By Leon Harrison
Milestone for Aboriginal theatre
By Richard Walley
State Theatre Company
The Hole in The Wall Theatre
Reviewed by Leon Harrison
Like the Jimmy Chi musical Bran Nue Dae, Munjong is a milestone for Aboriginal theatre in Australia. The play is both cutting and moving in its depiction of race relations in a country town. As Walley says, "This production is dedicated to all those people who have suffered injustice and were or still are helpless to do anything about it".
That's not just history: in the performance I saw, Walley had to replace Frank Nannup in the role of Guna because of police intimidation (see GL, September 11).
The central character is Guna, usually played by Nannup. The name comes from an acronym of his Catholic mission names and naturally becomes "guna do this" and "guna do that". The word "Munjong" translates as a funny, happy-go-lucky intelligent rogue and comic — which Guna definitely is.
Guna is the larrikin con man trying to beat the system, harassing the racist white cop and creating fantasies and humour to survive in a racist society.
Gnyubri is the elder and Aboriginal law man, wisdom keeper, teacher of his people — a character with faith in Aboriginal culture and critical of white "money culture".
Ernie Dingo plays Gnyubri to perfection, his acting experience revealing the importance of stillness to give his character authority and great dignity.
Constable Bart Lewis, the racist cop who thinks he is a gunfighter in the "Wide West" is played by Richard Mellick. The Bart Lewises are a reality and like the character in the play survive through a system which perpetuates racism through the courts and police forces.
Joseph, the part-Aboriginal youth played by Aaron Kearing, is caught between two cultures; as Gnyubri says, "You are our future, the one to bridge the gap between us and the whitefellow".
Father O'Riley, the Irish Catholic priest (Andrew Warwick) is the other end of the control of Aboriginal people. He is the character who wants to save Joseph from his Aboriginality and defines the
dreamtime as "a sort of myth, a place not proven to exist,
whereas heaven ..."
Wilma Black (Rhonda Collard), like Gnyubri, plays a narrative role and represents the strong young Aboriginal activist fighting for black rights in a racist country town.
Neil Hindson (Rod Hall) is the visiting careerist politician who patronises and grovels to get what he wants from the establishment.