It’s Lindy Hume’s third and last Sydney Festival, and, finally she’s got up a major indigenous contribution. There was a time after Rhoda Roberts’ 1997 Dreaming Festival for the Olympics, backed up by the pair of Adelaide Festivals from Peter Sellars and Stephen Page, when I thought that it had become clear that no Aussie arts festival should exist without a significant indigenous contribution.
But I’ve come to realise that few Australian festival directors understand the complexities involved in working with indigenous artists. For instance the time-line for the creation of the stage work, I Am Eora which opened in Sydney on 8th Jan began in July 2008 with a conversation between Hume and director/writer Wesley Enoch, Three and a half long years later he delivers a politically-correct mishmash in terms of the content “ though I hasten to add that it’s never boring! How could it be with the delightful Stiff Gins singing effective songs such as ‘Diamonds in the Water‘ and ‘Redfern Girl’.
What has really worked is the context in which the show is presented. The excellent Lisa Havilah has taken over at Carriageworks “ and has taken the bull by the horns to declare she’s in Redfern, not the mythological suburb of Eveleigh that was invented to avoid the association with Redfern’s capacity to self-destruct.
Redfern? It’s the Black Capital of Australia is the challenging declaration from Lily Shearer, GM of Gadigal Information Services, who makes multiple appearances in Carriageworks’ Black Capital program “ supporting the crowded Family & Culture Day last Saturday, interviewed for the tiny TV features that can be viewed by three or four people at a time in Brook Andrew’s elegant suite of proto-Wiradjuri caravans “ definitely worth the effort, but not exactly easy pickin’s – and on the Advisory Group for Enoch’s massive stage production.
Creation by committee is always hard. But the brilliant original idea that the Aboriginal identities who greeted the White invaders in 1788 can be characterised as the Warrior (Pemulwuy), the Nurturer (Barangaroo) and the Interpreter (or should that be Sell-out? “ Bennelong) “ and that these three divisions of society hold good (or bad) today, was certainly worth exploring. Sadly, the inimitable actor/personality, Jack Charles “ who turns out to be Bennelong “ rises from his seat in the bleachers and declares that the grey-suited Aborigine who’s cast off everything for a pattern of ochre (Wiradjuri?) accompanied by songs in language to put an end to historical reflection: It’s time to move on, he shouts.
And we do.
No time for the ancient wisdom and spirituality that produced the oldest civilisation in the world “ now is the time for rap, blues and appalling choreography! Of course today’s Pemulwuy gets shot by a cop “ producing the night’s undoubted coup de theatre. The cop chalks around his body, which is transferred to the backcloth screen. This then morphs into rock incised engravings of Baime, Daramulan, etc “ a timeless recall of the past, matched when Barangaroo takes to the water and casts her line for rock-incised fishes and whales. Pity that the rest of the time in the present a pregnant Miranda Tapsell seems to be mopping the floor!
Many another Barangaroo for today is cited too “ including Mum Shirl and a foul-mouthed, disappointed bride. But none more appropriate than Linda Burney, MP and former Minister, who recalled her inaugural speech to Parliament “ including reference to the little-remembered declaration of martial law in Bathurst and the subsequent official massacre of Wiradjuri.
In Jack Charles “ ex-prisoner, ex-heroin addict “ now reformed, I suppose we have the archetypal Bennelong for today. The sell-out cleaned-up. I can tell you the stories of this place, he offers “ but, sadly, doesn’t. I am Eora, concludes this Yorta Yorta man.
Some mistake here???
Perhaps it’ll get cleared up at next Saturday’s Symposium on the history of Black Theatre in Oz “ which of course began in Redfern (if you exclude all that story-telling out bush). That’s Jan 14th 10am to 4.30pm at Carriageworks “ booked via sydneyfestival.org/symposium
And if that fails, it will certainly be resolved by Foley “ Gary of that name “ who’s telling his own story from Black Power to academia in the Opera House from 24th January. History will be kind to me, Foley is quoted as saying, for I intend to write it!