The Return

AAR-Malthouse-Rising-The-Return-photo-by-Pia-JohnsonA couple sit wrapped in furs and happily play with their baby. They are chased and shot. Scientists and collectors paid well for those bodies. The kind of money that would buy a house and feed a family.

But this is now and we’re in the Museum of Origins where performers play the “Natives”, like “Bush Mother” and “Warrior”. Everyone is respected and the performers love their important work. But all is not right.

There are hidden rooms and new staff wonder what’s going on with their memory. The dark comedy of The Return only lets up when no longer possible to laugh.

Written by Torres Strait Islander John Hargreaves, its story is inspired by co-director (with Matthew Lutton) and Yorta Yorta man Jason Tamiru’s work in repatriation – the returning of remains to country.

There are thousands and thousands of Indigenous human remains in universities, museums, private collections and forgotten boxes all over the world. Some were pillaged from burial sites. Some were prepared by boiling the skin from a recently killed body; possibly killed for bone collection.

These are our stories. Dismissal of them as stories of science or even ignorance continues the pain, horror and shame.

Spanning 250 years, The Return tells stories of a museum curator, a repatriation office and a bone collector – and those of the people whose lives, and deaths, interweave though all of them.

The cast of First Nations performers – Jimi Bani, Ghenoa Gela, Damion Hunter, Angelica Lockyer, Guy Simon, Laila Thaker – play multiple characters who all impact the contemporary story of the museum.

The design – Zoe Atkinson (set), Chloe Ogilvie (set consultant), Zoe Rouse (costume), Paul Jackson (lighting), Jethro Woodward (sound and composition) – is filled with symbolism and secrets that begin with a giant mound of dark fertile earth, white museum plinths and railway lines like those that were built across Australia and made it easy to travel vast distances.

The Return is confronting but it’s about healing. We tell stories to create change, and this mix of known and forgotten truths is already becoming a story that will change how someone thinks and feels.

The Return
Merlyn Theatre – The Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Thursday 26 May 2022
Season continues to 4 June 2022

For more information, visit: for details – a Malthouse Theatre and RISING co-commission.

Image: Jimi Bani, Guy Simon, Damion Hunter in The Return – photo by Pia Johnson

Review: Anne-Marie Peard