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In 1881 the Kulin clans, facing the imminent loss of their land and freedoms, brought about a Parliamentary Inquiry to continue living on the Victorian Aboriginal reserve of Coranderrk as a self-determined community.  

The protest was the first occasion Aboriginal people used the Western legal system to fight for their rights in court, and was all but unknown until a historian came across the extensive document detailing the inquiry.

Coranderrk is the gripping play created from the detailed minutes of the inquiry, which took place over two and a half months and heard from 69 witnesses, white and black.

Ilbijerri Theatre Company finally brings the play to Darwin, after hugely successful runs in Victoria and other states.

“I suppose what we’ve done is take the central characters from the inquiry and put them into a play,” says Coranderrk director Eva Grace Mullaley.

“We have a main antagonist and a main protagonist in Edward Curr and William Barak, then we have Anne Bon and John Green who are the wonderful allies of the people of Coranderrk.”

Four actors play multiple characters in the play, including Wurundjeri leader William Barak who walked 18 hours to Melbourne’s Parliament House to petition the government, and wealthy widow Anne Bon, who was a commissioner and sympathetic to the Coranderrk cause.

Written by Giordano Nanni, Coranderrk was originally a verbatim reading of the inquiry’s minutes at Melbourne playhouse La Mama, before being turned into a theatre piece for Belvoir St Theatre and then a fully-formed play by Ilbijerri.

Although the people of Coranderrk won the inquiry, a huge victory in the face of adversity, the 1886 Half Caste Act ensured their win was short-lived, and white settlers were soon allowed to encroach upon their land.

“I think it’s important to go everywhere with this show because of the strength and the pride that you learn that these blackfellas had in the 1800s, 136 years ago,” says Mullaley.

“There is a huge sense of pride in our ancestors. Because we’re taught – even blackfellas are taught – that it was all just very quiet and submissive. I had no idea of Coranderrk before I did this play.”

Fri 7 Jul | 7.30pm | Darwin Entertainment Centre

See the event listing.

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