Wesley Enoch, director of the first production of Black Diggers, writes that Indigenous theatre’s purpose is to turn private stories passed down orally into public records of a people’s history. Despite their lack of political rights, Enoch explains, Indigenous men signed up in droves to fight for Australia in World War One. Their motives were varied, but they were treated as equals in the Australian Imperial Force and “forged bonds [with whites] that would sow the seeds of the modern reconciliation movement.”
In introducing the motivations behind creating Black Diggers, Enoch, the Indigenous director who started formulating the project long before playwright Tom Wright signed on, shows that the play is part of an effort at redressing the erasure of Aboriginal people from Australian history, which was also one of Aboriginal soldiers’ motives in signing up for the war.
In their extensive research, Enoch and author Tom Wright took after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “four-part definition of truth,” encompassing personal, social, forensic, and public experiences and interests. Their play is an attempt to honor Indigenous World War One soldiers by translating real-life histories they encountered in archives into a number of fragmented “archetypal character journeys.” They ended up with 60 scenes organized into five sections: Indigenous experiences before Australian nationhood, Indigenous men’s enlistment in the war, their experiences in the war, their return to Australia, and the legacy they have left behind. Enoch describes the “great honour” he felt to be included in the project and encourages readers to send in any records or information they have about Indigenous service in World War One.
In refusing to reduce the Indigenous war experience to one definite truth, Wright and Enoch created a fragmented play to highlight the diversity and anonymity of the archive from which they drew their material. The four “truths” they seek also reflect four parallel goals for the play: to narrate personal histories, show the social dynamics of Indigenous life in the war, offer a historically accurate account, and address gaps in popular understanding for the sake of the public good. Black Diggers is part of an ongoing project to develop a more in-depth history of Indigenous soldiers in the war, rather than a mere standalone project, which is why Enoch asks for further material that his audience may encounter.