Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country

A groundbreaking theatrical performance that combines theatre and history, Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country provides unprecedented insight into a remarkable, yet little-known chapter of Australia’s past and the struggle for justice in VictoriaConsisting of the actual words spoken and written by Aboriginal and European men and women at the 1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiryand drawing on petitions, letters and newspaper articles dated from the time, this unique play enables the justice claims of key historical figures such as William Barak and Anne Bon to be brought before contemporary audiences.

Uncle Jack Charles, a descendant of Coranderrk, plays William Barak at the premiere of "Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country", La Mama Courthouse Theatre, 2011. Photo: Steven Rhall. Click to enlarge.

We want the Board and the Inspector, Captain Page, to be no longer over us. 

We want only one man here, and that is Mr John Green, and the station to be under the Chief Secretary; then we will show the country that the station could self-support itself.

Petition,16 November 1881,
minutes of evidence, 
1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry.

The Play

Not a story of ‘black vs. white’, Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country pays tribute to the resilience and adaptability of a people who rose to the challenge despite all odds, appropriating the power of the written word and white political discourse to demand justice, dignity and self-determination, while also celebrating the spirit of friendship and genuine collaboration between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. It offers a lesson in justice that still holds today.

Coranderrk's white farm manager Thomas Harris (left) confronts Board Secretary Captain Page (right) - played by actors Jim Daly (left) and Tom Long (right). Photo: Steven Rhall

Through the medium of verbatim theatre, the cast of Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country re-enacts key passages from the testimonies, letters and petitions of 20 witnesses (nine of them Aboriginal) who gave evidence at the 1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry — from the Wurundjeri clan-head William Barak, who led the Coranderrk community, to the members of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines, who sought to undermine it. 

Blending dramaturgical technique and academic methodology, the spoken and the written word, Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country aims to raise public awareness about Australia’s past in a new and engaging way, exposing contemporary audiences to primary historical materials; to the language, ideas, opinions and policies that were once commonly adopted towards Aboriginal people; and crucially, to the voices of Aboriginal people in the nineteenth century, which are often conspicuously absent from historical records. By providing direct access to the raw materials of history, it enables audiences to form their own conclusions based on the evidence presented.

The Rev. Strickland (played by actor Syd Brisbane) testifies at the Coranderrk Inquiry. Photo: Steven Rhall. Click to enlarge.The script of Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country consists entirely of extracts from the minutes of evidence of the 1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry, as well as excerpts from letters, petitions and newspaper articles from the time of the Inquiry. Writer/historian Giordano Nanni and Yorta Yorta playwright Andrea James worked together to distil the key sections of this 141-page document of evidence into a script for an 80-minute performance. Whilst selection and editing were a key part of this process, and on some occasions some words were changed to improve clarity and avoid ambiguity, the script is a faithful adaptation of the written record of the 1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry. Giordano Nanni and Andrea James have published an annotated version of the script including a history of the 1881 Inquiry in the form of a book, available now from Aboriginal Studies Press, AIATSIS.

Performance History & Credits

Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country has enjoyed a number of successful seasons since its inception in 2010. Click on each entry to find out more about the stages of development:

Community engagement

Throughout the development of the play, the Minutes of Evidence project has engaged widely with the community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Some of the key areas of engagement have included:

Consultation with local Indigenous community members in Melbourne and Healesville, overseen by the Koorie Heritage Trust, ILBIJERRI and La Mama, have been a feature of the development of Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country. Starting in 2009, Giordano Nanni approached Senior Wurundjeri elder Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin to propose the idea of restaging the 1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry. Following this, the project's Partner Investigators Rachael Maza (ILBIJERRI Theatre Company) and Jennifer Bates (Koorie Heritage trust) took part in several meetings with the Wurundjeri Land Council, descendants of Coranderrk, and Indigenous community members in Healesville, around the staging of performances. These meetings resulted in special preview performances being staged on Coranderrk land, for the benefit of descendants of the Coranderrk community. (Read more...) The importance of establishing relations with the community has been a sound basis for the Minutes of Evidence collaboration and of thinking about the reciprocity of interests that can be expressed in and through the project. 

Actor Melodie Reynolds-Diarra portrays Alice Grant, a Coranderrk resident and witness at the 1881 Inquiry, La Mama Courthouse Theatre, Melbourne 2011. Photo: MoE Project

You do not believe in working for nothing?

— No.

Alice Grant,
minutes of evidence,
1881 Parliamentary Coranderrk Inquiry

Question & Answer sessions were held following the performances, to give audiences an opportunity both to provide feedback to the cast and project team, as well as to engage in conversation around the issues raised by the performance. Participants in these Q & A sessions have included Koorie historian and author Tony Birch, writer and Senior Research Associate on the project Giordano Nanni, playwright Andrea James, directors Rachael Maza and Isaac Drandic, historian Bruce Pascoe, historian and Chief Investigator on the project Julie Evans, cultural historian Chris Healy, author/film-maker Richard Frankland, and the cast of various performances.

Audience Feedback was collected in a number of Comments Books which were provided at each performance. The feedback collected revealed the high level of praise and support for the performance. Descendants expressed pride for the dignity and respect with which their ancestors were portrayed on the stage. Several comments reflected on the power and impact of the play and recommended its use as an educational resource for schools and the general community; others requested that the play be performed in regional areas of Victoria and other parts of Australia. Finally, a great number of comments expressed the need for the Coranderrk story to be known by more people and that the performance was an ideal vehicle to do so.

Introductory talks were given to provide the necessary cultural and historical context for the performance. These were conducted by Dr Tony Birch. The video below was recorded at one of the first pilot readings of the play, in August 2010.

Dr Tony Birch introduces the first readings of Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country at the La Mama Courthouse Theatre, August 2010

Photos & Video

(Photos by MoE Project: click to enlarge)

Alice Grant (played by Melodie Reynolds-Diarra) testifies at the Coranderrk InquiryEdward Curr (played by Jim Daly) testifies at the Coranderrk InquiryThomas Bamfield (played by Glenn Shea) testifies at the Coranderrk InquiryCaroline Morgan (played by Melodie Reynolds-Diarra) testifies at the Coranderrk InquiryAnne Bon (played by Liz Jones) during the Coranderrk InquiryRobert Wandon (played by Greg Fryer) testifies at the Coranderrk InquiryRobert Wandon (played by Greg Fryer) testifies at the Coranderrk InquiryHenry jennings testifies at the Coranderrk InquiryWilliam Barak (played by Uncle Jack Charles) reads a petition at the Coranderrk Inquiry

Behind the scenes with the cast and crew of Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country during rehearsals in June 2012. Video produced by Sydney Opera House.

Coranderrk On Country Performance, 21 February 2016

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