Arts House PYT Fairfield Tribunal Rhonda Dixon-GrovenorTribunal, is a lovely example of creative non-fiction as performance art. There are many wonderful moments of craft, storytelling, and other theatrics, but the engine behind all of those are a series of truths about the indigenous and refugee experience.

Chaired by Rhonda Dixon (Aunty Rhonda), we begin to weave these experiences together. From one artist finding his way here by boat, to another’s experience working for the Red Cross looking after those refugees, to Aunty Rhonda herself detailing her own history and tribulations – a picture begins to be built of an immoral status quo that harms all of us.

A beautiful touch was the projection running above all of it. The predominant image was of an Australian beach on a bright, sunny day, the surf rolling in. As the performers spoke, images would be partly superimposed over the top, leaving the movement of the waves still visible. The goal is always there, an idyllic paradise being reached for.

A highlight was when Aunty Rhonda undid her possum cloak and showed how much she wears and protects her own story and culture, various images drawn over the inside.

While thematically, the various pieces of testimony and performance were linked, it would have been nice to see more instances where the indigenous experience aligned with the refugee one. In a compelling moment, Aunty Rhonda spoke of laws passed decades ago to deny Aboriginal people their language and culture, describing a, ‘Spiritual door’, being closed.

To be sure, another performer testified of having people saying, “You’re in Australia – speak English,” but this subject – how one maintains their personal story and defends a connection with their history and culture from a state trying to sever that connection – was worth exploring in more detail. A fine show that took care to show that true progress can only come with compassion and empathy.

Arts House – North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 20 July 2017 – 8.15pm
Season: 20 – 23 July 2017 (closed)

Image: Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor in Tribunal – photo by Alex Wisser

Review: David Collins