Everywhere I’ve traveled, I’ve encountered Australians (who are some of the the MOST FUN people on the planet, by the way) and I think something about being isolated from the rest of the world makes them especially susceptible to the travel bug. For people who travel so much, they have an awfully cool place to go home to.
Australia has an ancient cultural history, and the Indigenous people of the land are amongst the first people to leave Africa, between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago.
Since the 1960s, Aboriginal people have referred to themselves as Black, and today often use the stylized terms Blak or Bla(c)kness to acknowledge the diverse experiences of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders, Pacific Islanders, Afro-Australian folks, and other members of the African diaspora. Global Blackness is a fascinating concept to me as an African American, living in a country with a vastly different view of what it means to be black.
Indigenous Australians are still fighting for their rights. In addition to their ongoing social and political activism, indigenous Australian artists have had an immense impact on Australian theatre. Here, I’ll provide an overview of just a few of the major Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatres in Australia.
Founded in 1989, Bangarra Dance Theatre is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organization based in Barangaroo, a section of Sydney. They use traditional dance, theatrical, and musical elements to create a distinct contemporary voice. Every performer has an indigenous Australian background. An important aspect of their work is the programs they do with youth, including Rekindling, which allows young people to connect with Indigenous traditions and land. They have an extensive knowledge base with e-resources you can find here.
Ilbijerri (pronounced il BIDGE er ree) is an indigenous Australian theatre company based in North Melbourne. They create innovate new work by First Nations artists, including their modern classic Jack Charles V The Crown, a solo performance by actor and activist Uncle Jack Charles about what it’s like to be part of the Stolen Generations. They also run an annual artist development program called BlackWrights, which aims to bring new First Nations works to the theatres of Australia.
Yirra Yaakin (pronounced “Yir-raarh Yaarh-kin” and meaning “Stand Tall” in Noongar) is based in Subiaco, Western Australia, the heart of the Noongar Nation. Yirra Yaakin is Australia’s largest Aboriginal-led theatre company. Established in 1993, the company has become a well-respected hub for Aboriginal people in Western Australia and beyond. They share new works for and by Aboriginal people that aim to make space for indigenous Australian artists and stories that are educational, inspirational, and entertaining. They are currently hosting virtual play readings every other week on Zoom.
Moogahlin Performing Arts was founded in 2007 in Redfern, New South Wales by a group of First Peoples performing artists. The company was built at the request of the late Kevin Smith, who wanted to honor the trailblazing founders of the 1970s National Black Theatre. They create interdisciplinary new work by and for First Peoples. You can check out some of their digital live performances here.
Researching this post has shown me how little I know about Indigenous theatre traditions around the world. I intend to continue learning and reading more about this topic. For a collection of Indigenous Australian plays, check out Australian Plays’ resource BlakStage. They also have a great overview of Indigenous Australian theatre history.
As always, thank you for reading. I’d love to hear what you’d like to learn more about! Let me know in the comments.
Love and theatre,