If ever there was an exemplary expression of this year’s NAIDOC theme, Voice, Treaty, Truth, the recently released theatre production, 'City of Gold' is powerful interpretation. It is the playwriting debut of actor Meyne Wyatt, a Wongutha-Yamatji man.
Commissioned by the Queensland Theatre, it tells the personal story of an Aboriginal man returning home for sorry business after the death of his father. As the bequeathing legacy between father and son causes a complex rivalry and concord between brothers, Breythe and Mateo, the storyline is wrapped up in feelings of love, loss, longing and sorrow. For Black audiences, it highlights displays of kinship and our mob’s unconditional and forgiving love for each other, regardless of personality.
Meyne's foray as a playwright was inspired by a trilogy of events that happened all around the same time: the passing of his father, the passing of his nephew, the racist rhetoric playing out in the final months of Adam Goodes AFL career. The play come out of a deeply personal reflection on his recent battle with depression while living off Country, when he was legitimately questioning his status as an Aboriginal actor in the arts and media industry.
“There was just something in the air at the time,” he shared with myself and radio co-host Chelsea Bond on our Wild Black Women program.
As such, his play is underpinned by themes of racism, both casual and overt as well as Aboriginal culture and spirituality, and family relationships.
The performance converges in his hometown of Kalgoorlie, WA, where a series of emotionally charged scenes take the audience on a roller-coaster journey of what it is to be young, black and deadly in modern Australia.
I am glad I didn't read too much about City of Gold prior to seeing the show’s debut in Brisbane, so as to lessen any assumption or expectation. It ended up encompassing so much more than I thought.
As Meyne said "This show is a real battle cry for blackfellas".
Meyne hit a domino effect of truth after truth in relation to our circumstance as First Nations peoples. Truths about identity — Murries/ Koories/ Noongars, to the arts and media industries, racism and discrimination, police violence, sorry business, family roles, friendships, sexism, homophobia, cultural protocols, men's business, women's business and even country music.
The truths are all there and hit you unapologetically hard from beginning to end.
Laughs were elicited from the beginning, as Meyne outed another truth with what I had always suspected; that those "We were here first" Lamb adverts were not as reconciliatory as portrayed.
TRUTH: It’s important to let us, as blackfellas, to be the ones to tell stories of racism; about the ongoing daily occurrences, struggles and issues that we adhere.
Here, Meyne’s cathartic writing experience talks to all of these things and tells wider Australia that, ‘we’re not going to take this anymore.'
It is an educational process he is making no excuses for, and describing it as unintentional he states, "It is just what it is, the way we live, the way we say things and that's just it. There is some funny stuff too".
Community Night is always the best night of a theatre production and even though there was a black out at NAIDOC Family Fun Day at Musgrave Park, mob still rocked up.
Actor Shari Sebbens plays the wonderful matriarchal character, Carina, and mentioned after the show, "You know when there are mob in the crowd, you can hear them, laughing, crying, yelling out. They get the in jokes".
TRUTH: Yep, you can definitely count on the mob to react in all the Black places.
As they say 'less is more' and so the modest set that sits in perfect harmony with the sound and lighting transports you straight to Kalgoolie. It evoked for me as an urban blackfulla who, when growing up, spent every school holiday returning to Country to see mob, a familiar sense of home.
This play tells us about the importance of culture and heritage.
My heart swelled in a scene where a Willy Wagtail — Breythe’s father’s totem — sneaks in from the darkness. This nimble fantail bird is also my father’s totem. Here, the importance of cultural maintenance, as handed down through men’s business, gifts the audience with lessons in lore; a gift and lesson lost on some, as we heard them ignorantly gasp in horror at the merciful killing of a Kangaroo.
Enter Carina. One of our nations finest actors, Shari Sebbens describes her character as someone that all Black women can relate to easily.
TRUTH: the matriarch carries the tolls black women endure; to nurture, guide, love, mother and be the backbone of the family. Shari’s natural expression of a Black woman's role in community is complimented through the opportunity for the audience to witness not only the relationships between Aboriginal men and women, but between Aboriginal men, as themselves.
As she said,"it has been lovely listening to black men talk about their feeling so openly".
Two moments during the show hit opposite ends of my emotional spectrum. First, lingering tears ran at a funeral scene, as it mirrored that of my own father's.
Family silhouettes stood motionless to a soundtrack of what I call ‘Dad music’ (i.e. the Credence Clearwater Revival, one my Dads favourite bands), as sand fell from an outreach of saluting hands. Second, a clever critique of country music by Breythe turned my laughter in a raw as it rang so many truths to me.
TRUTH: it is confusing sometimes to try and understand how our people have embraced a genre of music born straight out of the racist deep south of America.
Trying not to give too much away, a definite highlight is a powerful monologue by Breythe. Like something straight out of a horror movie, it features a spotlight shining down on an appropriated clown to directly address the audience. It's imagery parallel to the slap in the face dialogue and compelling delivery from Wyatt.
It's a reiteration of strengthen, identity, spiritual and cultural practice and a display of ownership and self-determination that talks back to the historical disparities imposed by continued racism, inequality and discrimination.
As Meyne mentioned in an interview on the Wild Black Women show on 98.9fm in Brisbane, he wrote what he wanted to see "I wanted to see a version of me."
TRUTH: to quote author Bell Hooks, “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is-it’s to imagine what is possible.”
City of Gold a co-production between both Queensland Theatre and Griffin Theatre Company, Sydney. It runs at Griffin Theatre from 26 July to 31 August. Get your tickets now. It's a must.
Angelina Hurley is a comedy writer and a Doctoral Candidate of Jagera, Gooreng Gooreng, Mununjali, Birriah and Kamilaroi descent. Angelina is the daughter of renowned Aboriginal visual artist Ron Hurley and has worked in Indigenous arts, education and community cultural development for over 20 years. Currently Angelina co-hosts the popular radio show Wild Black Women with Associate Professor, Chelsea Bond on Brisbane's 98.9 FM Let's Talk programme and is also a Member of the Queensland Theatre Board.