This month marks the 130th anniversary of a minor uprising in Victorian history.
Unlike the Eureka rebellion, it has been all but forgotten, despite it involving Aborigines demanding self-determination on their own land – an issue that still polarises opinion in modern Australia. In Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country, the story is retold through the words of the key players.
After many years of gentle but persistent protest from the 100-or-so Aboriginal residents of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve, in 1881 a Government Inquiry was held into the management of the settlement.
Using the original transcripts, writers Andrea James and Giordano Nanni have distilled the essence of the story to create a 90-minute performance that gives a fascinating insight into a piece of Victoria’s history that bears further examination.
The villain of the piece is the new manager, Reverend F. Strickland, whose patronising attitude and dodgy, cost-cutting measures is the catalyst for the revolt, along with rumours that the government wishes to move the residents elsewhere now that white settlers have discovered the farming value of the land around Healesville, where Coranderrk is based.
He is played with evil intent by Syd Brisbane (Boxing Day and Silent Partner), who, along with most of the cast, gives evidence as two other characters as well; despite very little change in attire, you always know when the evil Rev. Strickland’s character has returned.
Tom Long (The Dish), Melody Reynolds and Glenn Shea between them contribute 10 more characters with ease and very little in the way of props.
For the most part the acting is solid, the lighting simple but effective and the setting – La Mama’s Courthouse – just perfect for the storyline.
On the odd occasion, a few directing strategies became a bit intrusive – for example a series of short barking laughs, interjected to underline the attitude of the era, which questioned the idea that blackfellas could be trusted to look after themselves.
Two stars shine brightly throughout: the determined Ann Fraser Bon (played by Liz Jones), the only female commissioner on the inquiry, whose faith in humanity and the Aborigines’ ability to manage the land for themselves is never shaken despite all the gibes and attacks launched against her.
The other is William Barak, Coranderrk’s leader and founder, played with dignity by Jack Charles (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, 1978), whose quiet determination and core strength pervades all the bluff and nonsense the judicial system might throw at his people. His simple desire is for his people to be left alone to run Coranderrk: "We will show the country we can be self supporting."
With lessons to be learnt at so many levels – historical, social, language and geographical – this play should be compulsory reading in high schools across Australia.
Make sure you see it – and take the program home to read again later; a visit to Healesville will never be the same again.
Ilbijerri Theatre Company and the Minutes of Evidence Project present
Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country
Concept by Giordano Nanni | Adapted by Andrea James & Giordano Nanni
Directed by Isaac Drandic
Venue: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummon St, Carlton
Dates: 16 – 27 November, 2011
Times: Weds, Sun at 6.30pm, Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8pm
Matinees: Saturdays at 4pm
Tickets: $25 ($15) Community $10; child $5
Bookings: 9347 6142 | www.lamama.com.au