REVIEW: This Fella, My Memory | Carriageworks, Sydney
A new indigenous arts company brings native voices to the stage. This Fella, My Memory is not perfect, but it shows great promise.
This Fella, My Memory is the first major work to be presented by Moogahlin Performing Arts. Moogahlin is a Yuln word, meaning to play, or muck around; the company isn’t yet six years old. And as you’d expect with any six-year-old, it hasn’t, necessarily, quite reached its full potential. But it can be clearly seen. And this, make no mistake, is a bellwether, being the first all-Aboriginal Sydney theatre production in 40-odd years. On the strength of This Fella, I predict big things.
It should be said there’s something more significant than mere theatre going on here, for Moogahlin brings together the minds and willing hands of theatre makers and community workers, who pay homage to the National Black Theatre, a strong voice for Aboriginality, land rights and other political and social justice imperatives which saw the rise to prominence of Bob Maza, among others.
For this grassroots, community-based initiative, Moogahlin has brought on board cultural consultants and elders Aunty Christine Blakeney and Uncle Max (Dulumunmun) Harrison. The lines blur, creatively; this would appear to be the most egalitarian of collaborations, with a palpably indigenous sensibility, insofar as an authentically resonance and form, which echoes the oral tradition through shared storytelling. There is also recognition of the centrality of women in Aboriginal society: they are like the skeleton, the bones without which nothing and noone could stand.
We embark on a journey with these three women (two Aboriginal and one not), all of whom call a Redfern refuge home. Toots and Col are taking Dolly back to her roots, on the south coast. They set out optimistically, believing Dolly is about to reconnect with her long lost mob. But, as John Lennon put it, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans and there are ghosts that come to haunt and derail their expectations.
As we travel along with them, we also traverse the landscapes of their lives: backgrounds, fears, hopes, dreams and relationships. Inevitably, there are potholes along the way, but they’re tackled, individually and collectively, with courage, humility and good humour. And for all the difficulties that arise, forgiveness and understanding are the dominant traits in their dealings with one another. Driven to the brink of breakdown on their paths of self-discovery, they end up more connected to themselves and country than they began. In Aboriginal culture, ties really bind and, while we gubbas mightn’t be able to see or read the songlines, or penetrate the arcane system of kinship, we can at least glean some sense of the depth of these attachments.
Performances aren’t entirely flawless, but nerves may’ve played a part. Though at first stilted, the actors seemed to wear the garments of their roles more comfortably as they went along and, all in all, director Frederick Copperwaite has emerged creditably. In any case, these more technical concerns are easily overwhelmed by sheer heart. As ordinary women, these aunties show themselves to be anything but. When bonds are tested, they work to to repair the frays, before friendships unravel. There’s no room for regrets or grudges in their world. Bygones are bygones. And what sustains them throughout, in every sense, is the roots that reach deep down into the land from their feet, which are firmly on the ground. After all, that’s where the entirety of the human past lies. People. And stories.
In listening to the stories of these women, we can hear, in silent harmony, all the voices of the past. Like David Mowaljarlai, senior lawman of the Ngarinyin people of the western Kimberley:
“We are really sorry for you people. We cry for you because you haven’t got meaning of culture in this country. We have a gift we want to give you. We keep getting blocked from giving you that gift. We get blocked by politics and politicians. We get blocked by media; by process of law. All we want to do is come out from under all of this and give you this gift. And it’s the gift of pattern thinking. It’s the culture which is the blood of this country, of Aboriginal groups, of the ecology, of the land itself.”
The details: This Fella, My Memory played CarriageWorks on September 4-7.