26 November 2011

Review: Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country

Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country
Ilbijerri, the Minutes of Evidence Project and La Mama
18 November 2011
La Mama Courthouse Theatre
to 27 November

Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country lets past voices be heard as Ilbijerri and La Mama continue to tell stories that we need to know and to share.

Telling a story that is so important to many Victorians, and with Liz Jones, Melodie Reynolds, Jack Charles, Greg Fryer, Jim Daly, Peter Finlay, Glenn Shea, Tom Long and Syd Brisbane as the cast, Coranderrk was sold out before it opened – but there's a waiting list and fortune favours those who take a chance.

Until now, I didn't know about Coranderrk. In 1863 near Healesville, the Coranderrk station was established as an 'Aboriginal Reserve'  by the surviving members of displaced Kulin clans. Working with a European lay-preacher, John Green, Coranderrk developed into a self-supporting farm community and welcomed members of other displaced clans. By 1877, the land had become valuable to the surrounding farmers and Board for the Protection of Aborigines dismissed Green as manager.

With conditions deteriorating and the threat of being displaced again, the men and women of Coranderrk began a protest that included letter writing, petitions and deputations to see the Chief Minister in Melbourne. As a result, in 1881 a parliamentary inquiry was established.

Like My Name is Rachel Corrie (from the diary and emails of an American student killed at Gaza) and the recent MIAF Aftermath (from interviews with Iraqi refugees), verbatim theatre explores history and events by using the voices of those who were there. Coranderrk is a verbatim reading of the Minutes of Evidence of the inquiry.

Writers Andrea James and Giordano Nanni started with the 140-page document and present the evidence of 19 (of the 69) witnesses. The story is painful and hopeful, but its heart and power is hearing the lost voices of people like William Barack, Robert Wandon, Ann Fraser Bon and John Green. Sometimes our names are all we leaveThe final reading of the names signed on the original petition is one of the most moving moments of theatre this year.

Less than a re-creation and more than a reading, the characterisations confirm where our sympathies should lie. Given the honesty of the recorded words, there may be more strength is letting the audience make their own decisions. People who do things we find abhorrent believe that they are doing the right thing, and I would like to have seen more of the humanity in the choices if every character.

However, nothing can distract from this story and by letting it be told, Coranderrk and its people are taken out of forgotten history documents and become a living part of all our stories.

Get on the waiting list.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Steven Rhall

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