One purpose of Indigenous theatre is to write onto the public record neglected or forgotten stories.
In post apartheid South Africa during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there was a four-part definition of truth:
- Personal truth — the thing you believe to be true
- Social truth — what a group believe to be true through discussion and debate
- Forensic truth — the truth that can be proven through science and records
- Public truth — the value of telling the truth for the greater good
Full-blood, too. Unusual. Perfect specimen. And if I’d been only five minutes later … it’s all chance, and fate. [To the baby] Look at you. Back from the dead, if only you knew it.
RETIRED SCHOOLMASTER: Think about what it might mean, if swathes of Mahommedan Turks or creeping armies of sausage-breathed Huns over-ran our country, imposing their foreign ways, interfering with our women. Imagine the horrors of what it would be like if we were to lose, and you wake up one morning and find us all under occupation.
HARRY: Yeah. Imagine.
They laugh. The old bloke moves on muttering under his breath. They join him, mimicking him at first, but one of them has a bass-drum, their parade of mimicry becomes a rallying march.
NIGEL: Father, what happened to my aborigine parents?
TAXIDERMIST: You know that, little man. They died.
NIGEL: How did they die?
TAXIDERMIST: I’ll tell you one day. Look, a chimpanzee. They are our closest relatives.
NIGEL: Why not now?
TAXIDERMIST: Because you’re not ready yet.
NIGEL: Ready for what?
TAXIDERMIST: The world—the bigger, grown-up world—is a complicated, difficult place. You should enjoy every moment of your childhood. Plenty of time for truth later.
ERN: Soldiers. If you can fire a gun and stand in the sun, they might pretend to forget you’re …
I’m sorry, son, I have no idea what to do with this. With you. Wait here.
He goes and talks to a superior. There is much consulting of books and disagreements until a half dozen men are all scratching their heads and carrying on.
Anyone have the slightest idea what “Substantially European” means?
It needed to be seen; these extraordinary specimens, these gallant figures, resolute as they were silhouetted against a foreign sky, they had the toughness, the ingenuity of the land of their birth. They had come to the other side of the globe to defend noble ideals; to protect motherhood, the safety of law, the sanctity of liberty, to fight for their King and all His Majesty carries … truly, from some confused, even shambolic frontier, the Australian has arrived. Fair, clear of eye, the finest of the British race cast anew under a southern sun. These boys are us, those that remain; those that returned. The greatness of the White Man, rendered greater still by peril, fighting not just for God and Empire, but to define what it is to be a man, an Australian man, in this our young Commonwealth …
Listen to us and you shall hear, news that’s been coming for a hundred years: Since Captain Cook, and many more, you’ve never seen the like before.
The white man needs us coloured boys now
Here in the shit every face is brown
You see the world’s turned upside down
See the world’s turned upside down.
Fellers — You see the world’s turned upside down
See the world’s turned upside down
VOICE IN THE DARK: Have we ever met?
ERN: Passed in the road. Your old man took his belt to mine a few times, when he went for a drink.
VOICE IN THE DARK: Why would he do that?
Australia. Never heard of it.
HARRY: If you blokes have a beer with me then that’s a start.
STAN: What are you on about? We’d always have a beer with you.
FIRST WHITE SOLDIER: You’re as good as a white man, Harry.
Seriously, this has gone for years and it could go for years. We lose a few mates, they lose a few, the whistle blows, we gain another cricket pitch worth of Belgium, the horn blows, they chase us out. But most of the time we sit here and we sing our songs. And they sit over there and sing theirs. And everyone, everyone hates the whole bloody stunt.
Your folks do something, over in the West? [BERTIE shrugs] I wouldn’t know where to begin. His you know, his soul will be stuck here. You know what I mean. With all these trees, they will grow here one day all these—what do you call them? Elms and oaks and all that. And all these hedges and the flowers and we don’t know the names of any of them. And when they burn the smoke is different and will lead him a different way.
And the worst of it is that Ollie is still alive, he’s in the hospital and he hasn’t got a face but he’s alive Aunty May. But he hasn’t got a face Aunty May, he hasn’t got a face.
You must all see now, having been captured, that you have been used and abused. You are victims of your oppressive masters, who brutally seized your lands and took from you your birthrights. You are little more than slaves until you rise up and throw off the shackles of your British masters. The time for being lickspittles has ended, this war and the inevitable defeat of Great Britain has washed it all away. The question is, who will acknowledge they have been made fools, have been kept children, have accepted their own slavery? It is Time to fight, to fight against your oppressors, for a free India, for free Africa…
It might have passed some of the less observant of you, but I happen to be aboriginal. My ancestors came up from Mackey river way. And I’m proud of it. But I have to say, thank God for the Army. Thank God for the uniform and the chance to serve. Because when I was a whippersnapper and first joined up I was just another woebegone failure. And in the army, you earn your way. You take on dignity. A dignity perhaps that no-one was going to let you have back home. But in the service, you are forged into something … not white, you’re not erased of your past, but it’s … it’s … incorporated into who you are, and you realize — maybe in those hideous moments in hell on earth, maybe on parade, maybe with mates, I don’t know — you realize, “I belong.” And I came back, and like you gentlemen I found myself identifying with Australia. It wasn’t for them or about them. It was for me too.
For you the war’s over. What’s starting to dawn on me is that, for us, it’s never going to end.
You listen to me and you listen to me nice and close. I don’t give a rat’s arse where you’ve been and what you’ve done. I don’t give a fuck what happened on the other side of the world. I don’t care for your airs and graces. As far as I’m concerned you’re still the boy who used to shut his lip and do as he was told. Ever since you came home you’ve been the worst kind of black, an uppity one. I suggest you get on with the job at hand and stop being a troublemaker. Or things might get tough for people you care about. Jesus, now you’ve gone and got me angry. Who put these bloody ideas in your head?
You know, even when the fires had been through, the little green shoots came up everywhere. Little tiny tender shoots, up from the bones. But that’s all lost now.
REPORTER: Surely the letter’s point is about the massacre up in the Territory?
EDITOR: No-one’s interested in payback in the back of Bourke. An Aborigine who can write like this is a much better story. He must be doing all right for himself, mustn’t he?
Tarzan. At the Empire. Tarzan, man of the apes. The ape man. Tarzan. Ape. Man. Lowland Gorilla. From Zanzibar. Ape. Man.
He stops, has a surreptitious swig from a bottle. Stands still, watching people rush past him.
I reached round and felt just here under that scar and yep it was oozing that lovely rich black blood you know not the fairy light stuff close to the surface skin blood no this was that dark dark blood that comes from deep and has been there for ages, you know? […] You see, when there’s been a war there’s metal everywhere, just tons of it and it gets buried in the mud and the dirt and it gets forgotten.