While working on his PhD in the archives Giordano had come across the transcripts or minutes of evidence, from the 1881 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the conditions and management of the Coranderrk Aboriginal station. The transcripts contained the testimonies of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. He was struck by how different the document was to many colonial records from this period, both because of the prominence of the Aboriginal voices and the presence of European voices that supported the Coranderrk residents' claims for justice. To engage public audiences with this little-known story, Giordano saw the potential of a verbatim theatre performance that would bring these voices back to life. (Read more).
Julie Evans saw the broader potential of using such a theatre piece to create a space for discussion of historical and ongoing injustice in Australia, to counter the current discourse wherein structural injustice and justice were commonly disregarded. The name of these transcripts, ‘minutes of evidence’, became the name of this wider project, with questions of structural justice at its core.
Julie approached her colleagues in Criminology in the School of Social and Political Sciences, socio-legal theorist Jennifer Balint and criminologist Nesam McMillan, to help locate the 1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry within broader struggles for justice and consider its relation to frameworks of international criminal justice and transitional justice and their capacity to address structural injustices that are the ongoing legacies of colonisation. International lawyer Dianne Otto was a key part of these earlier discussions, as was Indigenous historian and author Tony Birch. The team envisaged a unique public project, which would use theatre, education and research to promote public awareness of and engagement with structural injustice and justice. Seed funding was obtained from the University of Melbourne to facilitate the early development of the project.
The research team also wanted to build into the project the development of research opportunities for Indigenous student researchers (Lilly Brown, Simone Gristwood and Olivia Slater have since been appointed to these positions). Early and important discussions were held at the University of Melbourne with Ian Anderson. the Foundation Chair of Indigenous Higher Education, and Director, Murrup Barak Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development.
Two experts on British imperialism, historian Zoë Laidlaw, from Royal Holloway, University of London and cultural geographer Alan Lester, from Sussex University, joined the project and have helped place the Coranderrk story into international and comparative context. Shortly afterwards, historian Patricia Grimshaw, a senior scholar of missions and colonial history based at the University of Melbourne, and historian Joanna Cruickshank from Deakin University, also joined the team. Patricia and Joanna have provided historical background on religion and colonialism, which is particularly important for understanding some of the forces that influenced and shaped the activism of Coranderrk.
Indigenous legal scholar Mark McMillan also joined the project as a Chief Investigator. His expertise in the law has helped clarify why the 1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry was so important in Victorian and Commonwealth history and will allow him to use the Inquiry as an optic for looking at broader structural and governance issues.
To assist in developing the theatre production, Giordano and Julie approached Liz Jones (Artistic Director of La Mama Theatre) and Rachael Maza (Artistic Director of ILBIJERRI Theatre Company) to collaborate on the project. La Mama offered to host the first season of Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country as well as the earlier pilot performances at the Courthouse Theatre, putting funding and in-kind support towards this. ILBIJERRI offered to produce and direct it, providing in-kind support towards this. Liz Jones and Rachel Maza later came on board as Partner Investigators on the project. Meanwhile, Giordano approached Yorta Yorta playwright Andrea James to collaborate in the development of the script. In 2010, a City of Melbourne grant and funding from Melbourne University, La Mama and ILBIJERRI, allowed a pilot of the play to be staged in front of a live public audience: four full-house performances were held at the La Mama Courthouse Theatre in Melbourne.
These pilot performances enabled Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin (Senior Elder of the Wurundjeri people), the Wurundjeri Land Council, as well as two Aboriginal organisations that later become partners on the project – the Koorie Heritage Trust and the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc (VAEAI) – to be involved in the development of the play from the outset. Such engagement led to three follow-up readings of Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country, which were held at Melbourne University and Healesville in May 2011. Attended by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal descendants of the Coranderrk community and staged on Wurundjeri land, these historic performances were produced thanks to support from Yarra Ranges Community Health, Yarra Ranges Council, the University of Melbourne, VicHealth Arts About Us, the Koorie Heritage Trust, ILBIJERRI, La Mama, the Eastern Metropolitan Region Indigenous Family Violence Action Group and Kere-Kere.
Recognising the importance of the 1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry in Victoria, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) became a major funding partner for the project, with the aim of producing curriculum resources that would allow high school students to study the Coranderrk Inquiry and examine the questions that it raises about injustice and justice in Victorian and Australian history. Erin Birch came on as a Partner Investigator and later consultant to the project. The development of advisory protocols around the teaching of this curriculum was to be a core aim.
VicHealth came on board as a major funding partner with the aim of developing mechanisms for creating constructive community dialogue about the harms caused by race based discrimination and committed to funding a performance adaptation for schools and developing a website to allow people of all ages to learn more about this important time in Victorian history. Arts Victoria also pledged funding to support the development of the play and to foster new and engaging ways of raising awareness of Indigenous Victorian history; while the Koorie Heritage Trust pledged the in-kind services of Partner Investigator Jennifer Bates, who helped to liaise between the project and Indigenous community members in Melbourne and Healesville during the consultation process and in the lead up to public performances. Other partners provided vital in-kind support: the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc (VAEAI), the State Library of Victoria, and Regional Arts Victoria.
Following the award of an ARC Linkage Grant, and with thirteen partner organisations, the project formally began in November 2011, when contracts were signed with all partner organisations, and will run until mid 2016.