Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Outlaw or resistance hero? [February 6]

Just back from scorching Perth, where i’ve been making a radio feature for the Artworks program on Radio National all about a new play called ‘Jandamarra’ that’s about to open in the Perth International Arts Festival.

It’s based on the true story of a Bunuba man from the Kimberley who was (depending on your point of view) either a murderous outlaw or an indigenous resistance hero.
The program will be broadcast at 11:05 am Sunday 10th Feb, and then repeated at 8:35 pm on the evening of Monday 11th Feb.

It’s an amazing project – written by Steve Hawke (Bob’s son) and performed in four different languages – including Bunuba. The Black Swan Theatre Company took it on, after Steve and his collaborators at Bunuba Films had been unsuccessful in getting the story up as a feature film.

It’s been directed by Tim Gutteridge (possibly the most patient man on the planet) and translations done by Patsy bedford, Mona Oscar, Selina Middleton, and the Chair of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, June Oscar (possibly the most patient woman on the planet).

I had the privilege of sitting in on rehearsals at Black Swan for a few days. Highlights:

– watching the kids of various indigenous cast members hanging around the edges of the smallish rehearsal room, snoozing, whispering on their mobile phones, watching the action. One tiny boy picked up a big fat script and, in imitation of the cast and direction team, sat holding it in his lap with pencil poised, ready to ‘take notes’.
– watching George Brooking, a respected elder of the Bunuba clan and a singer in this production, laughing silently from the sidelines as the non-Bunuba speakers in the cast struggled valiantly to get their tongues around the language he has been speaking from birth.
– hearing occasional thumping and shrieking coming from the ceiling above where, on the second floor of Black Swan’s headquarters in Nedlands (a former Masonic Lodge), another cast was simultaneously rehearsing The Caucasian Chalk Circle. hmmm… the irony of the title only just strikes me now.
– the cast leaning into big microphones, stirring buckets of pebbles, flapping pairs of old gloves, and popping balloons, to simulate the sounds of giant snakes slithering, startled birds flying and shotguns firing. Close your eyes and you’d think you were in Windjana Gorge.