Saturday, March 29, 2014

Indigenous Drama of the Late 1950's, 1960's and Early 1970's

Indigenous Drama of the Late 1950’s, 1960’s and Early 1970’s

(Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this document/blog may contain images or names of people who have since passed away)

Indigenous drama had much support amongst Socialist white dramatists such as Louis Esson, George Landen Dann, Henrietta Drake-Brockman, Betty Roland and Oriel Gray who created pieces that attempted to portray Indigenous characters in their what many have termed their Social Realist Dramas. We see the emergence of Indigenous portrayals in the Australian theatre which attempts to seriously and dramatically address the issues of the modern indigenous community. Black actors appeared on stage at a reading of the play in 1959 of Oriel Gray's Burst of Summer (1959) at the University of Melbourne’s Guild Theatre and later at a full production by Melbourne’s New Theatre. Gray was a Communist who was committed to the development of a Socialist theatre. She started her work at Sydney’s New Theatre but also worked on a number of projects with her comrades in Melbourne. In Burst of Summer, she dramatically portrayed the story of Rosalie Kunoth-Monks also known as Ngarla Kunoth (the actress who appeared in the film Jedda). The play centres on the real events and racial tensions which emerged in the small Australian town where Charles Chauvel filmed Jedda (1955). Focusing on Rosalie, the narrative of Burst of Summer concentrates on her return to her home town after international success in a film, only find her only option is to return to domestic service. The play and its initial production struck a powerful chord with the small and select audiences who saw it. As was a current practice at the time, the indigenous actors who starred in the original production, were not credited in the program of both the reading and the initial performances. The play won the J.C. Williamson Theatre Guild Competition. In fact except with the notable exception of Onus’ 1951 Out of the Dark performances, it is not until 1967 that most indigenous performers are credited in programs and posters for theatrical events. The Festival of Aboriginal Theatre 1967 at the 1967 Festival of Perth, credited performers from the Tiwi people, Murimbata people, Gobaboingyu people and the Ngalkbun People (Casey 2004:30).  The appearance on television in 1968 of white adventurer Malcolm Douglas’ in the long running (1968-1985) Walkabout with Malcolm Douglas, showed white Australians, indigenous stories and ceremonies and places. This also combined with the regular appearance of indigenous actor Bob Maza on the popular program Bellbird as one of the feature characters Gerry Walters (the Article Clerk).  Media coverage of growing indigenous activism was also evident on television although often speeches and demonstrations were selectively edited. The winds of time were moving and steps in the early 1960's towards giving indigenous peoples a political voice (driven primarily by Indigenous leaders) were part of a larger cultural movement to restore the 'voice' of Australian Indigenous peoples.

The first of these voices of Australian Indigenous drama was the great Jack Charles. Jack Charles. At the age of 21, he performed at the New Theatre in Melbourne in a production of Raisin in the Sun. He also appeared around the same time in the play White Justice. Attempts were made by Jack Charles and other members of the New Theatre (Melbourne) including the visionary Non-Indigenous director Dot Thompson to start an Indigenous theatre troupe (Hillel, 1988, p.34 & Eckersley, 1997, p191).

Enter, Brian Syron (1934-1993) actor, writer, stage director, human rights advocate and Australia's first Indigenous feature film director. He was Australia's first indigenous trained actor and director. Born in Eora country in Balmain in Sydney, Syron's own words give us insight into the significance of these origins:
“When I was born, our people had already experienced a holocaust beyond imagining. There were no Eora living a lifestyle of any kind on the banks of Tuhbowgule (Sydney Harbour), Kamay (Botany Bay) or Deerubin (Hawkesbury River). My birthplace had experienced a massacre from 1790 to 1802 and my people were our country's first resistance fighters...” (Syron 1990)

At the age of 26, he started his acting career with John Ewing, Clarissa Kaye Mason, Reg Livermore and Jack Thompson at the Old Tote Theatre and Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli (Sydney) under the guidance of Hayes Gordon who was trained in the Stanislavsky and Strasberg methods in New York. Gordon worked on creating the world of the character through using Affective Memory and this struck a chord with Syron as an actor. Syron wanted to travel to Europe and America to work and train as an actor but he had to deny his indigenous origins in order to obtain an Australian passport because up until 1968, except when sent overseas for war service, indigenous people in Australia were considered in government documents to be 'fauna' and subsequently they could not obtain an Australian passport. He left in 1961 and worked initially as a male model for Dior, Cardin and Balenciaga before traveling to New York to enroll as the first Australian student at the Stella Adler Studio. Here he worked with other acting students like Warren Beatty, Peter Bogdanovich and Robert De Niro. He then went to Britain to study with voice teacher Cecily Berry and acting teacher Doreen Cannon (the Head of Acting at RADA - the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). It was while he was in England that he developed his prowess in Shakespeare and even developed some ideas for versions of Indigenous Shakespeare plays. While overseas, he kept abreast of developments in the lives of Australian Indigenous peoples and artists. He was always on the lookout for possible plays by non-indigenous writers that could have parts for indigenous actors. He read vivaciously, and one of the plays he started to plan a production of was David Ireland’s Image in Clay.

A 1960 production of non-indigenous writer and playwright David Ireland’s 1959 play Image in the Clay, provided a stark portrait of a rural aboriginal family. It played to critical acclaim in Sydney but resistance to having plays about indigenous people using full casts of indigenous actors, remained strong. No indigenous actors appeared in the original cast even though the play was essentially about an indigenous family. In 1963, the New Theatre (a Socialist Theatre enterprise in Melbourne) decided to cast Indigenous Australian young actor Jack Charles as one of the Afro-American characters in Afro-American Lorraine Lansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun. The well-known theatre critic and reviewer described Charles' debut performance as a moment when "A new light shone in the Melbourne theatre scene in the guise of the diminuitive Jack Charles at the New Theatre" (Charles, 2019, pp.82-83). 

In 1964, when Oodgeroo Noonuccal's (also known as Kath Walker) first poetry collection entitled ‘We Are Going’ appeared in 1964, a new era was ushered in for both white and Indigenous Australians. In an interview on the ABC Radio National’s Awaye program in 2011, writer, critic and one of the pioneering publishers of Indigenous theatre through her work at Currency Press, Katherine Brisbane states that she thinks that the publication of Oodgeroo Noonucal’s work, along with the earlier work of the white female writer Mary Durack, combined with the rise of greater media coverage of indigenous protests to make most people see that it was time for change. The courage of the public activism of indigenous leaders like Carl Perkins started a journey towards indigenous drama as a crucial medium for indigenous voices to be heard (Black Voice on ‘Awaye’ Oct. 2011). Culturally, the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) was gaining more influence as an advocate group and slowly some battles were being won in terms of wages and recognition. Shoemaker contends in his introduction to ‘Australia's Fourth World Literature’ in Black Words White Page, that "... changes in the legislative status of Aborigines paralleled the experiments of Black Australian literature during those years... Indigenous creative writing, the literature and actual events are very proximate: novels are extremely naturalistic, the inspiration for plays comes largely from the personal experiences of the playwrights, characters are modeled to a great extent upon individuals the author has personally known, and socio-political issues are faced squarely. " (Shoemaker 1989: 15).

Back overseas, Brian Syron returned to the USA in the middle of 1964, and taking his skills and training, he worked as an actor. Later that year, he co-founded a theatre company in Saratago Springs in upstate New York. Syron then worked as actor and director with the Boston/Herald Travellers Shakespeare Company and did stints as an acting and voice teacher at Stella Adler's studio in 1964 and early 1965. In 1965, Syron came back to New York where he worked as an actor in a number of American Shakespeare Festivals. Throughout 1966 and 1967, he continued to perform as an actor in Shakespeare festivals working for the Cincinnati in the Park and the Louisville Shakespeare Festival. He also did stints with the Establishment Theatre Company in a more revue style format and worked on stage with Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore. He would occasionally meet up with other Australian actors and through them he heard about a wonderful new play by playwright Bill Reed called Burke’s Company that had been produced in 1967. Syron could see the opportunities but he wanted to wait for the right time to return.

Late in 1967 and early in 1968, Syron worked for the New Theatre and toured the Southern states of the USA and as he states in his book Kicking Down the Doors this brought:

"... the finalisation of my black politicization. No black person travelling through these States during this period of peace marches, race riots and assassination could have remained untouched and I had to go home."
(Syron 1996:38)

Syron returned to Perth, Western Australia after the Referendum which finally allowed the indigenous vote and allowed him to move freely throughout Australia and overseas. He came back to an Australian theatre scene that was about to change forever with the writing of a groundbreaking play called The Cherry Pickers.

Kevin Gilbert's The Cherry Pickers (1968) is often considered a crucial turning point in Australian Indigenous drama.

Gilbert (1933-1993) was from the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi people in New South Wales. After living with his grandmother for many years because his parents died when he was seven years old, Gilbert worked for a number of years in a variety of seasonal jobs. He married and after an incident, he was committed to jail in 1957 for the murder of his wife during an argument. The Cherry Pickers was written in prison around 1968 and smuggled out of jail on toilet paper. It was first read, workshopped and presented in a public reading at the small Mews Theatre in Sydney 'in the open air' with Bob Maza and other indigenous actors reading the parts. The critic and publisher Katharine Brisbane, described her response after viewing an early performed reading of The Cherry Pickers:

“It was the opening sequence I vividly recall. Centre stage was a large, jolly black woman sitting on an upturned tub. As she chatted, the tub gave sporadic jumps and exuded muffled thumps and whines. In due course a child was released from the tub. She had been punished for some misdemeanour. The dialogue was good-hearted and good-humoured and the subject matter, small community affairs. I was suddenly overawed at being allowed into the domestic life of a people whose privacy had, for so long and for such good reason, been guarded from white eyes.” (Brisbane 2001:1)

A more complete moved reading was held in 1970 and 1971 in Sydney and the play was subsequently nominated in 1970 for the Captain Cook Memorial Award. The play was performed in its first full form by Melbourne's Nindethana Theatre Group in 1973 but the play was not published until 1988 when in the wake of protests against the Bicentennial celebrations of European colonisation of Australia, it became a symbol of indigenous protest. Gilbert is often billed as the ‘first Indigenous playwright to have his work performed'. Gilbert's play is based on the stories and experiences of itinerate workers and it deals with, as Gilbert puts it in an introduction to the play written in 1969:  ‘'... spiritual searching and loss, my people pushed into refugee situations, de-socialised if you like'. (Gilbert 1988:3). The play's narrative centres on a group of indigenous Australian's who wander their own land trying to find whatever work they can. They have set up camp and wait for the beginning of the cherry picking season which is marked by the largest cherry tree bearing fruit and the arrival of the Beckett-like figure of Johnollo. The set design for the original 1973 Nindethana Theatre production was painted by one of Bill Onus’ indigenous protégés and members of Melbourne’s Socialist New Theatre and included indigenous motifs and Expressionist-style backdrop sketches. The structure of the play mixes traditional creation myths, rituals, political diatribes, clever dialogue and humour. It is through this humour that Gilbert explores alcoholism, violence and spiritual and cultural issues. The Nindethana Theatre and the Melbourne New Theatre was able to get some government subsidy from the Victorian Government to extend the run and this government funding represented the beginning of Australian state government support for Indigenous theatre companies.

In 1972, another play by Gilbert, The Gods Look Down, was produced at the Wayside Theatre, a small alternative theatre in Sydney. The production, directed by Barry Donnelly can best be described as a dance drama. Gilbert’s notes for the program describe it as: “… an emotional fantasy using subconsciously emotive scenes based on modern spiritual drift and identity loss, which is actually the present search for a spiritual force or a god…”

The play is poetic and semi-abstract and moves from dialogue accompanied by movement to movement-based explorations of love and sexuality. Along with his political work in the 1970's, Gilbert wrote a number of other plays and sketches, including Ghosts in Cell Ten, The Blush of Birds, Eternally Eve, Evening of Fear, and Everyman Should Care (Gilbert 1970). Many of these seem to have never been staged but stylistically seem to preempt much of the work of indigenous writers and practitioners of the 1990's such as Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman.

Inspired by reading Gilbert's work and what he had heard about theatre in Sydney, Brian Syron returned there. Some of Syron’s initial attempts to have Indigenous work like Gilbert’s performed in a mainstream venue were thwarted so he decided to bide his time and he directed Canadian playwright John Herbert's Fortune and Men's Eyes at The Ensemble Theatre in Sydney in 1969. For this he received an Inaugural Drama Critics Award for Best Production, one of the first drama awards presented to an indigenous theatre artist. Soon after this he held acting classes for a group of Indigenous actors including Dennis Walker and Gary Foley using many of the acting techniques he had learnt in with Stella Adler. He also used Affective Memory and Given Circumstances exercises to help develop many individual stories of the participants into scenes and potential plays. Talk started to happen about developing a National Black Theatre where Indigenous stories could be developed into plays and where Indigenous actors could be trained. In 1970, Syron was then invited to work as an Associate Director at the Old Tote Theatre in Sydney. This made him the first Indigenous Australian to work as a director in mainstream mainhouse Australian theatre. Some people criticize Syron for not always being seen to champion Indigenous drama causes during this period. These criticisms, while on one level seemingly valid, can be seen to be directly countered by the tireless work Syron did through lobbying and conducting workshops, where he championed the work of Indigenous writers, actors and performing artists.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne in 1970, the pebbles were stirring. Actor and activist Bob Maza became part of an Indigenous Australian delegation which attended the 3rd Pan African Conference in the United States. While talking and working at the conference beside African American and Native American Indian activists and artists, Maza started to see the unity, sense of identity and political power which theatre could bring (Eckersley 1997:37). He returned to Melbourne and became heavily involved in the local theatre scene in Melbourne and became committed to developing a national identity for Australian Indigenous theatre. The Nidethana Theatre Group, arguably Australia's first Indigenous theatre troupe, formed in Melbourne and they performed the plays of South African political playwright Athol Fugard and this set the agenda for provocative agenda of indigenous drama for the next twenty years. 

In 1972, Nidethana joined forces with the A.P.G. (Australian Performance Group) to present John Romeril's Bastardy (a play about fringe dwellers) and Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Brumby Innes (a production that was broadcast on 0- l0 television in 1973). Melbourne probably felt like it was in the thrust of a revolution in theatre when around the same time, another production from a non-indigenous writer about the famous Tasmanian indigenous woman Truganinni was performed on the Melbourne stage with indigenous actors. Bill Reed’s Truganinni is a challenging piece that split opinion amongst its critics with its dealing with notions of the attempted genocide of indigenous Tasmanians.

Inspired by the media coverage given to the Tent Embassy and the protests, African-American dancer Carole Johnson (who was touring Australia at the time) talked to Jenny Isaacs at the Australian Council for the Arts and Isaacs organised permission and a grant for Johnson to take workshops in Redfern in 1971.

 “In a small tin shed in Redfern in the 1970’s, an African-American woman called Carol Johnson began recruiting young people from around the country to train in the classic and contemporary traditions, both in western and Aboriginal dance. It was known as the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre.” (Roberts 1997)

These dance/expressive arts and dance drama workshops were filmed by Milena Damyanovic who made a short film called 'Sharing the Dream' about the workshops. Indigenous participants in these in these workshops included the activist and artist Euphemia Bostock (also known as Phemie) , her daughter Tracey Bostock, Wayne Nicole, Norma Williams, Elsie Vesper and Joanne Vesper (Robinson 2000:25-26).  Carole Johnston proposed the setting up of an Aboriginal Community Arts and Education Centre before leaving for further overseas commitments. She left Phemie Bostock and Wayne Nicole in charge of the workshops and work of the Redfern Dance Group (also known as the Dance Group). The performance of modern dance combined with traditional Indigenous stories, dance drama, dance sequences, mime sequences and movements took place at the Indigenous Tent Embassy in September 1972 and this Embassy dance was entitled Awakening (Robinson 2000:32). 

In Sydney, late in 1971, Paul Coe, Lester Bostock and Gerald Bostock, Gary Foley and Jenny van de Steehaven (a non-indigenous University of Sydney student who was studying Theatre) started to meet and develop ideas for performances and street theatre. They started calling themselves the National Black Theatre. They performed in pubs, on the streets and at protests doing mainly political street theatre, black comedy and agit prop theatre. An early piece was called ZZZ  which involved an Alex Buzo-style Norm and Ahmed scene where a policeman tries to violently wake up an indigenous man from a park bench only to find out he has died overnight (Eckersley 1987:38) . Another popular piece which took on many forms was called Black Person Arrested. This scene involved an Indigenous activist being violently beaten and arrested by Indigenous actors dressed as policemen (Casey 2004:44). The scene was viewed by a lawyer who then gets in touch with the Indigenous Legal Service who then ring all the police stations demanding the release of the 'Indigenous person arrested'. Sometimes this scene was made more ironic by a non-indigenous actor playing the indigenous activist (Eckersley 1987:39).  The Sydney Black Theatre (also known as the National Black Theatre and the Aboriginal Theatre Art and Cultural Centre) saw the evolution of an Indigenous drama that was committed to promotion of the Indigenous issues through drama. Throughout 1971, the group did street theatre and started to tell stories which they thought could be turned into powerful theatre. They applied for a government subsidy through the newly formed Indigenous Arts Advisory Committee of the Australia Council but were rejected because of what was perceived as lack of experience. 

Some people believe that the political nature of the group’s performance pieces and the outside street theatre forum of many of their pieces meant that members of committee felt threatened by the group and the type of theatre they were doing. They were encouraged to look at doing more 'established plays' rather than developing their own plays.

"We couldn't understand it … It didn't fit with what we were doing … We started sitting around, fooling around, telling our own stories, stories that our parents, aunties and uncles had told us     … Someone said, 'Hey that's what we should be writing about." (Bostock in Casey 2004:50-51)

As a consequence of this rejection, in early 1972, Bostock decided to get in touch with the more experienced Bob Maza from Melbourne and invited him to join the group and hold workshops. Maza had, by this time, started to write and help others to write their stories in script form and was starting to get a reputation with writing and rewriting scenes (dramaturgy) from the Indigenous viewpoint.

Bob Maza together with his friend, Koori actor Jack Charles had appeared together in a breakthrough revue called Jack Charles is Up and Fighting subtitled ‘It’s tough for us Boongs in Australia today’. The Nindethana Theatre which means ‘a place for social gatherings’ mounted this production with the help and encouragement of the Socialist New Theatre Melbourne and one of its directors Dot Thompson.

Material for the revue was written by many indigenous writers including Bob Maza, Jack Charles and Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal) but it was Bob Maza who did the primary dramaturgy on the play. Other writing was contributed by Socialist writer Frank Hardy The play included many serious pieces and some elements of black comedy. One of Maza’s memorable contributions was a scene about the tragic Indigenous actor Robert Tudawali, one of the stars of the film Jedda,’ The show was successful in its short season at the University of Melbourne’s Guild Theatre in March 1972. The set design and stage design elements were done by volunteers from Melbourne’s New Theatre under the guidance of Dot Thompson and Bob Maza and included some indigenous motifs done by Maza himself. Later that year it at Monash University and at the Aboriginal Arts Seminar in Canberra, near the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

In this sense, Bob Maza can be seen, to be the forefather to dramaturgy in Indigenous Australian theatre. His tireless activist work combined with theatre work and his appearances on television series like Bellbird and Hunter made him for non-indigenous and indigenous people, the acceptable face of indigenous activism and indigenous drama. Bob Maza agreed to come to Sydney and in 1972, after workshops a range of pieces were developed.  Performances of revue sketches, readings of scenes and stories written by Indigenous people were organized under the guidance of Bob Maza and Steehaven (known to many as just Sheehan). Students of these workshops included Gerald and Lester Bostock, Maureen Watson and Robert Merritt. The group relocated to premises at 181 Regent Street, Redfern. After the protests of 1972 and the establishment of an aboriginal tent embassy, a number of important Indigenous theatre companies started to blossom throughout Australia (Task Force in Adelaide and Noongar Theatre later Nyungar Theatre in Perth all joined the now established Sydney Black Theatre and Nidethana Theatre) of Melbourne. Although the Sydney Black Theatre performed in street demonstrations and in pubs in Redfern, the first formal performance by the Black Theatre was the nationally televised 'street theatre' on the news program 'This Day Tonight' to publicise the Black Moratorium and the Gove or Nabalco Land Rights Claim (Bostock 1973). Maza approached Syron at the Nimrod to put on a play and hold some of his workshops with his young actors and start to develop and train indigenous directors at the Nimrod Theatre Company. Important footage of their performances and activism at the Tent Embassy protests can be seen in the 1972 documentary N'ingla a-na; Hungry for Land. The Sydney Black Theatre then went on to developed a political revue show with a cast which included Bob Maza, Aileen Corpus, Gary Foley, Zac Martin and Bindi Williams. Called Basically Black, this show played to popular acclaim at the Nimrod's Stables Theatre for a six week run. The final December 3, 1972 performance happened on the night of the historical 'Time for Change' Whitlam Government victory of the Whitlam's Labor Party.

… the cast, crew and audience gathered in the theatre foyer to party and watch the results of the Federal election come in on specially installed TV sets ... the McMahon government (and twenty-two years of conservative rule) lost the election to a Labor landslide.” (Foley 2001)

Basically Black started touring in Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT and Queensland throughout 1973. It was extremely popular especially with indigenous people and a videotaping of a live performance was screened on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in 1973. The impact of the play cannot be understated. Gary Foley once commented:

" I must have talked to thousands of people from the political platform, but I never felt I was getting through as well as I am at the Nimrod Theatre Company."
(Foley in Casey 2004:57)

Later in 1973, Syron was invited to become Theatre Consultant on the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Whitlam Government's newly formed Australia Council (also known as the Australia Council for the Arts or the Australian Arts Council). Syron helped initiate funding of the new exciting indigenous theatre companies which were now sprouting up around Australia. This was the true beginning of government funding and commitment to Indigenous Drama.

No writing on indigenous drama in the early 1970’s cannot mention the incredible talent of an indigenous actor who primarily is known for his film work. David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu (often known as David Gulpilil) is a Yolngu man and an extraordinary indigenous actor born in 1953, who rose to popular fame through his amazing performance in Nicholas Roeg's 1971 film Walkabout. Unlike many indigenous Australian people of his generation, Gulpilil spent his childhood in the bush, outside the range of Anglo-Australian influences and this helped him to gain a unique experience and inheritance.

In 1969, his skills as a traditional dancer and storyteller camt to the attention of Roeg who was scouting for locations for his film around Maningrida. Roeg cast the then 16 year old Gulpilil into the principle role in the film, the first indigenous actor to be cast in a leading role in an international feature film. When released in 1971, Walkabout was a critical and popular success.

In 1972, Gulpilil was considered for the title role of Boney in the television series Boney   which were based on detective books of the same name centering around an outback indigenous detective. The role controversially went to non-indigenous New Zealand actor James Laurenson. Gulpilil went on to only play various subsidiary roles in the series. Despite the strange insensitivity of having a non-indigenous actor playing an indigenous detective, some of the television program's writing covered indigenous issues with great insight and sensitivity for the time. One example of this is in the September 1972 episode Boney and the Payback Killer which attempts to explore the complexity of the issues surrounding indigenous Australian justice in relation to the 'white' Western  justice system.

Gulpilil went on to perform and sing in a 1973 performance and recording of Margaret Sutherland’s 1964 opera The Young Kabbarli. During the 1970’s he starred in other critically acclaimed films including Storm Boy (1976) and The Last Wave (1977). During the 1970’s and 1980’s, he organized performance festivals and dance and songline competitions including the Darwin Australia Day Eisteddfod where he encouraged many indigenous individuals and communities to participate and perform. He helped initiate and took on a narration role in the 2006 Cannes Festival Award winning film Ten Canoes, which was also a landmark film for the way that parts and story segments were negotiated and given to people under more traditional indigenous story ownership agreements and negotiations. In 2003, a documentary about his life entitled Gulpilil:One Red Blood was shown on television on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission). One quote, from this documentary used for title of this documentary sums up Gulpilil’s respectful attitude to notions of place, belonging and people:

I have always believed that we are all one blood, No matter where we are from, we are one blood, the same.”

Further Readings and Resources on Indigenous Drama of the late 1950’s, 1960’s and early 1970’s

Black Voice: A History of Indigenous Theatre (Radio Program). ‘Awaye’. ABC Radio National Australia. October 28th, 2011.

Bostock, L. 1973.  'Black Theatre in New South Wales' in New Dawn Sept. 1973 (paper from the 1st National Seminar on Indigenous Arts).

Brisbane, K. 2001. The Future in Black and White Indigenousity in Recent Australian Drama. Currency Press. Surrey Hills., Sydney.

Carroll, D. 1995. Australian Contemporary Drama. Surrey Hills, Sydney.

Casey, M. 2004. Creating Frames. Contemporary Indigenous Theatre in Australia 1967-97. University of Queensland Press. Brisbane.

Charles, J. 2019. Born Again Blakfella. Viking Press, Penguin, Random House, Melbourne, Australia.

Courtin-Wilson, A. (dir.). 2008. Bastardy (film). GRYPH. Melbourne.

Eckersley, M. (1997). Sounding in the Dramaturgy of the Australian Theatre Director. [Masters Dissertation]. Melbourne: Faculty of Education, University of Melbourne. 

Gilbert, K. J. (1977). Living Black, Blacks Talk to Kevin Gilbert. Penguin. Ringwood (Victoria)

Gilbert, K. 1988. The Cherry Pickers. Burrambinga Books. Canberra.

Gregory, Helen. (1996) The Brisbane River Story. Meanders through Time. Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Gray, O. ‘Burst of Summer’ in Brisbane, K. (ed.) Plays of the 60’s, Vol. 1. 1997. Currency Press. Strawberry Hills, Sydney.

Gulpilil:One Red Blood. (Television documentary). 2003. ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission). Sydney.

Hillel, A. (1988). Against the Stream: Melbourne New Theatre 1936-1986. Melbourne: New Theatre Melbourne.

Roberts, R. 1997. ‘A Passion for Ideas: Black Stage’. Third Rex Cramphorn Memorial Lecture. Belvoir Street Theatre. Sydney. 13 November. 1997.

Robinson, R. B. 2000. Dreaming tracks : history of the Indigenous Islander Skills Development Scheme, 1972-1979 : its place in the continuum of Australian indigenous dance and the contribution of its African American founder Carole Y. Johnson.   [Masters thesis] University of Western Sydney. Sydney.

Romeril, J. 1982. Bastardy (First production 1972). Yackandandah Playscripts. Montmorency, Victoria.

'Vote Yes for Aborigines' (documentary). 2007. Peters-Little, F. (indigenous director). Ronin Films.

1.    In what sense do plays like Burst of Summer challenge perceptions of indigenous culture and reinforce these perceptions at the same time?
2.    Are the writing of plays about indigenous characters and indigenous issues by white writers a useful process which is made redundant as soon as we see the emergence of indigenous writers? Should non-indigenous writers continue to write plays about indigenous characters and culture after the emergence of indigenous writers?
3.    What seems to be so revolutionary about Gilbert’s The Cherry Pickers?
4.    Does good drama only come through hardship and suffering like that experienced by Kevin Gilbert?
5.    In what sense do the popular representations of more traditional aboriginal lifestyles like those seen in films such as Walkabout, both reinforce and challenge notions of indigenous culture in a modern society where the majority of indigenous Australians live in urban environments?
6.    Why do you think in 1972 Fauna productions decided against putting an indigenous Australian actor in the title role of Boney?


  1. Hi Mark, I'm enjoying reading your incredibly informative blog. Is there any way I can buy a copy of your book, Australian Indigenous Drama? I take it the above blog about Indigenous Drama of the Late 50's, 60's and Early 70's is from your book? I've tried to find a copy online. This is of such interest to me as I'm writing about the representation of indigenous Australians on screen while I was growing up. The good, the bad, and things like the ABC series "Wandjina" (!!)
    Thank you for any suggestions as to how I can buy your book.