THE PRO­GRAM CEL­E­BRATES SOME OF OUR GREAT BAT­TLES FOR SO­CIAL JUS­TICE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - The Peo­ple Speak,

our gaze wouldn’t be di­rected away from the con­cert stage.

In­stead — although the show was per­formed con­tin­u­ously on the night it was filmed — we cut away re­peat­edly to archival footage car­ried by his nar­ra­tion. A nat­u­ral sto­ry­teller, Ke­neally calls this back­ground­ing to the staged speeches the show’s ‘‘ con­nec­tive tis­sue’’ and, in­deed, much of it is well-ex­pressed, his nar­ra­tion colour­ful and vig­or­ous. ‘‘ Do­ing it [live] in one hit be­fore an en­thu­si­as­tic au­di­ence was a stim­u­lat­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but it was great to meet some of the younger ac­tors whom I didn’t know, but whose per­for­mances fit the cho­sen out­cries of Aus­tralia su­perbly,’’ Ke­neally tells First Watch.

The fi­nal cut me­an­ders a lit­tle, es­pe­cially when the less skil­ful read­ers ap­pear to lack con­fi­dence in the characters whose words they are read­ing. Some are sim­ply bet­ter sight read­ers than oth­ers, able to play the crowd at the same time as they re­cite the words. (Ke­neally does this with a prac­tised pub­lic speaker’s grace.) Some have learned their parts; oth­ers sim­ply read — some­times ner­vously — in front of the live au­di­ence.

But there are some stun­ning per­for­mances too. Clau­dia Kar­van does a witty, satiric ver­sion of Ger­maine Greer, read­ing from 1970’s The Fe­male Eu­nuch and get­ting the scorn­ful­ness just right. Re­becca Gib­ney, hav­ing learned the words, sim­ply in­hab­its Joyce Gol­gerth, one of the founders of the an­ti­con­scrip­tion group Save Our Sons, where moth­ers joined to­gether to voice their op­po­si­tion to the con­scrip­tion of their sons for the war in Viet­nam. It’s a beau­ti­ful moment, acted with dig­nity and pas­sion. It’s fol­lowed by John Schu­mann’s I Was Only 19 in a ren­di­tion by Ju­lia Stone and her band that is not only poignant but heart­break­ing, es­pe­cially when Kel­ton Pell gives us the great Bur­num Bur­num speech, de­liv­ered when he planted the Abo­rig­i­nal flag be­neath the white cliffs of Dover on Jan­uary 26, 1988, the year of white Aus­tralia’s Bi­cen­te­nary. ‘‘ I, Bur­num Bur­num of the Wu­rund­jeri Tribe, do hereby take pos­ses­sion of Eng­land on be­half of the Abo­rig­i­nal Crown of Aus­tralia,’’ he snaps out, proud and full of lar­rikin bravado. Lil­lian Crom­bie fol­lows with a gravely im­pres­sive speech from Low­itja O’Donoghue. ‘‘ For in­dige­nous peo­ple the land she lifts her trum­pet and plain­tive notes at the end.

John Jar­ratt, like Gib­ney in char­ac­ter and us­ing no script, is also ef­fec­tive with a heart­break­ing speech from Chris Lam­bert lament­ing the loss of his son on Au­gust 22 last year, when his pa­trol trig­gered an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice in Afghanistan.

The fi­nal, largely in­dige­nous seg­ment is a tri­umph, a brac­ing spec­ta­cle in which his­tory is cel­e­brated by artists of tremen­dous craft.

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of does not be­long to us, we be­long to the land,’’ she says, flanked by the im­pres­sive Pell and Jimi Bani, so charis­matic as Ed­die ‘‘ Koiki’’ Mabo in the ABC tele­movie named af­ter the fa­ther of na­tive ti­tle. ‘‘ Our story is the land; it is writ­ten in those sa­cred places. My chil­dren will look af­ter those places — it is the law.’’

As Ke­neally says: ‘‘ The Abo­rig­i­nal speeches came from deep wells of anger and sor­row and be­wil­der­ment and irony and in­tent, and the young Abo­rig­i­nal ac­tors un­der­stood ex­actly where they came in­hab­ited the text.’’

He re­turns just be­fore the cur­tain. ‘‘ So you’ve heard all the voices — those you agree with, and those you do not,’’ he tells the au­di­ence. ‘‘ And now we go out into a dan­ger­ous world and we know, none­the­less, that Aus­tralian his­tory is not in­flu­enced nec­es­sar­ily from the top down, that it can be in­flu­enced from be­low as well, and that to be part of Aus­tralian his­tory is to be vo­cal and I wish you well in the com­pany of that tra­di­tion.’’

The best per­for­mance of this night of crit­i­cal Aus­tralian voices comes at the end. Chris­tine Anu, with Jack Thompson on har­mon­ica, does a rip­ping ver­sion of From Lit­tle Things Big Things Grow. The song, writ­ten by Paul Kelly and Kev Car­mody, was in­spired by the story of Vin­cent Lin­giari who led the Gurindji strike at Wave Hill in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory in 1966 — the cat­a­lyst for the land rights move­ment. And, with her unique qual­ity of spir­i­tual grace and that ethe­real catch in the voice, Anu turns it into an in­spired an­them to the fu­ture.

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