“How is this still an is­sue?”

Grow­ing up, Indige­nous ac­tor Rar­ri­wuy Hick saw very few peo­ple who looked like her on Aus­tralian TV. Two decades later, she is part of a cul­tural shift chang­ing all that

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy DAVID CAIRD Styling JADE LE­UNG Art Di­rec­tion LIANA SHAW-TAY­LOR In­ter­view SHAN­NON MOL­LOY

Ris­ing TV star Rar­ri­wuy Hick is part of a cul­tural shift for more di­ver­sity on our screens. And the Indige­nous ac­tor says she hopes to in­spire more young women to “be strong and who they are”.

When she was a lit­tle girl, ac­tor Rar­ri­wuy Hick rarely missed an episode of her favourite tele­vi­sion show Mighty Mor­phin Power Rangers. The chil­dren’s se­ries fo­cused on five or­di­nary teenagers who trans­formed into colour-coded su­per­heroes to save their small town – and the world – from alien de­struc­tion. Upon re­li­giously tun­ing into the se­ries dur­ing the mid-’90s, Hick liked the Pink Ranger Kim­berly best.

That is, un­til the day the ac­tor play­ing the Yel­low Ranger changed to Karan Ash­ley, an African Amer­i­can.

“I was like, oh my gosh – that’s me!” she re­calls. “I re­mem­ber be­ing shocked to see some­one on the screen who looked just like me, es­pe­cially the curly hair.”

A young Hick, whose fam­ily split their time be­tween Syd­ney and re­mote Arn­hem Land in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, was be­side her­self. Back then, find­ing a per­son of colour on the telly was like spot­ting the prover­bial nee­dle in a haystack.

“There weren’t a lot of TV char­ac­ters who were di­verse-look­ing. It was nice but also kind of re­as­sur­ing to see some­one who was a bit like me.”

Two decades later, things have changed. Aus­tralian TV has made big strides in the di­ver­sity stakes, with fo­cused ef­forts to have more re­flec­tive char­ac­ters.

And now Hick, 26, a ris­ing star of small-screen drama whose cred­its in­clude Red­fern Now and The Gods Of Wheat Street, finds her­self be­ing ap­proached by young fans who say the same sort of things she once did.

“Hav­ing girls come up to me and tell me they see parts of them­selves in my char­ac­ters is in­cred­i­ble,” she tells Stel­lar from the Mel­bourne set of a hush-hush new project. “It’s nice, but it also makes me won­der, how is this still an is­sue? But I’m hop­ing it in­spires young Abo­rig­i­nal girls – all girls – and for them to use that in­spi­ra­tion in any way they want to – whether they want to be an ac­tor or they just see strength and know they too can be strong and who they are.”

She also stars in the ABC sci-fi drama Clev­er­man, which last year won ac­claim here and in the United States af­ter its pre­miere, and has since been picked up around the world.

Set in a dystopian world in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture, the se­ries fo­cuses on the re­cently dis­cov­ered “Hairypeo­ple”

– part of Indige­nous mythol­ogy – who spark fear and dis­trust in the com­mu­nity, a mood quickly seized upon by the power-hun­gry gov­ern­ment.

“It’s so ex­cit­ing to be part of such a great TV se­ries but also an Aus­tralian sci-fi show. Tak­ing away it be­ing an Indige­nous show, the genre of it is the strong point.”

Hick plays Latani, a teenage Hairy who is plunged into a fight for her life.

“It’s like Latani has be­come an Aus­tralian-style Indige­nous Won­der Woman. She can have sass, but she’s strong. She doesn’t put up with any­thing and fights for what she be­lieves in. I love the char­ac­ter. I’m com­pletely drawn to her and the world they’ve cre­ated that she ex­ists in.”

Although play­ing a 15-year-old was a some­what daunt­ing prospect at first. “It’s been a while since I was a teenager,” she says with a laugh. “I had to kind of think about what they’re like. Me at that age, I was quite sporty and ad­ven­tur­ous and en­joyed be­ing out­doors. I think I was a bit of a tomboy. I didn’t find my fem­i­nine side un­til a lot later, maybe when I was 18 when I fi­nally learnt how to walk in heels.”

Hick was also painfully shy as a child, and hated speak­ing to any­one out­side of her in­ner cir­cle. “You couldn’t get a word out of me,” she says. “I never wanted to be an ac­tor. But I did want to be a dancer. I en­joyed move­ment and that’s who I was. I didn’t have to use my voice when I was danc­ing and I re­ally en­joyed that.”

Her mother Janet Mun­yarryun was a found­ing mem­ber of the glob­ally renowned Ban­garra Dance Com­pany.

Hick says her mother is the rea­son that she went “down this path”, and is in many ways re­spon­si­ble for its un­ex­pected turns.

“I grew up in this world, go­ing to re­hearsals and watch­ing peo­ple per­form. That’s all I’ve known so it was bound to hap­pen, I think.

“I was in a dance pro­duc­tion and the pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tors of Red­fern Now hap­pened to be at the show, and saw some­thing in me that they wanted to ex­plore on­screen.

“A few years later when it was be­ing made they called me. It was the first time I was on­screen. It’s how I learnt how to act. It was the be­gin­ning of it all.”

Hick is now jug­gling meatier projects span­ning stage and screen and she’s pro­duc­ing her own work, with a few ex­cit­ing con­cepts in the pipe­line.

DUR­ING HER FOR­MA­TIVE years, Hick tra­versed two very dif­fer­ent worlds. Her par­ents wanted her to have op­por­tu­nity and brought her to Syd­ney for long stints, but were also des­per­ate for her to re­tain her Indige­nous cul­ture in Arn­hem Land. There, she spent care­free months in the tiny com­mu­nity of Dhaliny­buy.

“It’s re­mote. I’m talk­ing re­ally small lit­tle tin sheds, only about eight of them, and three hours from ev­ery­thing,” she says. “There’s no re­cep­tion, no in­ter­net… no Face­book!

“I’m the el­dest kid. I have one bi­o­log­i­cal brother, but tra­di­tion­ally there are nine of us. They are my cousins, but in my cul­ture they’re con­sid­ered broth­ers and sis­ters, and that’s how we see each other. They see me as their big sis­ter. It gets a bit crazy but it’s fun be­ing the old­est. I get to be bossy and they lis­ten to me.”

Her name, pro­nounced “rad-er-way”, means “but­ter­fly” in her na­tive tongue. It’s a lan­guage she was speak­ing be­fore she learnt English, and is one of seven mostly stly Indige­nous di­alects she knows.

“It was im­por­tant to keep my lan­guage strong,” she says. “I speak my Abo­rig­i­nal lan­guage flu­ently and I’m glad I kept con­nected to that.”

Her up­bring­ing and the dy­namic of be­ing the el­dest has shaped who Hick is, she says. She de­scribes her­self as strong-minded and fiercely pro­tec­tive of those who are hard done by.

“I be­lieve in hu­man­ity and I feel very strongly about speak­ing up about things that are wrong.”

She was among those who ex­pressed anger over the re­cent Western Aus­tralian case of a man who ran down and killed teenager Eli­jah Doughty, only to be found not guilty of man­slaugh­ter but guilty of a lesser of­fence. Hick also made head­lines in 2013 when she and a group of other Indige­nous ac­tors were de­nied ser­vice by mul­ti­ple taxi driv­ers at the con­clu­sion of their per­for­mance at a Mel­bourne the­atre.

“It’s so im­por­tant to me to use my voice,” she says. “But I’m fight­ing for hu­man­ity. It is not re­ally just an Indige­nous thing, it’s about hu­man­ity and the be­lief that peo­ple should be treated well. The only way we can move for­ward in Aus­tralia is by talk­ing about th­ese things.”

Hick ad­mits there are days when she’s up­set by the chal­lenges her com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to face. The re­moval of chil­dren by au­thor­i­ties from Abo­rig­i­nal fam­i­lies in the Top End is an is­sue that has touched her per­son­ally, hav­ing in­volved mem­bers of her own fam­ily.

“It’s up­set­ting and at times it’s quite dev­as­tat­ing,” she tells Stel­lar. “But I have hope. I think most Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple have hope that things will move for­ward and ev­ery­thing will be OK.

“And also, Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple are good at hav­ing a laugh. We like to get around a din­ner ta­ble with lots of food and fo­cus on the good, too – fam­ily, com­mu­nity.”

Laugh­ing is some­thing she shares with her part­ner Meyne Wy­att, him­self an ac­com­plished ac­tor. They met sev­eral years ago while work­ing on a Syd­ney The­atre Com­pany pro­duc­tion – back then just two young up-and-com­ing per­form­ers who be­came friendly.

“He be­came a good friend, and then my best friend, and then…” Hick trails off with a laugh.

“We just get each other, I think. We make each other laugh. We’re also not afraid to make fools of our­selves – danc­ing down the aisle of the su­per­mar­ket, be­ing silly.

“We en­joy the fun-ness of life. That’s not even a word, but you know what I mean.”

They’ve spent the past few years liv­ing out of suit­cases and be­tween ci­ties. Wy­att did a long stint on the soap Neigh­bours while Hick went from the­atre in Mel­bourne to TV in Syd­ney.

“We’ve de­cided to get a place in Syd­ney and make that our base. If we need to travel, we go off, but then come back some­where per­ma­nent.”

When she’s not work­ing, Hick is some­thing of a se­ri­ous home­body. The in­ten­sity of shoots cou­pled with the of­ten-heavy sub­ject mat­ter leaves her ex­hausted, so when a job fin­ishes she co­coons her­self away. “I will hap­pily hide away for months and months and just watch Net­flix and do Sudoku or my puzzles. It’s like recharg­ing my bat­ter­ies for the next work thing.”

Trips home th­ese days are far too in­fre­quent, although she has formed a sur­ro­gate fam­ily away from home com­pris­ing her act­ing “rat pack” of other young up-and-com­ers.

But as of­ten as she can, she makes the long trip back to Arn­hem Land to es­cape the “noise and busy­ness” of mod­ern life.

“It takes me a while to ad­just to the rhythm, though,” Hick says. “It’s slow – a lit­tle bit like a coun­try town with a slow pace. When I first go back, my mum will tell me to talk slower be­cause I’m talk­ing too fast or walk­ing too fast. I al­ways have to re­mind my­self to breathe and re­lax and slow down.

“My broth­ers miss me, so when­ever I go home they ask me what I want for tea that night and I tell them it’s what­ever they can catch.

“They’ll go out all day and come back with five lob­sters or some­thing. What’s not to love about that?” Clev­er­man is avail­able on ABC iview.

“I be­lieve in hu­man­ity and I feel strongly about speak­ing up about things that are wrong”

RAR­RI­WUY WEARS Cooper St dress, coop­erst.com.au

IN REEL LIFE (clock­wise from top left) Rar­ri­wuy Hick with Deb­o­rah Mail­man in a scene from Red­fern Now; Hick on the 2017 Lo­gies red car­pet; with part­ner and fel­low ac­tor Meyne Wy­att.

RAR­RI­WUY WEARS Cooper St jump­suit, coop­erst. com.au; Tony Bianco shoes, tony­bianco.com.au HAIR & MAKE-UP Ju­lia Green

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