Traditionally Magicians take the secrets of their art to the grave, Going so far as destroying their props and burning their notes.
Luckily for one keen, young apprentice, a local master of magic has decided to share his knowledge of the trade – before he disappears in a puff of smoke.
Last year a report in a local newspaper broke the story that Col Newman, aka Mandrake the Wizard, was looking for an apprentice. During the next few days, the announcement gained the attention of the national radio and television media. The story hit a nerve with those who saw the report, and Col soon had letters from over 80 eager applicants.
After many interviews and a ton of correspondence, Col has found himself an apprentice who is, in his words, “Born for Magic”. Nineteen-year-old Kirk Donaldson relocated from Bendigo to Nambucca Heads at the beginning of the year and has been working day and night under the watchful eye of Mandrake, diligently learning all he can.
Kirk is learning the skills that will help him become a magician from a man who has spent the last 70 years criss crossing Australia performing in carnivals, clubs and caravans. I had the pleasure of sitting down with the intrepid duo and recorded the following conversation.
How did you find out about the position as magician’s apprentice, Kirk?
Kirk: My parents saw an interview on the TV with Col about what he was up to, and they mentioned it to me.
How did they feel when you announced Col was keen to give you a go and that you would be relocating to the Mid North Coast?
Kirk: My father was very supportive, but at first my mother was a bit apprehensive. That has been a big thing for me; they have always been very supportive in whatever I have chosen to do.
Did you have an interest in magic when you were younger?
Kirk: Definitely. When I was young, I was captivated by the magicians I saw perform. Now I have someone to explain and teach me the trade; it’s great!
Who gave you the idea of handing on the knowledge to someone younger, Col?
Col: Usually magicians burn everything and take their secrets with them. I had thought about trying to teach someone, but couldn’t find the right person, so I had given up on the idea. Then when I was talking to a journalist last year, he remarked what a shame it was to waste all the knowledge I had. One thing led to another and the story he wrote snowballed – and that led to a great response.
Do you think by handing on this knowledge to Kirk that it will give him a head start?
Col: I spent over half my life studying and building up a collection of sensible magic. By the time you think you have worked it out and got it all, you are about to die. Kirk will have 95% of what I have learnt by the time he is twenty, and this will help him immensely.
Is Kirk a good student?
Col: Brilliant, in my opinion. He doesn’t drink or smoke and stays off the streets at night; he can’t be doing those things while trying to learn. He is a hard worker and understands what I teach him very quickly. I can’t see any reason why he won’t be one of the best magicians this country has ever seen.
It must be difficult to concentrate on the execution of the trick and provide entertaining commentary at the same time?
Col: That’s true, but he has to learn one thing at a time. He needs to learn the tricks so well that they become second nature – so that he is reacting and not thinking about what he is doing.
Kirk, do you have a favourite trick that you’ve learnt?
Kirk: Not really. I would say I enjoy them all.
Col, you mentioned you would give your assistants capsules of fake blood to use when you cut people in half on stage …
Col: Yeah, it was a bit of a joke. I remember one tour we did, and we counted 122 people over the course of the tour who fainted from the sight of blood. Our assistant wore a white frock, a capsule in her mouth and one under her arm. The saw would go through, and she would let out a scream – blood would come out of her mouth. Sometimes a dozen or so people would get up and walk out as soon as I pulled out the saw to begin the trick.
How do people react, Kirk, when instead of going off to uni or TAFE after finishing high school, you tell them that you’re a magician’s apprentice?
Kirk: You get a different reaction from everyone you tell. Usually a stunned looked, followed by disbelief. It’s not something that you hear every day!
Are you looking forward to your first performance, Kirk?
Kirk: It’s a mixture of emotions, that change from day to day. It swings from wanting to run and hide, to let’s get out there and do this thing. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion, but when it happens, I am sure I will be ready.
Col and Kirk are planning a performance later in the year, possibly in Dorrigo.
Story by Russell Pell.