BLACK DIGGERS It is about putting black faces back into all our history'
Tom Wright is an award winning play write, actor and producer (among his credits is 'The Castle).Tom started writing the script for Black Diggers 6 months before rehearsals began. He was presented with a mountain of research to cobble together 100 minutes of theatre based on reported incidences collected over a period of many years, verbal and written.
Black Diggers is included in this year's Brisbane Festival and the Queensland Theatre Company. Part of the brief for QTC is to bring to audiences Indigenous works across Australia. Those of 'substantially European descent' couldn't enlist in any of the armed forces until 1917 when half castes were allowed. 800 Indigenous soldiers were later enlisted. The army treated the soldiers well, they received equal pay but were assigned to low ranking jobs. Serving in both world wars many were highly decorated.
They were referred to as brothers by their fellow trench mates and good old Aussie humour isn't left out of the telling of the tragedy of war. 'I thought you blokes could see in the dark' relieved the tension for a brief period.
After the war things immediately changed. They heard the word 'Coon' again, no welcome home march, no back pay, no pensions or education. 'They painted the colour of my skin black when I returned'. To add insult to injury Aboriginal land was taken away and given to the white returned soldiers. They left one fight to continue another. The RSL only welcomed them into the bar on ANZAC day.
Nine actor's play many roles as the story unfolds. Set designer, Stephen Curtis wanted to create a kind of monument to the black diggers. No curtain up and the entire scenery is just blackboards all around the walls. As the story unfolds historical events, time lines, names of the diggers and places where battles were fought and soldiers fell. Amiens, Ypres and Palestine are just few of the places.
Some of the audience stood up at the end if the performance, perhaps they became emotionally involved in part of our history which is shameful, perhaps unknown to many and neglected until now. Gradually the real history is being told, but there is still room for improvement. It's powerful theatre.