COLOUR

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Theatre -

adap­ta­tion of Romeo and Juliet for Bell Shake­speare in 1999 and Black Medea, in which he in­fused Euri­pedes’s clas­sic tragedy with an Abo­rig­i­nal story for the Syd­ney Theatre Com­pany in 2000.

‘‘ I’m at­tracted to big clas­sic sto­ries,’’ Enoch says. ‘‘ We’ve set Mother Courage in the fu­ture be­cause a lot of Abo­rig­i­nal sto­ry­telling is set in the past. We’re us­ing the play to talk about the fu­ture of Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple if we dis­re­gard the moral is­sues around min­ing. What’s the cost to fam­i­lies and com­mu­nity?’’

It’s in­evitable that the act of ap­pro­pri­at­ing a clas­sic play in this fash­ion can con­tain po­lit­i­cal over­tones hark­ing back to coloni­sa­tion. ‘‘ I hope there would come a day where it wouldn’t be po­lit­i­cal,’’ Enoch says. ‘‘ But we’re not quite there yet.’’

Nazarski first en­coun­tered Mother Courage three years ago around the time she was work­ing with high school stu­dents in the re­gional town of Mur­gon, in Queens­land’s Bur­nett Val­ley. Af­ter work­ing for many years as a teacher’s aide, she had a ‘‘ mid-life cri­sis’’ when she was 30 and de­cided to fol­low her pas­sion for act­ing. A few years af­ter grad­u­at­ing from act­ing school, she scored a men­tor­ship with QTC learn­ing how to run theatre work­shops. Be­fore she knew it she was stand­ing in front of a group of high school stu­dents again; this time she was hold­ing a work­shop on Mother Courage.

‘‘ If I was their age, I would be think­ing some crusty old white­fella from some­where across the other side of the world wrote this a zil­lion years ago,’’ says Nazarski. She sighs. ‘‘ Bor­ing.’’

But as she read about Mother Courage los­ing her chil­dren to the war, she couldn’t help think­ing about the re­moval poli­cies that had taken Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren from their fam­i­lies. As a way of en­gag­ing the stu­dents, Nazarski asked them to imag­ine how the story would un­fold if the main char­ac­ter were in­dige­nous. ‘‘ They ate it up,’’ she says. ‘‘ They were all over it like a mad woman on a diet gone rogue.’’

In Bris­bane she dis­cussed the ex­pe­ri­ence with Enoch, who agreed that they should do an in­dige­nous telling of the play. He and Nazarski come from Quan­damooka coun­try on North Strad­broke Is­land, 30km south­east of Bris­bane. Their fa­thers are cousins but Nazarski had to work hard — ‘‘ Wes­ley doesn’t be­lieve in nepo­tism, dam­mit’’ — to con­vince him to let her play mi­nor parts in the play.

Sand­min­ing is the main in­dus­try on North Strad­broke Is­land but ef­forts are un­der way to gen­er­ate in­dige­nous-run tourism af­ter lo­cal Abo­rig­ines were granted man­age­ment rights over the is­land’s camp­ing sites and beaches. Nazarski’s fam­ily has dif­fer­ent views on the min­ing in­dus­try: her fa­ther worked in min­ing on the is­land, which she says al­lowed him to spend $70, a month’s wages, for an en­gage­ment ring for her mother in the 1970s. But other mem­bers of her fam­ily are against min­ing, she says.

‘‘ There are some mob who want to live on com­mu­nity and they don’t want mother earth raped,’’ Nazarski says. ‘‘ Then you have the other side who worked for the mines, made good money off the mines and it fed their fam­i­lies.’’

The play isn’t set in any par­tic­u­lar min­ing com­mu­nity but goes straight to this is­sue in the open­ing mo­ments: ‘‘ This is a play per­formed by in­dige­nous ac­tors,’’ a cast mem­ber tells the au­di­ence, ‘‘ where min­ing equals war.’’

Apart from that open­ing, there are few di­rect ref­er­ences to min­ing in the play. The theme is largely com­mu­ni­cated through a Mad Max- style set with large boul­ders crash­ing through the air. The per­form­ers will wear cos­tumes fea­tur­ing army prints and the high­vis colours worn by min­ing work­ers.

Enoch and Nazarski have wo­ven English trans­la­tions of the play by mul­ti­ple writ­ers, among them Tony Kush­ner and David Hare, with Abo­rig­i­nal slang and words from a dic­tionary com­piled by el­ders on North Strad­broke Is­land.

Nazarski ex­plained to the el­ders she was writ­ing a play when she asked them for a copy of the dic­tionary. If she had writ­ten the en­tire play in tra­di­tional lan­guage or used cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive ma­te­rial, she says, she would have had to un­der­take a lengthy con­sul­ta­tion.

‘‘ I was very clear in my own mind about what kind of pro­to­cols would be red flags,’’ she says.

‘‘ Had I de­cided to do a story in­volv­ing things like initiation, I would have had to front

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