Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country — a review

Editor’s Note:  I have reprinted Rosemary Sorensen‘s article “Ode to Oodgeroo” about a new play by Sam Watson below.

If you can make it get along to this play Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country at the Roundhouse Theatre, Brisbane, July 2-11.

Rosemary Sorensen | June 08, 2009| Article & Photo from: The Australian

sam watson  rhonda purcell & roxanne mc donald in oodgeroo bloodline to country
From right Sam Watson, Rhonda Purcell & Roxanne McDonald – photo from The Australian

TURNING a life as complex and dramatic as Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s into a theatre production was always going to be a huge assignment. The poet and activist’s journey – from a girl who left school at 13 to a woman instrumental in such epoch-defining events as the 1967 referendum – is an epic.

Add to the task the fact that the man entrusted with the initial writing of the script comes to the story with deeply felt emotions almost too intense to interrogate, and you have a very delicate situation.

Sam Watson remembers Oodgeroo as “Aunty” Kath Walker, a woman who inspired many that encountered her, particularly those in the Brisbane indigenous community to which Watson’s family belongs. She was his mentor, and her insistence on discipline and hard work was central to his development as writer and political activist. She was also stern witness to the way young men, such as her son, Denis, could let their passionate hearts overrule their heads.

Denis Walker (now Bejam Kunmunara Jarlow Nunukel Kabool) was involved in trying to set up an Australian version of the Black Panthers. It was the Brisbane group’s ideological links with that militant and violent organisation* that prompted Oodgeroo to write the famous Son of Mine.
[Ed. Note – this is favoured liberal stereotype of the Black Panther Party. In the U.S. introduced social programs like school breakfast for kids from poor neighbourhoods, they nearly won Mayor in Oakland, California with a progressive program. The Party instituted the Free Breakfast for Children Programs to address food injustice, and community health clinics for education and treatment of diseases including sickle cell anemia, tuberculosis, and later HIV/AIDS.]

Oodgeroo “Kath Walker” Photo from Paradigm Oz

The poem speaks of “heartbreak, hatred blind”, then turns instead towards what is “brave and fine, when lives of black and white entwine”.

Watson, as a young man growing up in Brisbane, was closely connected to the strong Stradbroke Island community, of which Oodgeroo was a leader. He watched how the brilliant Aunty Kath, who had travelled the world as one of Australia’s most powerful campaigners for the rights of her indigenous people, was wracked by personal sadnesses that wearied and eventually broke her heart. Paying tribute to all this, getting it right in the public and private sense, has been a testing labour for him, but one he has “always wanted to do”.

“I’ve been nervous all the way through,” Watson says. “I don’t want to let Aunty Kath down.”

The play, Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country, will take all the thinking, skills, courage and toughness the team behind its production can muster. While it is only Watson’s second play, he is working alongside two men whose experience is up there with the best in the country. Director Sean Mee and dramaturge Ian Brown have plunged their hands into the almost intractable richness of Watson’s “life of Oodgeroo” to wrestle it into a shape that will work on stage. Actors Roxanne McDonald and Rhonda Purcell play Oodgeroo.

At the play’s centre is a moment so breathtakingly traumatic it infused Oodgeroo’s final two decades of life with regret and impossible longing. In November 1974, returning from a committee meeting in Nigeria for the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, Oodgeroo was on board a flight hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. A man died during the three-day siege, and Oodgeroo’s encounter with that vivid tragedy anchors this play.

Watson is still a political agitator, a man who leads campaigns to influence public opinion and governments. He is also an influential academic, and runs a unit called Oodgeroo Studies at the University of Queensland. His novel, The Kadaitcha Sung, written in 1991, is seen as a breakthrough in Aboriginal writing in this country, the first time mythologies and law from indigenous culture were fused with a contemporary urban setting, using elements of conventional (Western) literary genres.

“She slapped me on the forehead and called me a dirty little bugger,” Watson says, about Oodgeroo’s reaction when she read his novel. “The story had a bit of sex and violence in it, but she chuckled, gave me a hug and said, ‘That’s terrific.”‘

It was only in the last few years of Oodgeroo’s life that Watson and she “talked seriously about writing”, but he cannot remember a time when she was not a presence and a source of inspiration for both the storyteller and the reader that he was to become.

“I was always told by the elders and in my family circle that I was going to go right through school and I was a great reader, because all my relatives, the aunties, uncles, elders, were great readers,” Watson says.

“There were always plenty of books around, right through primary school, but I couldn’t find any that featured work by Aboriginal people, and I was horrified. I knew from my own experience in my family that we are wonderful storytellers, sitting round in the dark, with the last light from the hurricane lamps, telling stories.

“I thought, ‘My people have this wonderful treasury, why aren’t they here in these books?’ Finally, I saw Aunty Kath’s poetry appearing in anthologies and it gave me a huge buzz.”

Oodgeroo (she changed her name from Kath Walker in 1987) was particularly good, Watson remembers, at the creepy, shudder-up-the-spine, campfire story, the one that had children edging closer to the circle of fire, as ghostly apparitions just beyond the light’s perimeter would nudge at the boundaries of their imagination. “She always talked about the importance of writing,” Watson says. “‘I had a particular task in life,’ she said. ‘I had to knuckle down andstudy.”‘

There have been several biographies of Oodgeroo, and a couple of books of literary appreciation, but Watson says his own tribute was always going to be created for the theatre.

“I think Aunty Kath would have liked a play,” he says. “It’s a genre so close to Aboriginal experience. Writing it down, that’s important, but I thought, it’s got to be on a stage, in a format that we can take out to people, and children in particular.”

On the other hand, with its drama, politics, personal tragedy and complexity, Oodgeroo is going to be strong viewing.

Oodgeroo was born in 1920 on Stradbroke Island – Minjerribah to her people – one of six children. Their father, Ted Ruska, was a labourer active in workers’ strikes. She left school at 13, in 1933, to work as a domestic. During World War II, with two of her brothers imprisoned in Singapore, she volunteered as a communications worker. During the war, too, she married Bruce Walker, but the marriage didn’t last.

“She had so many strikes against her,” Watson says. “A young black woman, and a single mother. She just amazes me, the energy she had, working long hours, coming home to two children, then going off to a meeting about the advancement league or the referendum.

“This was a woman with a powerful intellect. She drank in knowledge and experience and she could stand up and hold her own in any company.”

Watson also points out she was beautiful, a woman with “so much poise, dignity and authority that when Aunty Kath spoke, you listened.” As a boy, he was also just a little scared of her. A clip over the earwas what he’d expect if he stepped out ofline.

With the encouragement of a literary group in Brisbane, Oodgeroo published her first book of poems – the first by an indigenous poet – in 1964. We Are Going, the title poem of that collection, was a melancholy cry for her people, more dirge than rally. “We are nature and the past, all the old ways / Gone now and scattered,” she wrote. “The bora ring is gone. The corroboree is gone. And we are going.”

But Oodgeroo was simply gathering her strength for the immense work she was about to undertake. She travelled to North America for several years, as poet-in-residence and scholar at a number of universities. She also sat on boards and committees in Australia, contributing to discussions aimed at improving the education and welfare of indigenous people. Her home on Stradbroke Island, Moongalba, became an education centre for young people, with her goal to allow as many as possible to experience her island life, and the ways of “nature and the past”.

She balanced, throughout these busy years, her poetic sensibility with her political commitment, a twinning in her own soul that brought her into contact and deep friendship with her white counterpart, Judith Wright. But it was that other tension – between activism and action – that delivered Oodgeroo her biggest challenge.

“Aunty Kath was a great advocate for reconciliation, even before reconciliation was dreamed of,” Watson says.

“She tried to find a meeting point between the young black radicals coming through, who were talking about black power and revolution, and the white friends and colleagues who had helped shape the struggle for the referendum.”

When she couldn’t find that meeting point, Watson says, her instinct was to go “with her people” and she formed a breakaway group to continue the political campaign. But during the demonstrations against apartheid that were organised during the Springbok rugby tour in 1971, Oodgeroo “stepped back to Moongalba”.

“She feared that young Aboriginal people were going to be shot to death on the streets of Australia, and she didn’t want to be there to have to see that,” Watson says.

Three years later, she faced that fear, in a guise she had never expected, when hijackers held guns to a passenger’s head on a runway in Tunisia. It’s in the belly of that aeroplane that much of Watson’s play takes place, as the audience, along with Oodgeroo, sees all that she has fought for, all that she holds dear, retract and threaten to disappear in the barrel of a gun.

As Watson wrestled with the vastness of the story, and with his love for the woman whose legacy he wants to protect, he realised he was going to have to lay out, within the play, not only some of the relationship between Oodgeroo and her son, Denis (now Bejam, who took over custodianship of the Minjerribah land following his mother’s death), but also something of Vivian’s story: the younger son, a dancer, who died from AIDS-related illness in 1991.

“I was coming to the story from within the family, but not quite within, just on the fringe,” Watson says. “And I knew there were dramas between the principal characters. The challenge was how to present that in a way that will not cause shame, but will still show the drama.”

Throughout the play, imagined conversations – between Oodgeroo and the imperious Mary Gilmore, or her great friend Jessie Street, or the German man held hostage, or the politicians she confronted – move almost imperceptibly into the speeches and poems of the woman herself, allowing those who know the simple, memorable strength of her lines the pleasure of recall.

For the opening-night performance of Oodgeroo, the extended family – grandchildren and great-grandchildren among them – will gather by the poet’s graveside and light a fire to carry to the theatre as a ceremony of cleansing and healing.

The story of Aunty Kath, Watson says, belongs to all Australians, because hers was an “incredible achievement, and we want to pay tribute to that”.

Oodgeroo, he adds, “would probably be a little bit embarrassed” by all the fuss. “She was an unassuming sort of person.”

Rosemary Sorensen

Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country is at the Roundhouse Theatre, Brisbane, July 2-11.

34 thoughts on “Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country — a review

  1. John Tracey says:

    The person most responsible for the establishment of the Brisbane chapter of the Black Panther party was Pastor Don Brady, not young hotheads as the above review suggests.

    Oodgeroo’s politics lead her to be a leader of the 67 referendum movement which achieved absolutely nothing for Aboriginal people. In hindsight she reflected…..

    “Looking back, the only major improvement has been the 93% ‘Yes’ vote of the referendum of May 1967; but this improvement did not benefit the black Australians though it eased the guilty conscience of white Australians in this country and overseas.
    It can be regarded therefore as a victory for white Australians who formed a coalition with black Australians. Black Australians must be seen as stooges for white Australians working in the interest of white Australians.”

    The Panthers, on the other hand, established the Brisbane Aboriginal legal service, health service, housing service, pig patrol and the Yelangi pre-school. They connected with radicals in Sydney, Melbourne and Palm Island and formed the core of the land rights movement of the 70s and 80s.

    It is a tired old narrative juxtaposing “reconciliation” with “militant and violent organisation”, a narrative that affirms collaboration and sell out with white power and demonises radical self determination and black power as violent and evil.

    It is true that the Brisbane Panthers demanded the right of armed self defence as in the U.S. As in the U.S. black people were being murdered including by the police. Armed self defence is not ideological adventurism but a realistic self defence response to armed attack.

    Like the U.S. panthers. the Bris Panthers did not embrace a strategy of violent revolution. Their strategy was to build power bases of the black community that would provide the means of basic survival. The Panthers as an agency of organised potential violence existed solely as the defence mechanism of the self managed community organisations.

    It is just a racist mis-representation of the Panthers to describe them as militant hotheads driven to violence and serves no purpose than to affirm white power and disempower black power.

    Oodgeroo was indeed a collaborationist for most of her life and was subjected to severe criticism from other radical leaders because of it.

    It is only because Oodgeroo was a conquored collaborationist that white society embraced her. Other Aboriginal artists and writers with more radical politics were ignored by white society.

    In Oodgeroo’s old age she abandoned her collaborationism, beginning with divesting herself of her imperial honours and extinguishing her white name, Kath Walker, and becomming Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

    In her old age she and Denis came together around the notion of a treaty, an affirmation of Aboriginal sovereignty. While negotiation is part of the treaty process, it was a negotiation between real black power and white power.

    Oodgeroo’s earlier sentiments of “We are going” or “no more boomerang” were poems of defeat that accepted the supremacy of white power in Australia. The older Oodgeroo, especially through her agenda at Moongalba, was based on cultural survival, connection to country and the exercise of Aboriginal power in Aboriginal power structures.

    While it may be argued that Denis cooled down in his old age, the truth is Oodgeroo in her old age moved close to the radical sovereignty and self determination agenda that Denis has held since the Panthers.

    As for the play,

    For years Queensland has not had a real indigenous theatre company. Kooemba Jdarra time and time again employed white writers and white directors to produce plays for white audiences. Apart from diluting the cultural integrity of Kooemba Jdarra’s cannon of work, the practice stole opportunities from black writers and directors.

    Today, the Queensland government has ended almost all arts and culture funding in Brisbane, concentrating only on Cape York (where the real aborigines must be) and only in connection with commercial enterprises. As a result, Kooemba Jdarra has collapsed and not produced anything for over a year.

    However, to celebrate 150 years of the colony of Queensland, the state government has funded this play, in a white theatre company and with a white director. This play is just whitewash to sweep under the carpet Mulrunji, grog laws, mainstreaming, de-funding, housing crises and a range of oppressive, dysfunctional, colonial and genocidal state indigenous policies,

    It seems that the imperial honours that Oodgeroo divested herself of in life have been returned to her post-humously.

    [See http://unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com/%5D

  2. John Tracey says:

    Me again, (this comment is better read after the preceding ones)

    A bit if history, because I think it is important.

    People of the Black Panther chapter did all sorts of things that I am not aware of. However I am aware of a reformation of the vision in 1988, when Denis Walker was in gaol when he, Ted Watson, Owen McEvoy and many others formed the Incarcerated Peoples Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation – IPCHAC, an Aboriginal corporation consisting entirely of inmates. IPCHAC organised the Cultural Heritage Education Program – CHEP. I worked for IPCHAC, thats how I know this stuff.

    Denis Walker was a key leader of IPCHAC. Another member of the Black Panthers, Qawanji Ngurku Jawiyabba was the principle culture teacher of the CHEP. Qawanji, previously known as Vincent Brady, is the son of Kawanji Pastor Don Brady.

    Oodgeroo was a regular teacher of the CHEP, inside prison as well as workshops at Moongalba. She was the key elder of IPCHAC and even though she was not a part of the leadership group, she was in many ways the spiritual boss of the leadership group.

    IPCHAC ended about 1993, as did Oodgeroo. There were many prisoners from many gaols came to Oodgeroos funeral. Many were accompanied by screws.

    Anyway, the point of all this is that between 1988 -1993-ish, There was a unity and harmony between Oodgeroo and the evolution of the Black Panther vision.

    What the gaol CHEP produced was an understanding that the black power model of the U.S. does not really fit the Aboriginal situation. Aboriginal culture and law was an aspect not incorporated into the Panther model.

    Pastor Don Brady visited the U.S. and saw the black struggle against white power and brought those ideas back to Brisbane. He also met with native Americans and realised the connection between indigenous people which was not fully accommodated in the Panther vision. As well as the Panther and Black Power movement and the building of organisations, Pastor Brady taught Aboriginal culture and the importance of Aboriginality.

    This is the tradition that lead to the IPCHAC CHEP which occured during the native title debate, Koiki Mabo was also a teacher in the CHEP and explained fully his intentions of Sovereignty on Murray Island before he was famous.

    The paradigm of Aboriginal land and Aboriginal law that underpinned IPCHAC was a significant evolution of the Panther vision, an evolution that Oodgeroo was very much a part of.

    IPCHAC was born out of the prison riots in the 1980s. Just like the Panthers, Aboriginal prisoners organised themselves for basic services as well as conduct a serious campaign against the prison regime including organised violence – defence against fascist screws and prisoners and the orchestration of the riots themselves.

    At various stages IPCHAC was providing the leadership for the Brisbane Aboriginal community, attending all sorts of meetings about all sorts of issues of the community. AT one stage (I would guess 1990-91) IPCHAC was running the CHEP in South Brisbane with prisoners on day release lecturing and leading workshops for the outside community.

    In many ways the radical politics of Pastor Don Brady and the Black Power movement were very different from the collaborationism of the young Oodgeroo. Yet they were always very close as were their families.

    During IPCHAC the vision of Pastor Don Brady was developed to the next step. The research that Pastor Don had begun into his own tribal territory was followed up by his son Qawanji as part of the CHEP program as a working model for prisoners finding and reconnecting to their own countries. The connections between Aboriginal law and the Panthers emphasis on power in real terms were solidified in the IPCHAC CHEP program. Oodgeroo was very much a part of this process and Minjerriba was the other working model of Aboriginal land and law for the CHEP.

    The radical Aboriginal land and law vision, the same vision as IPCHAC, inspired Oodgeroo to enact perhaps the most powerfull thing she did in her life during the IPCHAC period. When her youngest son, Kabul, died she buried him at Moongalba. Some of the commentary about Moongalba refers to Oodgeroo buying Moongalba. She never bought it, it was always hers. She negotiated a peppercorn lease with the Redlands shire council that she could run it as a cultural centre for the term of her natural life. For her to bury her son on Moongalba was a revolutionary act far greater than returning her imperial medal or extinguishing her white name or anything she had published. It was a total absorption into Aboriginality and a total disregard for white power, protocol or culture.

    As part of the IPCHAC CHEP program, Noonuccal dances, language and law was revived and located firmly in the epicentre of a sacred site in the burial of Kabul. Denis buried Oodgeroo at Moongalba next to her son and great grandchild and this is the place that all the Noonuccal dances are connected to, dances that today are danced by hundreds of Noonuccal people and others around S.E. Qld.

    The reason I think this is important is because the urban myth of the conflict between the peacefull negotiator Oodgeroo and her violent activist son Denis is a myth that only reinforces white sterotypes of the nature of the Aboriginal struggle, it confirms white fears and prejudices.

    It is a myth that is not true. I am certainly not saying there was no conflict between Mother and Son, but that is family business. The fulfillment of Oodgeroo’s life is Moongalba, Kabul’s grave and the vision of treaty – all in total accord with Denis and the radical sovereignty vision born of the Black Panther movement..

    [See http://unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com/%5D

    1. La Boite and Qld’s privatisation agenda. says:

      All La Boite’s publicity, including for the Oodgeroo play, proudly proclaims as its major partner “QGC a BG group business”.

      QGC is the Queensland Gas Company and BG is its British/multinational parent company.

      BG, through QGC has contracted Bechtel, a long time partner of BG in global gas and oil exploitation, to build the Curtis Island and associated infrastructure mega development that will, in short, extract Australia’s gas and ship it off shore with only minimal royalties and local costs.

      Bechtel has been central to the privatisation of energy throughout Australia, in particular Queensland. It funded and built the Millmerran power station, of which it brags…

      “Millmerran Power Station: In 2000, Bechtel completed design and construction of the Millmerran Power Station in Queensland for Millmerran Power Partners. One of the first privately developed power stations in Australia, Millmerran “marks the start of a move to privatization of power generation in Australia,”


      That station has been flogged off on the stock market and Bechtel have taken their money and run.

      For those who have not heard of Bechtel, I urge you to do a bit of googling. They are part of the Haliburten group and were the first company into Iraq after Shock and Awe. They were kicked out of Bolivia for privatising the water and over-charging.

      In short, their modus operandi is to bribe decision makers and pacify community opposition with philanthropic support for community projects. Bechtel specialises in this as part of its service to its clients.

      Old, but good background –

      “Privatisation, the CIA and the ‘evil empire’”

      “The Bechtel Truth”

      Anyway back to La Boite. Each year La Boite organises “Drama at the Gasworks”, a major arts event near Chinchilla for communities within the areas of QGC gas fields. QGC provides free buses to and from the events.

      Corporate sposorship of the arts is not simply a matter of good-willed charity, it supports the agendas of the sponsor, that’s why they do it. In the case of La Boite’s partnership with multinational energy companies operating in Queensland, they assist to pacify the communities of the gasfields with bread and circuses, manufacturing a generous and supporting corporate image for the theft of Australian resources and minimisation of workers wages and conditions.

      From QGC’s media release…

      ““Putting these performances on is great for the community because it lets the community know that this organisation (QGC) is not about being selfish, you want to give back to the community as well because you’re in their environment, you’re working here now. I think they’re pretty appreciative of that. The turnout reflects pretty positively on that.”

      I have no evidence of bribery in Queensland, although going on Bechtel’s record in other places I would not be at all surprised if this has occurred. Has anyone got to the bottom of the Gordan Nuttle payments yet?

      But the bottom line is, for whatever reason, the Qld government and the multinational energy and extraction industries such as BG and Bechtel are in agreement as to the need for privatisation in order to more rapidly exploit and export Queensland’s resources. La Boite is playing its part in conning the people of Queensland into thinking that these multinationals and their agendas are really good for us.

      La Boite is not unique in this process. Brisbane’s very trendy, Rockefeller backed Feral Arts did the same thing in Dajarra to neutralise Aboriginal opposition to a major superphosphate mine and processing plant near their community. And many radical artists from Brisbane followed the arts dollar to Dajarra to be a part of this genocidal con-job.

      June 2009

      1. John,

        What are you proposing?

        Surely not boycott “Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country”.

        I hope you are not saying that.

        in solidarity

        1. John Tracey says:

          Hello Ian,

          I personally am boycotting the play and all other events that celebrate 150 years (and continuing) of racist and authoritarian oppression by the Queensland state. But this is just a personal position.

          I am not calling for a boycott, what I am calling for is a more radical analysis of the process of history and our (radicals, socialists etc.) role in it. I am calling for radical thinkers to not ignorantly consume and perpetuate the myths of the state and global capital.

          To date all the pre-publicity of the play has demonised Denis and the Black Panther movement, including interviews by Sam. This rejection of radical politics is exactly the message of the state and global capital need. I do not know what is in the play beyond what is said in the previews but most people in Brisbane will have by now heard the pre-publicity and for most people that will be their only knowledge of the play and of Oodgeroo herself. The widespread advertising is not just publicising a play but is presenting a clear political message about Aboriginal resistance to, and collaboration with, white power.

          I believe we radicals should honour and celebrate the history of the Black Panthers and Brisbane Black Power instead of packaging the history in the form of white myths and fear of Aboriginal power.

          There are issues of the representation of Palestinian resistance too.

          There is also the issue of how Oodgeroo’s family has been treated, in particular the representation of Denis who is alive today.

          According to one of the actors in an interview with Rave magazine……. “The “friction” between Oodgeroo’s non-aggressive political beliefs and her son’s radicalism is “a drive for the play,” says Brand.”

          In the time I worked with Oodgeroo and Denis I never witnessed an argument between the two, and nor did any other person outside the family. Whenever the argument was about to happen Oodgeroo would chase all the outsiders away and we could not return until invited. Oodgeroo took great care to keep her family arguments private. She also took great care to maintain the unity of the family – her, Denis and the grandchildren – in public. It was a deliberate public embrace of Denis that caused her to recite his essay (the link in an earlier post) when she received her honorary doctorate from QUT.

          As someone who new Oodgeroo’s approach to family arguments and family unity I find it quite distastefull to hear that a theatrical, and in Sam’s words “fictional” representation of these arguments have now been turned into a “drive for the play” to entertain mainstream audiences.

          So I won’t be seeing the play, it will make me angry and not make for a pleasant night out. But those of you who do go and see it, I urge you to consider the broader political and historical implications of not only the “message” of the play but also its role (and LaBoite’s) in the ongoing struggle for wages, conditions, land rights and the hearts and minds of Queenslanders in this present epoch of multinational domination and privatisation.

          [See also http://unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com/%5D

  3. “Look up, my people,
    The dawn is breaking,
    The world is waking,
    To a new bright day,
    When none defame us,
    Nor colour shame us,
    Nor sneer dismay.”
    — from Song of Hope by Oodgeroo Noonuccal

    Hello John,

    You may have confused the medium with the message.

    A play is a dramatic medium. Without drama a play will not work. You don’t need to see the play to guess why Sam Watson chose to set much of it in the BOAC jet that was hijacked. In part, it would be for dramatic tension. That is only a device, but does not play down the significance of the event for Odgeroo or the people involved at the time.

    You should not read too much into it. I have included film clips below where both Bejam Denis Walker and Oodgeroo Kath Walker speak. They were/are both radical.

    Don’t be suckerred by Rave magazine, John, go and see the play and enjoy it as remembrance of a person who changed our lives. Why distinguish Oodgeroo’s political strategy to that of Denis? They were the product of different times, different political organisations. Kath Walker was influenced by (and a one time member of) the Communist Party of Australia. Denis was influenced by the Black Panthers and the New Left. Like so many families of that period parent and children fell out. Politically, I mean. Why make such a big deal of it, and so deprive yourself of seeing the play?

    Have a look at UTube and see schools kids setting Oodgeroo’s words to music and images. They are from a completely different time, a different political climate. Is it somehow invalid that kids are using Oodgeroo’s words? I don’t think so. Neither Bejam Denis Walker nor Sam Watson need anyone to stand up for them.

    Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country will speak for itself.

    Meanwhile I have read “Beyond Terra Nullius, the Lie” by Denis Walker.

    The document was a single page. Was there any more?

    The argument that Denis was making seems incomplete. Were there other pages Beyond Terra Nullius, the Lie that Oodgeroo read out.

    Concerning the hijack of the British Airways plane that Oodgeroo (Kath Walker) was on.

    I liked Ooodgeroo’s comment after she was released by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The cops had come to the plane to pick up the passengers and bundled them into a Black Maria (paddywagon). Ooodgeroo said something like: ‘How ironic, to be driven to freedom in a Black Maria, a symbol of oppression of my people.”

    Oodgeroo spoke at the 1982 Commonwealth Games Protests. These protests signified once and for all that Aboriginal destiny was in the hands of capable aboriginal leaders. Her speech and that of the other leaders who spoke that day (Senator Neville Bonner, Oodgeroo, Cheryl Buchanan, Mick Miller and Gary Foley). This historic event in Queensland was recorded by Lachlan Hurse from LeftPress on a super-8 camera. Some of the footage follows.

    [A note to indigenous people, this film contains images of people who are deceased.]

    John, if you look closely you will see yourself in the march depicted in this film.


    Despite the promise of land rights that Susan Ryan made to the protest gathering in Roma Street Forum in 1982 (see super-8 film above), the settlers’ parliament in Canberra, will never cede Land Rights to the Aboriginal owners because, to do so, would conceed that Australia and the capitalist structure that parliament represents is based on a lie.

    Like the Israeli settlers in Palestine, to do that would require a radical reassessment of oneself and our relation to this ancient land and its original inhabitants.

    Now brood no more
    On the years behind you,
    The hope assigned you
    Shall the past replace,
    When juster justice
    Grown wise and stronger
    Points the bone no longer
    At a darker race.
    — from Song of Hope by Oodgeroo Noonuccal

    Ian Curr
    29 June 2009

    1. John Tracey says:

      Hello Ian,

      Yes I suspect “Terra Nullius the lie” is incomplete. It is a scan of remaining paper documents. There is another attributed to Oodgeroo and Bejam as co-authors but it is a condensed version of the one on the treaty site. I have seen a third version on paper with a conclusion on it. I think Oodgeroo changed and added to it it each time she delivered it.

      You ask….”Why distinguish Oodgeroo’s political strategy to that of Denis?” I guess this is exactly the question that I ask after reading and hearing the pre-publicity which focuses on this very issue. It not only distinguishes a difference but attributes goodness/right to Oodgeroo and Badness/wrong to Denis (and Palestinian warriors).

      But the play will speak for itself and I do hope it is brilliant. As a work of art it should not be judged on its pre-publicity. But there is a bigger picture that involves the manipulation of Aboriginal art and knowledge to boost non-Aborignal agendas, especially governments and multinational corporations. This play is not alone in this regard as it has been the nature of government arts policy throughout the Howard and Beattie era., to build “partnerships” between major industries and cultural organisations, in many cases such partnerships are a pre-requisite of government funding.. There are many Aboriginal artists (and educators and health workers etc.) who could not do what they do if it was not for the support of the very companies that are raping Aboriginal land and communities.

      I guess I am not able to ignore these things in the name of culcha.

      I do see the medium as the message, and I do not think this is confused. The social and political context of the presentation of art is a theme that anyone with political notions of art should deeply consider..

      The medium as the message, it seems to me, is very clear in QGC’s intentions for La Boite’s Drama in the Gas works project.

      Although perhaps a bit more subtle, the presentation of an Aboriginal superstar to celebrate 150 years of a racist and authoritarian state which is presently enacting genocidal policies is white-wash, especially in the context of the defunding of Aboriginal theatre in Queensland.

      Why couldn’t Kooemba Jdarra have been finded to produce it instead of La Boite? Why couldn’t it be a celebration of Aboriginal theatre, with an Aboriginal director? There are plenty of unemployed or under employed Aboriginal directors in Queensland.

      Because this play is not being presented in the interests of Aboriginal people or agendas but singularly in the interests of the Qld. Government.

      The whole Q150 celebrations were designed as government propaganda. Bligh was supposed to go to an election later in the year and the plan was to rev-up a bit of Queensland jingoism in the lead up to the campaign. But the impending fallout of Gordan Nuttall case changed all that!

      [See http://unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com/%5D

      1. Hello John,

        I have now seen the play.

        I hope that many more see it including yourself and Dennis.

        Just in case you do, I do not wish to spoil it for you (or others) by giving a detailed review. I will say that it was bloody brillant, though, the play, the actors, the set, everything.

        I do wish to address one concern that you had.

        You say below ‘the question that I ask after reading and hearing the pre-publicity which focuses on … difference (between the political strategies of Kath and Dennis) but attributes goodness/right to Oodgeroo and Badness/wrong to Denis (and Palestinian warriors).’

        You would expect a play about Oodgeroo to be sympathetic to her and to see the world through her eyes. Especially when the playwright was so influenced by Aunty Kath.

        No doubt some will make unfavourable judgements about Dennis ‘Bejam’ Walker. But, Dennis like his namesake, the tiger shark, strikes fear into the hearts of many. Oodgeroo like her namesake, the paperbark is a more comforting character.

        A superficial view of the play may lead the audience to the conclusion you express. They may see Dennis as a misguided warrior.

        But Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country is not about that, it is about how aboriginal struggle against colonial oppression is played out in the world; how some, like Kath (the storyteller) and Dennis (the warrior), are chosen by their people, their culture, and circumstance to play certain role(s).

        So Kath and Dennis are unique and universal at the same time. No one who saw the play could question that Dennis is a loving son.

        We know that Dennis does not preach violence against people, but he does speak violence against oppression. As Dennis points out himself in the video below there was never any actual violence used against the state by the Black Panthers in Australia.

        But Dennis is human. Humans can be put under enormous strain and may lash out.

        At the same time, Kath was no pacifist. In the play Kath threatened the guy from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP] on the hijacked BOAC plane. She said that she wished she had the chance to call on her uncles and aunties to sort him out because he was beating on one of the passengers.

        Also after Pearl told her story to Kath, it was Kath who threatened immediate revenge against the coppers who hurt Pearl.

        So why see it all as so black and white?

        Jessie Street and Oodgeroo fought together, as women, as comrades, as equals — Jessie Street, a woman of wealth and privilege; Kath, as a murri who began her working life as a domestic. They both opposed racism & colonialism.

        Jessie Street could not help it that she was born into middle class white society. As Kath said, ‘the son should not have to pay for the crimes of the father’. So too the daughter.

        So who can claim to be a saint? Father or daughter, mother or son?

        Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country is at the Roundhouse Theatre, Brisbane, July 2-11.

        in solidarity

        1. John Tracey says:


          You say…..”A superficial view of the play may lead the audience to the conclusion you express”

          What else is a mainstream audience with no knowledge of the situation likely to have other than a superficial view?

          Keep in mind, Sam’s play is fiction, not history. Those who do not know the history will believe the superficial fiction as fact and the real history of Oodgeroo has been buried under this fiction.

  4. John Tracey says:


    My previous comment was supposed to go after your ” I have now seen the play.” comment.

    Have you seen the Courier Mail review?

    ” brings a bravely honest hindsight to those days when frustrated male fury succumbed to the lure of violence.”

    “the muddle is redeemed in the moment the two worlds collide and her son Dennis and the terrorist hijacker fuse into one man before her horrified eyes.”

    “Simon Hapea, as both Dennis and the terrorist, vibrates with such dangerous anger that you want to duck every time he appears.”

    Hasn’t there been enough demonisation of Aboriginal men (and Palestinian people)? It sounds like this play is a justification for the N.T. intervention.

    I do not know what the plays message or intentions are but it is clear that, like the pre-publicity campaign, it has succeeded in demonising political radicals and confirming white fear and pre-conceptions.

    [See http://unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com/%5D

    1. Hello John,

      I have placed your previous comment where you wished.

      As a rule, I do not read the Courier Mail. It is full of sensational nonense. I think the reviewer, Sue Gough, is muddled about the history of Brisbane blacks and the struggles that you allude to below. If the reviewer is correct about the play being muddled, why did it receive a spontaneous standing ovation at the end? Anyway the reviewer, Sue Gough, is clearly more at home discussing the ‘gutsy but naïve script’ and Sam’s writing style. Her analysis of the play is psychological not political. This is evident when she states that ‘frustrated male fury succumbed to the lure of violence’. That never happened in any political street march I was ever involved in. Such naive views come from people who watch the 6 second grabs shown on the evening news and have never organised a street march. What violence there is has been invariably orchestrated by the media, cops, and agent provocateurs.

      After the play, the Governor General, Quentin Bryce, was backstage congratulating the actors along with the Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman and his wife, Lisa. Ms Bryce had several minders with her including a uniformed soldier and two thugish looking undercover cops.

      For a fleeting moment in the crowd, I found myself facing both Bryce and Emma Pursey, the actor who played the role of Jessie Street. The GG looked to me as if to ask what I thought. I said uncomfortably both the play and the acting was amazing. She said that Emma Pursey had played all the white women in the play and had done a great job of playing Jessie Street especially as an old woman [it may have been Lisa Campbell-Newman who liked portrayal of Jessie Street, the old woman]. I got the feeling Bryce was identifying with Jessie Street, the ‘elder’. I will tell you one thing, Quentin Bryce is no Jessie Street.

      What I am saying is: there I was a person who for years the Courier Mail had labelled as a violent protestor, now swapping opinions on the theatre with the representative in Australia of a genocidal queen and the richest woman in the world, to boot.

      I don’t think Ms Byrce was uncomfortable mixing with people like me. She and her mates know that the carciature of violent protestor is bullshit. As do her minders. It is she who recently went to Afghanistan to support the troops, it is we who resist their vicious and futile projects.

      Let the middle class think what they like, Dennis comes across as a proud if troubled warrior and a loving son who got conflicted by the 1960s and 70s and all the violence done by the cops, and the colonisers. Some may view him as an unsympathetic character, but what does that matter. I am sure Dennis loses no sleep over it.

      By the way, Simon Hapea, the actor who played Dennis, told me that it was wrong to see the scene where Dennis merges with the PFLP hijacker as being Dennis doing the violence. We know that Dennis never shot anybody.

      Simon Hapea said that the play was showing the path that aboriginal people who, as warriors, could have taken at that time (but did not).

      Soon after this was explained to me the murri band played that great song by Mop & the Drop Outs, ‘Brisbane Blacks’.


      in solidarity

      References and Notes
      One former staff member described Bryce: “She’s a control freak. She’s all sweet and understanding in public, but in private it was a whole different ball game.”[timesonline]

      1. John Tracey says:

        Well I am glad the Governor General enjoyed herself.

        The primary mode of Aboriginal resistance against invasion and colonisation has been violent, a guerilla war that lasted over 100 years until every Aboriginal person was either killed or imprisoned in reserves.

        Nonviolent political negotiation has been the only option for resistance available to Aboriginal people since the genocide and concentration camps but this non-violence has failed spectacularly. All the gains of the 20th century have been un-done and, according to the productivity commission, things are still getting worse today.

        The Palm Island people were so frustrated with the futility of negotiations that they burnt down the police station. This violence is not grog fuelled male violence any more than the Panther resistance was.

        The demonisation of political violence is just a white cop-out to legitimise the opression of Aboriginal people either by the native police, the NT intervention or the Qld. grog laws that killed Mulrunji.

        This play, or at least the white pre-publicity and reviews which reaches far more people than the play itself, has provided a justification and a new Aboriginal hero to reinforce white stereotypes and dismiss the real history of resistance in this country.

        I don’t know Denis’s attitude to the play, I haven’t seen him for a while and before that he did not like to talk about the play. I have read nothing of the family’s involvement in this play yet all the pre-publicity says they were closely involved.

        Was there a graveside ceremony at Moongalba as advertised? Did the Grand children dance to open the play as advertised? Who represented the family on opening night?

        Denis is alive today. He is not a fictional character (did the play really portray him killing someone?). Since his mother’s death he has lead the “Oodgeroo of the Tribe Noonuccal, Custodian of the land Minjerribah, Peace Prosperity and healing, Sacred Treaty Circles” to continue is mother’s vision of treaty and cultural education.

        The demonisation of this active elder has undermined not just him but the legacy and mission of Oodgeroo.

        Oodgeroo has been redefined out of her family and tribal context and re-constructed into white Australia’s obsessive narrative about male Aboriginal violence. The very person who she handed her legacy to, Denis, appears to have been ideologically and emotionally villified in the same way Aboriginal men are villified in the mainstream media. (La Boite is part of the mainstream media).

        See http://unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com/

        1. Hello John,

          Firstly, I am not disagreeing with you.

          Secondly, look closely at this photo of Abingdon Downs taken by one of my ancestors in 1879 in North Qld near the Einasleigh River [See Map of Curr Family properties in North Queensland].

          What do you see? Study it carefully now. It will take a while to load and you can magnify it. Do you see evidence of a a guerilla war, for example? I am asking you to use your forensic skills now.

          If you have any questions I will try to answer them as best I can.

          Thirdly, you may already have realised how much there is in this one photograph. This is what aboriginal women alive in the 1870s called ‘the wild time’.

          In solidarity

        2. John Tracey says:


          The jpeg is too big, I can’t download it. when I come by a faster computor I will have a look (or perhaps you could compress it?).

          But from the limited information I have at my disposal as to the context of the crime, an important part of forensic examination, I deduce that the photo was taken during the height of the Kalkadoon wars and towards the end of the guerilla resistance in the North West. The, at that stage unofficial, Aboriginal reserves were beginning to take form. Most of the men of the area had been killed. The Native Police had been officially disbanded before this time but in the far reaches of the frontier the Police continued in the same guerilla mode until around 1900. The practice was transforming from killing anyone on the new white farms to herding them into these new reserves such as Georgetown, Cloncurry and Boulia.

          I knew an old lady, passed away now, who was born at the Georgetown reserve early in the 20th century. She ended up marrying a black-tracker. Her family lived within the police barracks. She said that when her husband was out on patrol the police would protect her family in the barracks from attack by police and other white vigilantes. Her husband was a 20th C. black-tracker, not a 19th C. native police, but it explains to my why native police did what they did. They could co-operate with the police and be the primary agency of the genocide – and their family would be looked after, or they could take their chances in the bush and be massacred with all the rest.

          See http://unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com/

          Anyway, I look forward to seeing the picture so that I can, like Columbo, unravel the mystery.

        3. John Tracey says:

          Hello Ian,

          Yes I read the Oz review. It was one of many that has referred to the play as biographical or historical, in this case both.

          This is the terrible danger of such fictional works constructing a mythology that replaces and obscures the historical and political reality. People who are ignorant of the truth are not enlightened but rather deceived into thinking they have been told the truth.

          I think the pop-politics of the taking it to the streets circus did the same thing – replaced a political history with a fairy story.

          Anyway, the photo.

          I just made up a long Columbo-like scenareo to explain the photo. But then I deleted it because I felt bad speculating about and fictionalising the lives of those people, especially in the context of my comments about the fictional representations of the Walker family.

          I find photos like that fascinating because they do provoke speculation as to what was going on, but un-Columbo like, I have to say it is not my business to speculate.

          It is your family business and I am curious to hear your considered opinion of it.

          See http://unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com/

  5. What a wonderful play.

    John, it’s sad that you would boycott such a beautiful production. Why not see for yourself rather than letting a some publicist explain the play?

    1. John Tracey says:


      Although I have some concerns about the play, it is the celebration of 150 years of the racist and authoritarian state that I am not participating in. It is the play’s role in state and corporate propaganda that gets up my nose.

      In 1988, the bicentenary year, there was a national Aboriginal boycott (or direct confrontation of) all bicentenary events. The Brisbane Murris called a boycott of Expo 88.

      Oodgeroo and her son Kabul, who one reviewer described as “the good son” in the play, scabbed. They were the first Aboriginal people to break the boycott when they presented “The Rainbow Serpent Theatre” which from all reports was beautiful too, but in the end it was used to support and reinforce white notions of Australia that were at the heart of Expo 88 and the bicentenary celebrations.

      See http://unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com/

  6. Hello John,

    You ask for my interpretation of the photo of Abingdon Downs in 1879.

    If you look closely at the photo you will see some children, both black and white among adults. One of those children (I am not sure which) is my grandfather, Fred Curr who was then 14 years of age. His sister Alice was 9 years old.

    First, read his version of the story. Seventeen years earlier the Curr family were at Merri Merriwah near Ravenswood. This was before Fred was born. They later moved to Abingdon Station where young Fred grew up with his sister Alice and their siblings Charles, Walter, Edith and Emily.

    My father (Marmaduke) took up Merri Merriwah in 1862.

    He had about 400 head of cattle to stock it with, and his brother Montague was in partnership with him at that time. He purchased the cattle from Arthur Macartney of Waverley station near Rockhampton.

    Our first adventure was early one morning in 1865. My father had taken his black boy Paddy and his big Tranter loading revolver and started out to look for the horses. Having no paddock at this time, the horses had strayed away some three miles up the Burdekin River.

    My father had been gone some little time, and my uncle Montague was just going to the yard to milk the cow. When he went outside the house he spotted about thirty wild blacks, all painted and armed with spears, nulla nullas, and boomerangs.

    My uncle ran into the house and snatched up a long heavy 40 bore Rigby muzzle loading rifle, and helped my mother barricade the bedroom. My uncle opened the door a few times to show them the muzzle of the rifle, but the blacks took no notice.

    They then ransacked the other rooms and also robbed the kitchen and store which were separate from the main house. Finding they could not get in through the barricade into where my mother and uncle were, they decided to burn us out.

    The house was covered with a thatch roof, so they put fire sticks into it. As there was a heavy dew that morning the thatch did not burn too well. While they were trying to get it to burn, the horses that my father had gone after came galloping home as horses will do on a cold morning. The blacks, thinking it was Inspector Fitzgerald and his black troopers, lost no time in disappearing into the scrub and the river.

    A little while afterwards my father and Paddy arrived. The blacks had taken all the powder with them, in fact everything they could lay their hands on. It appears that some days before this event my father had given Paddy a half pound red canister of powder. The boy had stuck this tin of powder into the thatch of the house, and the blacks had not seen it, so it was all we had. However there was enough to load two old Brown Bess Carbines, the long Rigby rifle, and the double barrel shot gun.

    My father’s Tranter revolver was already loaded, so he took Paddy, and leaving uncle Montague to look after my mother, he tracked the blacks to where they were camped, galloping into the camp and firing a few shots. The charge was so sudden, and with the noise of the firearms, the blacks left in a great hurry leaving heaps of spears, boomerangs, nulla nullas and fishing nets.

    My father took a lot of these weapons home, and I remember seeing them hung about the house for many years afterwards. My father told me that it took fourteen horse loads to bring all the stolen goods back to the station. He also told me that he followed the blacks by leaves from two books, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Dombey and Son.

    After this episode the Curr family were extremely careful about keeping their firearms in good order and handy to reach, with plenty of ammunition ready in pouches. My uncle Montague was wounded just above the eye by one of the spears. The blacks appeared to be afraid of my uncle.

    He was six feet one inch tall, and very strongly built. He had a long beard down to his belt, of which he was very proud, and the day before the blacks attacked the station he had shaved his head clean, so he must have appeared very uncanny. Undoubtedly this all helped to scare the blacks away until the horses came galloping home and saved our lives.

    That is enough for now. I will tell you more about the photo later, if you are interested. Suffice it to say that my Great Grandfather and his brothers soon left Merri Meeriwah with their wives and children and went to Kutjal lands further North where the photo in question was taken. The reason they gave was attacks by aborigines on their homestead. By the way Fred Curr’s sister Alice (my great Aunt) disputes the account given by Fred Curr above:

    Fred’’s account was romanticised and full of inaccuracies. He had every right to reminisce and romanticise his experiences. He was, however, incorrect about the attack on “Merri Merriwah” when he said that he was a baby at the time. The attack occurred before he was born.

    [My Grandfather Fred Curr was born in 1865.]

    Ian Curr

    1. Who owns this land? says:

      Hello John,

      There is one point that I would like to make about the photo of Abingdon Downs. It relates to the question of violence raised in the play Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country.

      At the time the photo of Abingdon Downs was taken there are 7 aboriginal people depicted sitting and standing are on their own land.

      There is no doubt in the minds of the Curr family or other settlers depicted in the photo as to who owned the land or how it was taken.

      Both black and white knew that settlers had taken the land.

      There was never any bullshit about Terra Nullius because the existence of the indigenous people on their own land was a daily reminder to the Curr’s and others whose land they had taken. You will not read rubbish about proof of ‘continuing attachment to the land’ as required by judges in such cases as the Yorta Yorta claim.

      You will not read anywhere in my grandfather Fred’s book any rubbish about who had taken the land or how it had been done.

      As the passage quoted above clearly indicates it was done with horse, it was done with 40 bore Rigby muzzle loading rifles, it was done with old Brown Bess Carbines, long Rigby rifles, double barrel shot guns and Tranter revolvers.

      As Fred Curr states there was resistance in the form of ‘spears, nulla nullas, and boomerangs.’

      It is little wonder that 100 years later Dennis ‘Bejam’ Walker dreamed about guns to resist the invaders. But as Dennis and Sam both know, such a call, if it was made by the Black Panthers in the early 1970s, had come too late.

      Therefore, there is one scene in the play, Oodgeroo: Bloodline to Country, that I found confusing. It is when Dennis is shown shooting the German businessman on the hijacked BOAC jet that Kath Walker was on.

      In the play Kath even asks ‘what have you done my son’ after the shooting .

      So the play has substituted Dennis for the Palestinian fighter on the plane who in reality shot the German.

      Why portray it like this?

      It is not enough to say that the scene depicts what could have been.

      I wonder, does the director, Sean Mee, understand the concept of ‘revolutionary violence’? I think not.

      Why have the Palestinian [PFLP] fighter morph into Dennis Walker at this point in the play? In the 1970s Palestinians were conducting a form of armed struggle against the Israeli settlers. Many thousands of fighters were in jail.

      Aboriginal Australians were in jail but not as fighters. At least not when Dennis Walker and Sam Watson set up the Black Panther Party in Brisbane.

      Dennis and Sam were conducting a media war, yes, but no armed struggle. They helped set up legal and health services for aboriginal people in Brisbane. Violence was not possible then or now. The jailing of Lex Wotton who committed no violence demonstrates this. We have no revolutionary organisation. Certainly no capacity to wage a war with ‘revolutionary violence’. And if we did, would we base it on an american model. I certainly would not.

      Is it naivety that people thought it possible that violence would break out in sleepy Brisbane of 1971-2 in the way that it did in American cities in the late 1960s? Why draw a parallel that did not exist then nor does it now?

      Perhaps the director Sean Mee needs to think on this scene some more.

      I wish that you had seen the play, John, to let me know how you would have interpreted it.

      Ian Curr
      July 2009


      The Curr family in Far North Queensland 1862-1925 / [by] Frederick Carlton Curr.
      Edward Curr and the Yorta Yorta case
      The Australian Race: Its Origins, Languages, Customs by Edward Curr

      1. Ian,

        Why do you blame Sean Mee for the morphing scene? The reviews seem to suggest that this scene is a crucial element in the play and that the underlying theme is the comparison of Denis with the Palestinian hijackers.

        Credit where credit is due and I do not think Sean Mee can be blamed for the story line.

        Without seeing the play, I would criticise the play as a white representation of a black story in as much as the director, the set designer, the dramaturg and the sound designer, are all white ( and they are the ones who have received the most praise in the reviews). The vision of black theatre has always been more than just a black writer or black actors but rather black creative workers of all sorts including directors, set designers and musicians. This was certainly one of Oodgeroos dreams, she was on message stick last week (the Koori Radio doco) briefly talking about these issues.

        If you want to get deeper, Franz Fanon’s notion of black theatre has also driven much of the Aboriginal theatre movement in the past with his assertion that theatre is not black until it is written for and performed to black audiences. This is the difference between a Coroboree and a traditional dance stage show.

        Black theatre has been gutted and used simply commodified as a mechanism for entertaining white audiences, the devolution from Kooemba Jdarra to La Boite’s Oodgeroo is just an example of this cultural disintegration happening in Brisbane – a long way from Oodgeroos vision of Black Theatre in Sydney or her manifestation of the Rainbow Serpent Theatre, both of which provided the platform for the genesis of Kooemba Jdarra.

        I have seen “Ten Canoes” which also has a white director, however the story is told by Yolgnu and in Yolgnu ways, in particular the representation of real people. The film is based on some old photos and the actors representing those people had to be appropriate kin to them in order to portray them. That is, the story lived in the contemporary story tellers in the same dimensions and in the same context of the ancient story and the role of the people in the old photos. The actors owned their own stories rather than appropriating another family’s dreaming. If they fictionalised any element, they were adjusting the representation of themselves, not another person or family.

        In Ten Canoes, The cultural absorption of the actors into the represented characters is an Aboriginal mode of story telling. I haven’t seen Samson and Delila yet but apparently one of the charachters is a real person playing himself, so this too is perhaps cutting edge in Aboriginal modes of story telling in new media.

        1. p.s.

          The new land laws of the new Queensland state that enabled the old Currs to “own” Abbingdon Downs were based on Terra Nullius. It was shortly before that time (1850-60) that the notion of Terra Nullius emerged (Although Joseph Banks had raised the principle in terms of eugenics prior to 1788 as an argument to support colonisation). Before 1860ish, Aboriginal people had implied rights in British Common law including land and customary law rights because nobody had bothered to extinguish them yet. British statute including the Magna Carta and the international law “doctrine of reception” based on the Magna Carta gave certain rights to native people colonised by Britain. This is why the native police needed to operate clandestinely. About that time (1850-60) the first prosecution of a black on black crime occured. (cant remember case name) Previously any black on black crime would be dealt with by Aboriginal law. Aboriginal people could not give evidence in court because they were heathen who could not swear on the bible. The defence argued, with precedence, that the proper jurisdiction was customary law and the prosecution argued Terra Nullius. The defense won in the lower courts but the prosecution appealed and won and set precedence. About that time the Oaths Act was amended to allow heathens to give evidence in court and this is when Aboriginal people achieved legal equality, not the 67 referendum a century later, nothing really changed legally in 1967.

          Anyway, Terra Nullius was the flavour of the month when the New Queensland state drew up its land laws based on Torrens title which extinguishes all prior liabilities to land when that land is registered or re-registered (bought and sold). Torrens land law is why native title cannot exist on freehold title.

          I haven’t yet heard any discussion of this in the Q150 celebrations but it is the basis of all the white wealth in Queensland.

        2. Hello John,

          I am sure you understand why I am not surprised by the findings in the courts that colonial law superceeds customary law. Equally you are aware that the Mabo judgement is a means of dispossession not a means of granting land rights or of recognising customary law.

          Similarly, the two state solution in Palestine is a mechanism of dispossession. The PLO at Oslo made an historic compromise to give up some Palestinian lands to gain some land and for peace. Israel continued to build settlements on lands that the PLO refused to give up. So the compromise failed.

          Strangely one of the Curr patriarchs, Edward Curr, did not accept Terra Nulius even though it was expounded by the judges in R. v. Murrell and Bummaree in 1836 when Curr settled on the lower Murray in a place called Tongala which is on Yorta Yorta lands. In the 1830s Edward Curr was constantly complaining to the colonial office that they had grossly underestimated the size of the aboriginal population around the Murray River near Tongala. Curr ended up studying aboriginal languages and writing a three volume book about them called The Australian Race: Its Origins, Languages, Customs published in 1886.

          I think you may have misunderstood what I said about settlers in Far North Queensland. In the 1860s no one could say that the land was vacant, because the traditional owners were right there living on their lands. I cannott see my ancestors or their neighbours at the time having any truck with the courts’ view of ‘terra nullius’ simply because they were driven from their settlements near Ravenswood by the traditional owners who used spear, nulla nulla and fire to drive them and their cattle out.

          Recently there have been calls for new practices on the land, namely that the clearing of the land in the 19th and 20th centuries was wrong and cannott be sustained. There are calls that farmers need to adopt indigenous land practices of the past 60,000 years if Australia is to have a sustainable environment.

          I do not know that the bulk of Australians ever accepted the bullshit from the courts, the colonial office or the parliaments that the land was not occupied.

          Ian Curr

        3. Hi Ian,

          Terra Nullius does not mean there were no people here. It means there was no law here. While it is obvious that Aboriginal people exist, what was and is denied is the existence of their law.

          I understand that you are saying the in-your-face reality on the frontier is a much bigger thing than legal notions. I guess in Palestine the in-your-face stuff is bigger than grand notions of a unified secular state too.

          However the Israeli vision of two state apartheid is very much a part of the in-your-face clashes in Palesitine. There is a plan and it is being implemented.

          So too in the Australian frontier, especially the brand new state of Queensland that has tied up some of the loose ends of NSW legislation.

          The Old Currs and everyone else could see that there were Aboriginal people everywhere but the legal and therefore moral explanation of this was Terra Nullius. The average pioneer may well have said “I don’t know about that stuff, I’ll leave it in the hands of the police, courts and politicians” but the pioneer knew that what they were doing was legal and right because the police, courts and politicians had told them so.

          I do not subscribe to the “wild west” notion of Australia’s colonisation, as if it were a period of disregard for the law and anything goes. It was not like that. We started as a prison colony with a very legalistic sociology that remains today. The colonial governors ruled with authoritarian force, but all statutes were observed, all i’s dotted and t’s crossed. The colonies kept detailed records of everything. The covert native police was just like spooks and SAS today in places like AF-Pak, and have no regard for the law but at the same time an immunity from the law. But they were the necessary exception, the rest of the colony ran by the rules and if you broke the rules you were punished.

          In 1835, just before R. v. Murrell and Bummaree, John Batman signed his treaty. Did any of the southern Curr’s have dealings with him?

          Batman’s treaty was overturned by the Sydney authorities, there were Melbourne/Sydney power plays going on, including policies of dealing with the natives. Perhaps Edward Curr’s dealings with the colonial office was a part of this?

          As I understand it the Victorian elite such as Batman were liberal capitalists – pastoralists and respected the notion of private property and contract to the point that they could deal with Aboriginal people on that level. Sydney however was dominated by the military fascists who inherited the structure that the Rum Corps had created.

          Sydney was outraged that Batman had acknowledged rights of Aboriginal people in his treaty and it is my guess that this triggered R. v. Murrell and Bummaree and the closing of the customary/common law loopholes.

          The new state of Queensland, and its pioneers such as the Northern Currs, benefited from a clear legal and political framework – security for investment as they say today. Go Queenslander!

        4. Hello John,

          Concerning your question about connections between John Batman and the Curr family in the 1830s and after are concerned, I know little but there is a wealth of information (online) in the State Library of Victoria.

          Might I suggest that you begin at Edward Curr & Native Title [Edward Curr became known as the “Father of Separation” i.e. Victoria’s separation from New South Wales. His father was Edward Curr (1798–1850), company manager, and author of An Account of the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land: Principally designed for the use of Emigrants, was born in Sheffield, England.].

          I suggest that you look at the videos of Dr Wayne Atkinson, a Yorta Yorta elder and Dr Gary Presland, author and historian under the heading additional resources.

          One thing to note. The Curr’s, being Catholics, had big families. I think the first Curr family in Australia comprised of 17 children all with the same mother. Generally speaking the eldest children did receive a good education. Edward Curr was one of these and his story is told in the VSL.

          The younger ones and their children often missed out on an education. My grandfather Fred Curr and his brothers who went to far North Queensland were in this latter category.

          But they were all big readers. They were also hard bush men.

          Their wives often bore the brunt of their pioneering ways, giving birth in wild terrain and with medical assistance six days away on horseback or by buggy. Fred Curr’s mum died in a buggy accident when he was young.

          There arose a strong bond between some of the Curr women and local aboroginal women. It was aboriginal women who, for example, helped them through childbirth, often difficult for European women so far from a midwife or doctor.

          in solidarity
          Ian Curr

  7. Over the weekend I met a doctor who said that he was Kath Walker’s opthalmologist (back in the 1960s). The doctor was in his 80s. I asked him what she was like (not mentioning that I had met Oodgeroo).

    He said that Kath was a very nice, ordinary person. I wondered what he meant by ordinary. He said that, at the time he treated her, he was unaware and had no reason to think that she was an aboriginal woman. Talk about denial (on his part).

    I asked him if he followed her career (after he discovered that Oodgeroo was an aboriginal leader). He did, whenever he saw her name in the newspapers. He did not know that her name was Oodgeroo, even now, nor that her son Dennis was a radical. He said that he did know that ‘Kath had ‘problems’ with her son’.

    He had not heard of Sam Watson’s play.

    He said that, in his view, most Australians did not know any Aboriginal people.

    When I told him that 8 out of the 13 players in the Queensland Origin team were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, one of his friends replied that not everyone watched State of Origin football.

    So even for some ‘educated’ people, aboriginal australians do not exist.

    Is this a generational thing, from a time when there was little positive in being an aboriginee?

    Ian Curr
    JUly 2009

  8. Hello John,

    So you are saying La Boite’s use of sponsorship by polluter Qld Gas Co taints their artistic endeavours?

    I would like you (and any other 4ZZZ volunteers) to compare the behaviour of Qld Gas Co. with Creative Broadcasters Ltd (4ZZZ). I remember you used to work at 4ZZZ.

    Be aware that Qld Gas Co. would be partly motivated to gain a tax deduction by donating to La Boite.

    Did you at any stage feel uneasy about 4ZZZ using a building that housed the People’s Bookshop, the Communist Party of Australia and their printing press. Bear in mind that the Communist party and its resources (includng the building at ‘291’) was built up by three generations of workers and then sold ‘for a song’ to 4ZZZ by Eric Aarons. How was the original purpose of those workers ever entrusted to 4ZZZ?
    CPA Building now 4ZZZ
    That original purpose of those workers who supported and built up the Communist Party of Australia was expressed by Jock Garden in his speech to the Communist International in 1922 was that:

    “The working class of Australia stand solid, speak with one voice and act together.”

    Is there any difference for 4ZZZ in the opportunism of 4ZZZ in taking advantage of the demise of the Communist P arty and what those workers had built up with sweat and blood and La Boite taking advantage of donations from a polluter motivated by a tax break?

    Which is worse? Bare in mind that 4ZZZ has a mission statement that reads:

    “For 4ZZZ to be an influential player in increasing awareness of the
    concerns of marginalised communities, their issues and music”

    Does the objective of 4ZZZ in any way relate to what Jock Garden said? If so, how?

    in solidarity

  9. Hello Ian,

    There is a world of difference between QGC/BG (the major gas company in Qld. and part of the Haliburton/Bechtel network) and the shenanigans at Barry Parade. I cannot see the connection that you suggest.

    But first the Z question.

    The decision to divest the workers of their asset was not made by Z but by the search foundation. Z was homeless and was given an option that it took up – I can see no problem here from Z’s part.

    Your concerns, of which I tend to agree, should be aimed at Search and the ex CPA people and not at Z.


    Laboite’s connection to QGC/BG is not just an innocent receipt of corporate philanthropy to sustain their independent and community focused artistic pursuits.

    LaBoite organises, on behalf of QGC/BG an extensive public relations exercise in the communities of the central and western Qld gas fields.

    From a QGC media release…..

    ““Putting these performances on is great for the community because it lets the community know that this organisation (QGC) is not about being selfish, you want to give back to the community as well because you’re in their environment, you’re working here now. I think they’re pretty appreciative of that. The turnout reflects pretty positively on that.”

    ““Drama At The Gasfields is all about fun. It’s about our major sponsorship of the year with La Boite Theatre Company, but most importantly it is about developing community partnership with the many people that we rely on to work with us to develop our aspirations.


    The way global capital manipulates communities in order to steal their assets has nothing to do with the search foundation’s mismanagement of workers assets, the latter being simply just another case of left wing stupidity.

  10. Hmmm… what is the difference between ‘QGC manipulates communities in order to steal their assets’ and ‘the the board of directors’ of Creative Broadcasters sending someone to Sydney to cut a deal with Eric Aarons to buy the building knowing that 4ZZZ’s purpose was fundamentally different to those workers that set up and sustained the Communist Party for 70 years.

    Firstly, the board at Creative Broadcaster would have known it was illegal. You can’t take the assets of a non-for-profit organisation when your purpose differs from theirs, at least you can’t do it lawfully.

    Secondly, the board of Creative Broadcasters knew that 4ZZZ came out of the Vietnam Anti-war movement and since then have, at best, followed their objective of supporting ‘marginalised communities, their issues and music’.

    Creative Broadcasters proposal includes changing the facade of the building to put in a bar and sound stage and to build a roof top garden at the back where Coronation Press and the ‘291’ club was.

    Where the People's Bookshop once was

    Just becasue they have been unsuccessful in their efforts does not answer my criticism of those at 4ZZZ who took advantage when one person in the CPA chose to liquidate a life times work of thousands of unionists and workers in order to set up the SEARCH foundation.

    A foundation that had little or nothing in common with the purpose of the CPA as expressed on its foundation. SEARCH sought to foster the arts. Not in the same way QGC does, at least i hope not.

    I am not defending La Boite.

    But you seem to be applying a double standard here.

    Why not hold 4ZZZ accountable for selling out it original purpose and taking advantage of workers efforts in the process?

    in solidarity

  11. When ZZZ takes sponsorship from mining companies and makes its major project of the year a promotional event for that mining company, then we will have a comparison.

    I have no illusions about Z, it is what it is and that is a bunch of bourgeise kids who might find it fashionable from time to time to speak of marginalised communities and other fine objects. They were never committed to workers power and only understood it from their books and magazines. All the real input from political and cultural groups came from outside the clique and often with considerable friction with the inner circle. I have done the equivalent of a weekly show for four years – if you add it all up – and I only ever went to one collective meeting in that time. Most of the other community shows also related to the collective through a connection to one or two supportive collective members, usually from the newsroom, but avoided the meetings.

    All the outside community groups gave ZZZ a reputation that its real management did not deserve.

    And by the way, radio is of itself an art form. If Search’s objective is to promote art then this has been achieved. This of course brings to question notions of bourgeois art of which ZZZ is a good example, but since WBT itself is able to tolerate a pluralism that includes corporate italian design conglomerates, then I suspect any criticism of Z’s abandonment of socialism (which it never embraced in the first place) is where there is an application of a double standard.

    The simple truth is that La Boite is a pro-active agent of the will of international capital, not just practitioners of bourgeoise art.

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