WINDMILL BABY – World Premiere Season
Opening night of Aboriginal Australia’s award winning play WINDMILL BABY was the culmination of a journey from the red dirt of the Kimberley, through the mind of playwright David Milroy, to the stage of Subiaco Theatre Centre.
It wasn’t without its share of small fires and controversy, but then what great piece of Australian theatre isn’t.
We were proud to have opened our award winning play here in Perth as it an historical fact but unfortunately a widely under-acknowledged fact that the State of Western Australia has long since been a leader in contemporary Aboriginal theatre. We assume this honour alongside Brisbane based Kooemba Jdarra and Victoria’s Ilbijerri co-operative, as we stand together in BLAKSTAGEalliance and solidarity.
The cast of Rohanna Angus and Chook Pickett, largely unknowns to the theatre Industry - but Aboriginal theatre’s best kept secret - graced the stage with poise and purpose. Rohanna’s delivery and characterisation of no less than ten archetypal figures from the dusty Kimberley cattle station, shone through with well-timed wit and equally well-timed poignancy. Chook as live musician, blended into the set as a cowboy shirt and akubra wearing chameleon, coming to life with the strum on a beat up guitar, the whirr of a broken mouth organ and the crank of a gramophone.
The set was awash with the scorching Kimberley earth and a simply stated sense of abandonment, that could be brought back to life by the squeak of a bedspring or the shadow of the windmill.
The universal themes of the play - love, life and loss – ensure that WINDMILL BABY can be embraced nationally and internationally, without fear of mis-translation. This play is a new calling card for the Aboriginal theatre industry to lay our Indigenous determined hand on the table and reset the worldview of who we are and what we do.
And what of the small fires and controversy? Well the initial fires - the scepticism and doubt by mainstream arts industry placed on the ability to produce the work without one of the “top 5”, served to fuel the determination to produce a great piece of theatre, on Aboriginal theatre terms. The subsequent fires came from within our own arts community, with demands comparable to the film industry. Simply put, if we set such precedents in the theatre sector, we would all be out of jobs. As for the controversy, well that had a short build in the gossip columns way out West, but soon wound down after it was discovered by the eager journo, that there wasn’t a story to be told.
So herein lies the challenge. Presenters and festival directors who place provisos on Aboriginal theatre work with attempts to influence casting decisions, see the error of your ways. Essentially unless you are an Aboriginal theatre buff or immersed within our cultural industries, you might not actually be equipped to make any informed decision on who our lead actors truly are. Allow a sense of open-mindedness and trust in the practitioners who are living and breathing authentic Aboriginal theatre.
While a headline actor is all good and well, until we as the Aboriginal theatre industry are enabled to nurture our pool of artists, we will continue to be stifled by this notion that there are only 3, 4, 5 artists worthy of consideration. This is not the case, never has been the case and never will be the case. We have an industry-wide commitment to smash through those glass ceilings to the day when our talent will be recognised on merit and not because they’ve had a “lucky cross-over break” to a mainstream play with “Aboriginal themes” or were most fortunate to play a stereotype.
As for those small few in our own arts community who attempt acts of internalised oppression, make the psychological shift. There are no enemies here, there are no victims here. We are far too small an industry and far too caring a community to linger on such fleeting moments. Stand in solidarity and we will remain strong.
So where to now? For us, the journey has only just begun. We look to take this play to the nation – far and wide. We look to take this play to the world – far and wide Presenters know you have an award winning play, ever so eloquently written, at your feet. In the words of one of Western Australia’s most respected theatre critics “Windmill Baby is one of those compact yet powerful little plays that is ideal for touring the country.” [Ron Banks -The West Australian.]
WA’s theatre critic knows it, Yirra Yaakin knows it, and Australia deserves to know it.