ON STAGE: Actor Trevor Jamieson (front) stars in the Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Belvoir production of Coranderrk.
ON STAGE: Actor Trevor Jamieson (front) stars in the Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Belvoir production of Coranderrk. James Henry

Coranderrk: History told in black and white

THE Wurundjeri people of Victoria, headed by cousins Simon Wonga and William Barak, created Coranderrk in 1859, located 50km north-east of Melbourne, it was the first ever self-managed reservation of Aboriginal people in the country.

Scottish preacher John Green and wife Mary founded the place with them, but there was something very different between the Greens and other Europeans: they believed the Wurundjeri people - and all aboriginal people - were equals to Europeans and deserved to be treated with respect.

The reservation was allowed by the Board of Protection (the cornerstone of paternalistic colonialism disguised as 'protection') and soon as their crops were a big success, the children were robust and happy, their women well dressed and elegant and the men smart and agile.

Soon after the Board of Protection took their earnings away, failed to deliver a hospital, and the workers went on strike.

 

 

A Parliamentary Inquiry in 1881 is the basis of Corranderk, the theatre play by Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Belvoir Theatre, coming to Lismore as part of the NORPA Season 2017.

Director Eva Grace Mullaly explains the 70-minute stage production tells the story using the words of the people who participated in the inquiry, verbatum.

"It's not made up, or dramatised, it's a verbatum work, that is astonishingly strong," she said.

"Most of the scenes are verbatum from the transcripts of the Coranderrk inquiry."

Four actors, lead by Trevor Jamieson, play around 20 different roles.

 

Not a challenging piece

Mullaly said East Coast audiences have clearly expressed a desire to understand more of Australian history.

"Audiences want these stories, and they want to learn, and they want to experience history."

The director said the piece is not one set to challenge race relations.

"This is not a challenging piece," she said.

"This is a historical piece.

"Western Australia (where Mullaly is from) did not pick up this piece to go on tour around their state, neither did Tasmania nor South Australia, and that says a lot about where are we at with race relations around the country.

"This is a tried and tested play that everyone has loved thus far."

 

Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Belvoir will bring their piece Coranderrk to Lismore.
Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Belvoir will bring their piece Coranderrk to Lismore. Tyson Mowarin

Their strategy

Eva Grace Mullay said the most surprising part of this story is the sophistication of the Wurundjeri people's strategy to win their land back.

"These people used the government's system and the constructs of Western society against Western society," she said.

"They didn't go in an aboriginal fashion to fix this, they used the Western law system to get what they wanted."

  • At Lismore City Hall, 1 Bounty St, Lismore, on June 30 and July 1. Visit norpa.org.au.