‘Coranderrk’ is a massaged-verbatim play by Andrea James and Giordano Nanni and directed by Isaac Drandic that explores the Aboriginal mission, community and farm of this name set up and run in the late 1800’s in rural Victoria. It’s a story that sits under similar Aboriginal plays that focus on the injustices of the Government’s Board for the Protection of Aborigines inflicted upon our land’s first people.
There is sense of frustration in watching black history plays as I’ve mentioned before. Partly it’s the reminder of white guilt for the ignorance and destructive power of white authority and partly it’s because we hear it a lot in this form and dare I say it, it can feel repetitive or like theatre as therapy.
But about twenty minutes into ‘Coranderrk’ we’re introduced to something new; John Green, white station manager and all round fair and good man and the play develops surprisingly new and welcome dimensions. Maybe it’s that it gives us hope that we haven’t always been against each other and that good white men and women are scattered throughout history. This is reinforced by the character of Caroline Morgan and we see white characters just as frustrated and hamstrung by stupid government bureaucracy. It may centre around race but we see more than the white villain and it gives the play depth in an otherwise didactic form.
‘Coranderrk’ runs for about an hour and contains all the conventions of verbatim- multiple characters played by a small cast, direct audience address, interviews, projections of historical figures, locations and events, and a whole lot of names, dates and figures. Theatrically it can feel stifling but it does ask all the right questions and especially the big one, What if we had allowed our Indigenous to be self-sufficient and set them up for success? Who might we have become as a culture? And that’s worth pondering.