'Black Diggers' takes up new ANZAC stories

A new play draws on the real experiences of Indigenous soldiers -- and hopes to reclaim a forgotten chapter of the ANZAC story.  

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)


One hundred years after the start of the first world war, a new play about the experiences of Indigenous servicemen is making its debut for the Sydney Festival.


Called Black Diggers, it draws on the real experiences of Indigenous soldiers -- and hopes to reclaim a forgotten chapter of the ANZAC story.


Julia Calixto with this report.


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It's the ANZAC story but not as many Australians know it.


Stories of mateship, resilience and sacrifice, told by Indigenous diggers.


The experiences of more than a hundred Indigenous servicemen during World War One have been combined into nine characters.


Their stories are told by Indigenous actors and one Vietnam war veteran, George Bostock.


"It's really nice to see these young men, these young actors, who had come in first and they knew nothing. // As they got into the show you could see the change, they had more respect for what they were doing and who they're representing."


Black Diggers draws on new scholarly research on what was known as the Great War.


Director Wesley Enoch says the production plays on the way in which the ANZAC story has been stereotyped.


"We sometimes think of World War One and Gallipoli in particular, or the Western Front or The Somme as a kind of blanket white experience and I love the idea of saying, no, there were lots of different people there."


450,000 Australians enlisted and fought in that war.


About a thousand were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


Director Wesley Enoch says there was no universal experience for Indigenous diggers but for many serving, it was the first time they were treated as equals and recognised by the wider Australian community.


The real challenge was coming home.


He says after four years of service, many didn't cope with the transition back to civilian life.


"They couldn't get soldier settlements, they weren't paid, the protectors still took their pay, you still needed written permission to travel. All that history was still there. But World War One is this little moment where those freedoms were awarded to Indigneous men in a way that they still had to wait another 50, 60 years for those freedoms to come back."


Black Diggers is showing at the Sydney Opera House from January 18 to 26, and at the Brisbane festival in September.



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