The most powerful thing about Ilbijerri’s The Dirty Mile is that it is an experience that does not allow the audience to be complacent.
All too often, we go to the theatre, sit back and let a show wash over us. On a bad night, we might even fall asleep. Nothing like that can happen at The Dirty Mile, a walking tour of Aboriginal Fitzroy. From the show’s opening, when three fur-clad figures emerge from the trees in the Carlton Gardens, introducing themselves as the Woiwurrung people, all the way through to gritty Charcoal Lane, tucked just parallel to Smith Street, the audience is continually moving from site to site. There is little chance to linger long in each location, as there are far too many places to visit and too many stories to tell.
The peripatetic nature of the show echoes the journey of the Aboriginals themselves, displaced from their native lands, sent to missions and then into the city, often separated from their families with little or no social support. From workers’ cottages to the housing estates and many places in between, The Dirty Mile suggests a history of constant shifting - domestically, politically and psychologically, and traces migration and daily life over several decades.
Gertrude Street, or Dirty Gertie, as it was known to many of its inhabitants, is where the action takes place. The audience is marshaled through the public street. Unknowing bypassers get caught in the action and often want to join the tour. A driver was parallel parking in front of the terrace house once home to the first Aboriginal Housing Board, just as the audience watched actors on the balcony re-enact a community meeting.
Down alleyways, across small streets and with detours into the Atherton Housing Estate to hear stories from Aunty Denise Lovett about the Parkies’ secret drinking sites and social gatherings, the tour is a long and comprehensive one. With a break at MAYSAR (Melbourne Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation) for some tea and damper, the experience is chock-full of information and is very much a tactile experience.
Directed by Kylie Belling and written by Gary Foley and John Harding, from an original idea by Lisa Bellear, The Dirty Mile is more historical re-enactment than high brow theatre. Production values such as sound and staging are compromised to allow the show to travel and have the whole group fit into small locations. The actors play many roles, from wives working in an ammunition factory while their husbands are at war, to church leaders, community folk, bootleggers, policemen, protestors and sports heroes. Even though the material is overly didactic at times and with some characters played out too one-dimensionally – more skit or sketch than textured performance, The Dirty Mile is still a highly effective experience.
Its immediacy and intimacy makes a far greater impact than other, more stylized theatrical work and it offers to the public interesting and little-known information. Even though a large audience would detract from the experience of walking The Dirty Mile, it’s a shame that more people will not see this show, as it has much to offer both adults and children of all races and cultural backgrounds. Let’s hope The Dirty Mile will get a much longer life than this current second season to continue getting its message and history out to the wider public.
ILBIJERRI Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre presents
THE DIRTY MILE
A Dramatised Walking Trail through Indigenous Fitzroy
Venue: Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, commencing from the Exhibition Building at Nicholson Street
Dates: 23 February to 16 March
Times: Thursday, Friday and Saturday 7pm, Saturday and Sunday 2pm
Tickets: $30.00 and $20.00
Bookings: Malthouse Ticketing (03) 9685 5111 | www.malthousetheatre.com.au