Imagine fighting a war where you don’t know what you’re fighting for, thousands of kilometres away while your homeland fights another battle to forget you.
In commemoration of the untold and unheralded stories of Australia’s Indigenous soldiers, director Wesley Enoch’s Black Diggers provides tribute to the ANZAC centenary year.
Originally produced by the Queensland Theatre Company and Sydney Festival with an ensemble cast of nine men, the production highlights the neglect of our Indigenous soldiers serving in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War. There’s no room for ignorance within the audience as the production encapsulates the racial and cultural facets of the war Indigenous Australians underwent.
With satirical one-liners, Black Diggers highlights an irony: Aborigines travelled thousands of kilometres to fight in a war to ‘protect’ the homeland only to be ostracised upon returning to Australia – where the real war was lurking. A variety of short, sharp scenes act as an allegory to the ‘stabs’ of suffering felt by the Indigenous soldiers.
The talented cast includes Australian Rules’ Luke Carroll and former soldier Uncle George Bostock, who help showcase a series of vignettes detailing their experiences in Gallipoli, Palestine and Europe.
Playwright Tom Wright said “all the scenes in Black Diggers are based on genuine moments; real men, reported incidents, documented arguments”.
The actors use a type of ceremonial pipe clay to illustrate their names and battlefields on the sets throughout the performance. The visual illustrations provide a cultural poignancy to viewers; alerting the audience to the juxtaposition of the white clay against the black set.
While heightened in melodrama at times – with escalating emotions of rage and devastation – the cast delivers a touching and heartfelt performance, allowing audiences to delve into the mindsets and experiences of the characters.
Out of a total 80,000 Indigenous living in Australia at the time, 800 Indigenous Australians managed to enlist despite restrictions, with the production underlining the rarely told hardship they endured.
Victoria’s Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley says Black Diggers “is a vital perspective for all Victorians and a story which has been too rarely told – if not ignored”.
Notably the perspectives of white Australians have – for the most part – been omitted. While this creates a one-sided view, it helps focus on the contribution of our Indigenous soldiers and honours their often forgotten service and sacrifice.
It’s a captivating performance on the enthralls of war through the eyes of our Indigenous soldiers. They battled to retain their homeland and now battle to retain their place in our history. Lest we forget.
Black Diggers is showing at the Arts Centre Melbourne until Sunday 26th April with tickets still available for tonight’s and Sunday’s show. Booking can be made via the Arts Centre website.