In The 7 Stages of Grieving, an unnamed Aboriginal woman referenced only as “the Woman” takes the audience through a series of twenty-three short vignettes about the difficulties, sorrows, and stages of grief that are part of the modern Aboriginal experience. The performance space is a black stage covered in piles of red earth and ringed by a white border, above which a rapidly melting block of ice is suspended. As the Woman moves around the stage, projections appear across the stage of images from the Woman’s past, words relating to grief, and the Woman’s innermost thoughts.
The play’s first scene shows the Woman sobbing out of grief and conducting a purification ritual with eucalypt leaves. She sings a song in her people’s Gamilaraay language before telling the story of her grandmother’s death. Through traditional song and dance, the Woman’s family worked through their grief over Nana together. The Woman brings out a suitcase which she explains is filled with photographs of family members who have passed away—she recalls the day her parents removed all the pictures of Nana from the walls of their living room and placed them in the suitcase. The Woman reveals how concerned she is about her father’s death—though he’s young, his health is poor, and she’s prematurely grieving his loss.
Next, the Woman moves through a series of scenes which explore her own identity as a Murri woman and the devastating effects of colonialist violence that reverberate through her everyday life. The Woman imagines a version of 1788—the year white settlers first arrived from England—in which she is able to tell the colonists to turn around and go home. She relays a trip to the shopping mall to buy a dress during which she is racially profiled and made to feel unwelcome even in a public space. She tells the story of her Aunty Grace’s return from England for Nana’s funeral—and the outpouring of visceral grief Aunty Grace felt toward the end of her trip. Though many in the family see Aunty Grace’s having married a British man and moved to England as a betrayal, Aunty Grace’s pain and sorrow are just as palpable as anyone else’s in the family. The Woman moves on to tell the story of Daniel Yocke, a young Aboriginal man who became the victim of police brutality while out with a group of friends in a local Brisbane park, and the resulting peaceful march through the streets of Brisbane in protest of his unjust death. Though white people ridiculed and heavily policed the march, she and her people were able to come together to grieve the loss of one of their own.
Towards the end of the play, the Woman continues to delve into the structural, institutional racism that Aboriginal peoples experience and the gulf between white and Aboriginal experiences of Australian life. In a rapid succession of scenes, the Woman illustrates how the pressure to assimilate combines with cycles of poverty, incarceration, substance abuse, and depression to threaten indigenous communities. The Woman presents to the audience a “Gallery of Sorrow” depicting the stages of Aboriginal History: Dreaming, Invasion, Genocide, Protection, Assimilation, Self-determination, and Reconciliation. The woman covers herself in traditional paint and scatters images of her family, previously held in the suitcase, all over the stage. She then delivers an indictment of the idea of Reconciliation. The words “wreck,” “con,” “silly,” and “nation” are projected onto the stage, revealing the Woman’s contempt for the whole notion of Reconciliation, which many of her people, having been denied any semblance of an education due to structural racism and inequality, cannot even spell. The Woman addresses the audience directly, telling them that she fears her heart is “hardening” as a result of the endless, unbearable grief she has felt over the years for herself, her family, and her people. After repacking the suitcase and setting it down in front of the audience, the Woman steps backward into a pool of light and announces that she feels “nothing.”