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