“Heroic does not begin to describe this bravest of the Anzac brave.”
Those were the words journalist Keith Murdoch used to describe soldier Alexander Sast in the Melbourne Herald newspaper, in 1916.
But despite Murdoch’s high praise, Sast’s name and his World War I heroics were soon forgotten.
Now, Sast’s story will be brought to life on stage, as Blackfriars students present SAST, written and directed by Drama teacher Bob Becker.
The play tells the story of Odesa-born Sast, who arrived in Port Adelaide in 1912, and, just a few years later, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
“He became one of the first Australian soldiers to land in Gallipoli April 25, 1915,” Mr Becker says.
Sast was wounded on the second day of the Gallipoli campaign but, five weeks later, was sent back to the peninsula.
He was eventually captured, and tortured, by Turkish soldiers.
He ended up in the Rustchuk prisoner camp in northeastern Bulgaria, from which he escaped in 1916. That flight to freedom made him the only Australian soldier to escape a Turkish war prison in Bulgaria.
The play also “takes the audience to the tumultuous times leading up to the collapse of the Russian Empire”, Mr Becker says.
“To give the play a contextual backdrop, the story of the Ukrainian journalist Gregor Piddubny is introduced into the narrative,” he says.
“Like Sast, Gregor also arrived in Australia in 1912, where he lived until 1916.
“Even though Alexander Sast and Gregor Piddubny both arrived in Australia in 1912, they most probably would never have met each other. So, this play is an imagining of what would have happened if they did meet during two crucial moments in their lives – World War I Brisbane and pre-revolution Kyiv.”
Mr Becker says the play asks some big questions.
“Similarly, Gregor faces the challenge of his life when his identity is brought into question. After the Bolshevik invasion of the independent Ukrainian state, the one-time revolutionary Gregor is interrogated by a KGB officer – for his connection to Australia and love of Ukrainian culture and literature – and liquidated.”
Year 12 student Ayrton Deutrom portrays Sast, Matthew Wright is Gregor and Joshua Miles takes on a range of interrogator roles.
Students from Stage 1 Drama, Stage 1 Creative Arts and Years 8-10 Drama and Music have roles as dancers, musicians, singers and workers.
South Australian Screen Award original movie soundtrack winner, and former Blackfriars music teacher, Charli Holoubek has created a soundscape that draws on Turkish, Bulgarian and Ukrainian influences.
SAST, James O’Doherty Theatre, Blackfriars Priory School, August 10-11, 7pm. Tickets ($15) available here.
Main image: National Archives of Australia/B2455