Theatre production remembers Aboriginals who fought during the First World War

Posted on on 18 January 2014
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The Queensland Theatre Company and Sydney Festival have developed a theatre production - Black Diggers - about Aboriginals who fought during the First World War to mark the Centenary.

The production will be on show from the 17th-26th January 2014, with its world premiere at the Sydney Opera House.

The cast of nine Aboriginal men will explore the lives of Aboriginal soldiers who served during the First World War.


The Director of Black Diggers, Wesley Enoch, said that the story of Aboriginal servicemen is "of hope, of trying to come together, of understanding and a history forgotten".

Whilst the production explores life during the First World War, and considers contemporary issues, such as the denial of Aborigines to own land, Mr. Enoch said the play also "taps in to what it means to be an Aboriginal man now".

"It's no accident that an indigenous story is the first big example of commemorating World War I, Aboriginal servicemen have been a part of every theatre of war since [Australian] Federation [in 1901] through to now. For us to tell that story, to write onto the public record, [that] Aboriginal servicemen [were] at Gallipoli, on the Western Front, in Palestine... is important for us as a part of a reconciliation movement".

"Actively forgotten"

Dr. David Williams, researcher for Black Diggers and an Honorary Associate of the University of Sydney, highlighted that of the 450,000 Australians who enlisted and fought in the First World War, it is believed that approximately 1,000 of them were Aborigines.

He described this as a "very significant proportion" because "we have actively forgotten their service".

"The contrast between them being treated as equals when they're in the military and being treated as second class, inferior peoples when they returned home from the war is quite striking".

The production has built on the work of previous researchers in order to create as authentic characters as possible. Dr. Williams highlighted that it was a struggle to even identify the names of First World War Aboriginal soldiers, and that seeking out original documents, photographs and family stories of 'black Diggers' was an important aspect of the production.

Dr. Williams said that he hopes that Black Diggers will "provoke the desire for everyone who sees it to find out more, because these stories deserve remembering".

Director Wesley Enoch added that: "If these stories don't get out there, how will we actually be able to move forward? If we don't have this history, how can we have a future?".

Source: Sydney Festival website

Images courtesy of the Sydney Festival

Posted by: Daniel Barry, Centenary News