down there. There were photos of him in the newspaper of him in his TK, out on the ice, in his TK. He should have been a Snowie (Snowtrooper) it would have been perfect. The Nordic garrison recently did a trek out to Finsk where they shot Empire Strikes Back and they got photos of a whole heap of Snowies chasing after an X Wing pilot and you can see Wow! that’s Hoth! because you can see the mountains in the background. It’s a long way though because there’s nothing there.

E – Do you have any kind of regular club meetings?

B – It’s not an organised club with regular meetings. We have more social events particularly in Victoria. An armour party is actually a BBQ where you work on your armour. Previous to my joining, I was told there wasn’t much done at an armour party, then Cen and Wendy came over from New Zealand and they really cracked the whip. Now we actually have a history of getting stuff done at an armour party. A lot of us are also into the roller derby. Lot of fun.

I love people getting involved. That’s what people saw at Science Works and that’s why our numbers just ballooned, because they saw us at Science Works and the costumes. Then they talked to us and found out what we’re doing.

N- Thank you for talking with Dark Matter.