Human Rights Theatre

26 June 2012 | 11:58 am | Dave Drayton

Coranderrk director Issac Drandic talks to Dave Drayton about the power of history and verbatim theatre.

History, as they say, is written by the victors. Coranderrk is a verbatim work based on the people of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve who took on the Board for the Protection of Aborigines in a fight for justice, dignity and self-determination in 1881. Associate Director of Melbourne-based theatre company, Ilbijerri, Isaac Drandic enjoyed his directorial debut through the company, taking on the massive task of Coranderrk after Ilbijerri Aristic Director Rachael Maza had guided it through early readings and workshop performances.

Maza set the task for Drandic rather directly, as he recalls, “I'd just previously been assistant director on a show for the Perth Festival called Waltzing The Wilarra that Wesley Enoch directed. Rachael Maza's of the opinion that you can only do assistant directing once before you just need to start directing and so she offered me my first directing gig.” Drandic took to the task eagerly, seeing in Coranderrk an important and resonant story that he felt needed to be told for its empowering qualities, continued relevance, and its ability to render moot often troublesome issues of 'white guilt.' ”I think no matter where you travel Aboriginal people around Australia have experienced a very similar history since white fellas have been here – the impacts that have affected our communities are impacts that we all share and so I think seeing and hearing this story is inspirational for all people really. It's inspiring and it's empowering for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people; it's empowering for white fellas to go, 'Look, back then in the early times of settlement there were some good white fellas out there that were way ahead of their times in terms of human rights issues,' and from the black perspective we're going, 'Listen to these leaders, listen to these intelligent, smart Aboriginal people – back in 1881 – these fellas that didn't go to a university, aren't educated like we are nowadays, yet they were calling for exactly the same things that we're calling for now in Indigenous politics in Australia.' We want land rights, we want economic independence and we want self-determination and those [ideals] echo so loudly in the Coranderrk script.”

The script comes from recordings of official testimonies before the 1881 Government Inquiry into Coranderrk, and it's the very nature of its being verbatim that makes it so powerful, says Drandic. “These are the actual words spoken by those people in 1881, and when you read the script you go, 'Woah, this could be being said right now, everything in it resonates now in 2012.' I could probably turn on the radio and listen to some of our Aboriginal leaders in this country and hear the echoes from 1881 from William Barrak and from the people of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve, and so the power lies in that verbatim.”

Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country runs from Thursday 28 June until Sunday 1 July, Sydney Opera House Playhouse.