While America celebrated Independence Day, I attended Queensland Theatre’s latest play, City of Gold, in the Bille Brown Theatre. Co-produced with Griffin Theatre Company, the talented playwright, Meyne Wyatt also played the lead character.
I attended with Daphne Orley – a long time Irish / Indigenous friend who was very moved by the production and the issues of ongoing injustice which were tackled. Daphne also provided me with invaluable insight into the symbolism utilised.
When the black Willie Wagtail walked onto the stage, Daphne said to me “Bad news is coming.” The unfolding drama and dialogue was painfully and truthfully reflective of ongoing occurrences and recurrences of oppression and injustice.
A graduate of NIDA, Wyatt is clearly an emergent playwright with the dual abilities to convey a vital message via written narrative and riveting performance. There were so many issues confronted in this play and irony conveyed that I could write an essay not a review.
A dual Irish / Australian citizen myself, I also felt the pain of colonial oppression on a personal level. My Catholic grandparents were burned out of their Belfast home in 1969, and my first cousin shot dead by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in 1985, aged only 19.
I identified with an oppressive history of being stereotyped as subhuman and unwanted. Wyatt mentioned the takeover of Redfern and signs saying ‘All Abos Nearly Gone.’ I thought of the signs and job vacancies which once read ‘No Irish Need Apply’.
Ancient, cultural peoples both stripped of their language and heritage. Ironically, when made to speak only English, the Irish dominated the literary world. Wyatt is also using an historically enforced language to speak up.
The actors all delivered stellar, heartfelt performances and reinforced the message of ongoing oppressive injustice in modern times. When an ancient, complex culture is dissembled and family ties destroyed, there are consequences.
This was reflected in the conflict which was evident in the family central to the play. Colonialism introduced alcohol, tobacco and western diseases. Sacred sites were desecrated. Land and children both stolen. Displacement, dissatisfaction, delinquent confusion and alcoholism are the resultant outcome.
Whilst racism is now a sensitive subject, inherent issues remain unsolved. Meyne Wyatt will have more to say in future dialogue as a writer and spokesman for his people. We are being challenged by a history we were taught through through the lenses of colonialist triumph. ‘Never trade authenticity for approval’ was a striking quote which could become a mantra.
City of Gold
Bille Brown Theatre – Queensland Theatre, 78 Montague Road, South Brisbane
Performance: Thursday 4 July 2019
Season continues to 20 July 2019
Information and Bookings: www.queenslandtheatre.com.au
Following its Brisbane season, City of Gold will be presented by Griffin Theatre Company at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross: 26 July – 31 August 2019.
Image: Meyne Wyatt in City of Gold – photo by Stephen Henry
Review: Michele-Rose Boylan