By Peter Boyle
MELBOURNE — Making its debut at the Melbourne Fringe Arts Festival is the Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre Co-op, which is performing a new play, Up the Road, by Koori-Torres Strait Islander playwright John Harding.
Ilbijerri (which means "coming together for social purposes") was put together by a group of Koori and TSI people who had worked with the Melbourne Workers Theatre last year on the show Nidjerra. They have yet to find a permanent base and have been rehearsing in a suburban church hall.
Up the Road, Harding's fourth play, is the story of a Koori who has to rediscover family and culture after working as a public servant in Canberra for some time. Harding, a former school teacher, also did a stint in the public service and so draws on some personal experience. Kylie Belling, a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts and an AFI Award winner for her role in The Fringe Dwellers, is director. Most of the cast are new to the stage.
Harding says that he wants to get across the idea that there is no "one Koori view" on any issue and that others should stop expecting a simple answer to the annoying question: "But what do the Aborigines really want?"
He wants to highlight some of the main issues facing Kooris today and has written what he describes as "basically a realist drama" to do this. "It is about telling our own story, self-determination in practice in the arts." Harding thinks that there is far too much presentation of "white views of a black view" in the arts. "I don't want my kids to grow up seeing only this perspective."
Up the Road is a portable play, and the three-week season which ends on October 12 is at a variety of venues. The crew carry the set, sound and lighting equipment around in a few old cars and a van. Harding says that mainstream theatre is only seen by about 5% of the population from a narrow and privileged class background, but Ilbijerri wants to take theatre to the people.
Next year Ilbijerri aims to run workshops for young Kooris interested in drama, and it will make its services available to community groups. "In the recent European tradition, drama is treated simply as entertainment, but we want it to be a means of communication, education and even a form of politics because it allowed people to express their views", says Harding. Once upon a time, this was even the case with European tradition.
Kooris practised the oldest form of theatre as a part of every-day life and Ilbijerri believes that it can become so again. "We can get messages around about health issues, safe sex, legal rights and other issues, and we hope that the Koori community will use us to do this."
Bookings, times and venues for Up the Road can be obtained by calling Ilbijerri on (03) 482 4517. Green Left Weekly supporters sing a theatre party for September 26. Contact Peter, Pip, Dave or Michelle on (03) 329 1277.