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Welcome to Talking Stick. Hello, I'm Miriam Corowa. continue to hold a special place The works of William Shakespeare and theatregoers worldwide. in the hearts of performers of an English playwright, But what do the writings 400 years ago, who lived half a world away mean to contemporary Australians? indigenous Australians, And in particular performance culture of their own, who are steeped in a rich tens of thousands of years. that traces back

in the Bell Shakespeare Company's Wayne Blair played Othello

brought renewed interest to the role, production last year and it once before in Australia which has only been played by an indigenous actor, Tom E Lewis. first leapt onto the screen in 1978, Tom, of course, Fred Schepisi and cast as the lead when he was discovered by 'The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.' in the film Tom is still entertaining us 30 years later, theatre, cinema, music and TV. in a career that's encompassed for being with us today. Tom, thank you very much I know you've come a long way too. Thank you, Miriam.

travelling in the country. Uh, it's fun, And um, you get a bit dusty.

Sometimes it takes a while from your clothes or your skin. for the dust to get removed you've had, are there some surprises? And in terms of the journey that

you were discovered by Fred Schepisi I mean, different turns with your career. and you've taken so many with where you've arrived? Are you happy Yes. Sometimes I look back and I think, if I didn't catch that plane?" "Where would I be And where would it happen? You know, down to Melbourne. But I've always been surrounded and good-spirited people. by good spirits with spirituality. Our people are filled

Our law is full of spirituality. of the black fellows. And it scares the best No matter who they are. to really sing, learn the songs, And um, it only takes for you Listen to them. go to the old people. You know? (Laughs) And make them a cup of tea. Let them humbug you for a change.

when we're little ones, We seem to forget that now, right? we humbug all these old people And they looked after us. For anything, you know? And it's time to give back. So I've learnt all these things. from people in Melbourne... I've learnt a lot

and the music, puppetries. ..and the arts and the theatre And my dream was to do 'Othello.' All an exercise to get to my dream. the country's art world in films, And since I've learned about it's a beautiful world. and theatre, music, It really is magical. don't know when you finish things, And a lot of our people learn to live with that. you've got to with projects in the community I understand you're involved up in the Northern Territory, that you're in, and to preserve the culture. to help maintain what you're doing up there? Can you tell us a bit about I had a dream. "Jeff. There's a hut over there. I went to Jeff McMullen and I said

into a cultural centre?" "Can we turn that Swiss credit and Ian Thorpe. And soon with response with

That man, I tell you, believed in that story. without question, And now we've got a cultural centre, in the community are working. where the young women

And I put a law pole in the middle. Now I put something, the physicalities so our people can see that we're dealing with of the cultures and our Morning Star pole

is inside the cultural centre. that I have no trouble there, And the family then respects I get all my orders from the elders. no problem. And they love singing now, you know. and says, My old father comes up to me white fellow didgeridoo?" "Where's that "You mean this one?" (Laughs) I looked at him and, of years ago, he suffered a stroke. He's about 80 now and a couple and sing and sing. And I got him to sing

and said "I remember seven, And he comes back the other day eight songs now, you know". brother and my cousin, my uncle I took him to Melbourne with my you know. and these old men are singing, sort of thing. Bit of a Buena Vista club Dr Donna Coleman. There's also the dynamics. And specialises in Bach. And she's a keyboard player. it goes round... And Bach has a... You're talking Johann Sebastian Bach. Yes. And...sorry, yes. and you can sing on it. And you can actually pick it up make the corroborees as songs... And once you pick it up, you can with traditional music? So you're integrating European music the physicalities of classics. Yes. I'm trying to get people to see going to Albert Namatjira I had this image of that German guy

and giving him that watercolours. Namatjira took that painting, Yeah, at that moment that Albert and accelerate in the country. then, oh. That's what I want to try People talk talk. Too many talk talk. You know? to have red tape that long. (Laughs) To be a black fellow, you've got It didn't go like that, you know? You think hey, whoa!

Yeah? And we always live in the two laws.

Sometimes when we do things. And we get into trouble. Um, the Western world sometimes of artefacts. don't understand the importance called 'Naked Country.' And I've done a film in '85, into trouble with my family, It's a Morris West novel and I got

for swinging the bullroarer. all around the country, And all around me, people had put a brand on me that I was selling off my culture. Because that bullroarer in my ceremonies. is a very special object I haven't worn my ceremony paint. And since then,

you can have anything in the world. And um, you know. But that paint is meaningful, It's my totem, it's my peace. Take that away like that. And my family's gone chuff! When I went to Melbourne, And I... I've learnt things and soak it up. I went back, see my uncle, back in my leg". You know? Do it. I said "I'm here to get the spear You know, the beauty of it is that we do get justified by the two laws in this country and that needs to be exposed a lot more. And I suppose that comes across as well, when you're performing a piece, say Othello as an indigenous man in Australia today.

Yes. I go back to my grandfather again, OK. He said "Dance with your feet, properly". And that's where I started to do things. To be... I'm entitled to be responsible for the things I do. And um, you don't have to question things all time, you know? And allowing yourself to participate

in another platform is beautiful.

To make that dream come true. Um, there's a director, John du Feu with the Darwin Theatre Company. He believed in me. And I was in Arts Katherine and he turned up and he looked as mad as I was. And I said "You're as mad as I am!"

"Let's do Othello"! (Laughs) And off we went. And um, the things I know now, I'm really happy. I do music, I've learnt to play, you know, strum away. But you can sit next to Jimmy Little, you can sit next to all our people in the arts, you can sit next to Kevin Carmody, you know? Fight with Christine Anu for the stage. (Laughs) Good luck. (Laughs) But you know, there's all these qualities of our people doing art. And their sadnesses. Because a lot of our people from Grumpyband, that singer, he's gone. Um, excuse me, all the family, but Justine Saunders and Bob Maza's been part of my life, and um, it's been nice once to step into old Bob Maza's shoe. And theatre gives you that quality. Theatre gives you the strength and passion and... ..and allows you to go walkabout. You know?

But...I'm so grateful to be part of something that's been growing. Tom, thank you very much. My pleasure. Thank you for telling me all about what you were up to. And, um, yeah, it's been really great to meet you. A young woman who's fast become

a rising star of Australian theatre is Ursula Yovich. Since graduating from the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts in Perth in 1996, she's performed in numerous theatre productions. Ranging from 'Corrugation Road' and 'Capricornia' to 'The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and Little Ragged Blossom'. With roles in films such as 'Jindabyne' and the yet to be released Baz Luhrmann epic, 'Australia', Ursula's talent is starting to seen by an even larger audience.

Ursula, thank you very much for being on the program with us today. No worries, thanks for having me here. Yeah. It's a pleasure to have you on. So, Ursula, your career is just going off at the moment. It's huge. I'm seeing your face and your name everywhere. Are you enjoying what you're doing? I am enjoying it. Definitely. Um, it's taken a long while to kind of get there. You know, you hear this whole thing of 'overnight success' stuff?

It does not exist. It's taken me about 10, no 11 years, 11, 12 years now, to just get to where I'm at. And I think that's pretty normal for a lot of actors, unless you're absolutely lucky. You're in the right place at the right time. Yeah. But you've obviously capitalised on the opportunities you've had and we're now seeing you starting to venture into film, as well. How's that going? Um... Ah, look, I'm absolutely loving it. I'd love to do more. You kind of get a bit of a taste for it. I'd like to kind of step outside of the indigenous roles as well, now. So that's the next step, the next challenge. Yeah. Are there some people who've been special influences for you in your life, in your career? Oh, geez, there's so many. It's like each production I work on, there's always someone that I'm learning from. Either it's actually just watching and learning something or actually going up and talking to them. But right from the word 'Go', I've had numerous people. I mean, Rachel Maza is one of those people that I enjoy watching but I also can see what she's going through, what her process is and I go "Oh, OK, I never would have I never would have thought of approaching something like that". So yeah, it just gives you another way of looking at things, when you see what other people are... you know, THEIR ideas of how something should be. Um, Rachel Maza, Deb Mailman, um, oh geez, too many to name. Wesley Enoch's a

He's a force to be reckoned with though, isn't he? Oh, yeah, yeah. He's someone that I've always looked up to and kind of...kind of family.

He's been in my life for such a long time. Um, yeah. And I heard that you really enjoyed the production 'Corrugation Road', as well. I did. I get asked what's my favourite and I'd have to say... I mean they're all...I absolutely love every single one of them. I might not love them while I'm doing them, but when you look back and go "That's a really, you know, a wonderful experience and not many people have that opportunity". But um, yeah, 'Corrugation Road' was really special, because I got to work with a mainly indigenous cast. And we travelled for six months. And even though there were times when it was... felt like killing everybody, you bonded so well, you know. And you know... you know what it's like when you meet... Nope. I don't know. (Laughs) Like when you start working with black fellows and everything, it's... you do bond much quicker, I think, with them as well. And I loved it. Six months travelling... Like families, isn't it? Yeah. It is! And that's the word. It's not even great friendships. It's... you have a family connection straight away.

I understand even though you're heavily involved in theatre and film, your first love is actually singing and music. What's happening there? Oh, look, I'm not really sure what happened. When I left school in '96, I mean, it was one of the things that I really wanted to pursue, but I ended up in theatre.

You know, I didn't quite appreciate what it was that I was doing. But the more I did, the more I started to develop a love for theatre. So I kind of put music behind me for a bit, you know. It's in your blood, isn't it? It is. Yeah. But I'm starting to feel

that whole thing of I've got to actually start

putting away, excuse me, that time to concentrate on the things that I love and that main thing is music.

You can feel when you're not doing something that you really love. You know your soul, your spirit, just doesn't feel right. So, yeah. Get back into it soon. (Laughs) Coming up, I believe you'll be in a Shakespearean production.

Another indigenous actor. Yes. And that will be Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet. You looking forward to that? I am. I am. Heaps. Because I've never done any Shakespeare before and um, late last year, I actually auditioned for Hamlet, for the role of Ophelia. And for me, that was the first time I'd ever even looked at these words

and tried to sound them. So it was very foreign, but you know, it's something quite exciting about it because there's a certain rhythm to it, as well. The stories are similar.

I'm sure we've got the same stories like that in our culture and anyone's culture. You know, Romeo and Juliet. Love stories are universal. Exactly. Where's my daughter? (Laughs)

It's amazing, you know, what she's going through, right. There's all that... It's very scary getting your tongue you know and speaking. But everything's in there, you know. She's got the music, she's got the rhythm and she's got the Creole that can change, yeah, just the thinking, and everything is sort of right there in front of her. Good luck. Just not being scared, hey? Trust. Trust it. Yeah. Trust it. And whatever happens, the show goes on, right? Fantastic. I think that's the other fear too, it's like if I forget something, how am I going to ad lib this? So I've got to be spot on and you know... I'm looking forward to it. I'm sure you will. You'd better study! Ursula, thank you very much. It's been really lovely to meet you today. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Yeah. A master of his craft, Noel Tovey, has enchanted and captivated audiences with performances that travel the full gamut of human emotion. Among his many career highlights of being a principal dancer with Saddlers Wells Opera Ballet, treading the boards of London's West End Theatre, and his extraordinary autobiographical one-man show, 'Little Black Bastard.'

Noel, thank you very much for being on the program. It's really nice to have you here. Can you tell us what... perhaps some of your more memorable moments? My most memorable moment wasn't in the theatre. I was 17 years old, I was in Pentridge Gaol. I was trying to commit suicide. And I heard the voices of my ancestors say "Stop." "Don't do it. Wait another day". And they promised me that one day, I'd find a better life. And you know, I really believed I heard those voices and I still do to this day. And I did find a better life. It wasn't easy. I had my day, I had to leave Australia, because of the politics of my skin.

I played various Negroes, Italians, Hispanics, whatever.

But I had to go somewhere where I could be judged just on what I could do, not who I was, or what my background was. And so I went to London.

And after making my start as a dancer with Saddlers Wells, I then was an actor and I was in a play in a small theatre in London. And an agent saw me and asked if anyone was representing me

and I said "No" and he said 'Well, we'd like to". I eventually stayed with the same agents for 30 years. He sent me...he said "This well-known director "is putting together a Shakespearean company "and would like to interview you". So I went to meet the director who was incredibly well-known, at least in my day. And I said to him,

"Look, this is embarrassing. I've never been to school "and I don't think I understand Shakespeare". And he said to me, "That's rubbish". "Shakespeare wasn't a great intellect. He wrote potboilers". "He wrote comedies, he wrote love stories". He said, "All you have to do is learn the language". And so I set about learning the language. And I went on to play many of the good roles in Shakespeare.

That was in '61. And then in 1966,

I made my singing debut in the West End, in a musical. And by 1967, I was a choreographer. And I choreographed a musical called 'The Boyfriend.' This made Julie Andrews a big star on Broadway and that sort of thing. That was the turning point in my career.

And once I'd started making it in Europe, I was invited back to Australia. And the same newspaper that vilified me when I was in gaol when I was 17,

the headline was: 'Local Boy Makes Good'. Which I thought was ironic. A nice twist. Yeah. And then I was invited to South Africa as a director. And when I arrived, there was no classification

for indigenous Australians.

And so, I was classified as an honorary white. And um, by day, I was a visiting director. And at night, I was smuggled out to Soweto, where I was inciting people to rise up against apartheid. I developed this HUGE political voice. And when I got back to London, I was a vocal member of the anti apartheid movement

and I was on a march one day and a well-known actress said to me, "Noel, do you fight for every black in the world except your own?" And that got me thinking. Who were my blacks? Because from the moment I got on the boat to go to England, I went into total denial of my Aboriginality. And so that started me thinking. So I went to the British Museum

and I did a 10-year study of my own culture. And that was in London? In London.

Wow. And that brought me back to it. Eventually I had an operation to remove some growths from my head in London and my specialist said, "You must have no more anxiety. Noel, why don't you go home to Australia to recuperate?" I was sitting on the beach, Bronte, one morning.

It was 7:30 in the morning. Dead calm. From out of nowhere, came a whirly whirly wind. And as you know, in Aboriginal culture, whirly whirly is the spirits of our ancestors with a message. And it kicked up the sand in my face. And once again, I heard the same voices I heard that night in Pentridge Gaol. And they were saying, "Come home, Noely boy, it's time to come home". I left the beach, I called my agent and my lawyer in London and I said,

"I'm coming home to Australia to live". It took two years for me to do that, but that's what brought me home. I've been blessed inasmuch as my ancestors have kept me alive long enough to do the work I'm now doing. Doing a production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' with an all indigenous cast for the first of the Olympics Arts Festivals was great.

It was something I'd always wanted to do. I wanted to prove that indigenous actors are as good as any actor. You know, whatever your colour, doesn't matter. And I chose 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,'

because it has lots of cultural extensions to our culture. The Dreamtime. I would like to see a company

of indigenous actors, who could not only handle the great classical Aboriginal works that have been written, but also some of the great white classics.

So that they're challenged as actors. I would like to know what each of you actually loves about the theatre and what you do and the performances that you give to us. So, perhaps you, Ursula?

Oh. What do I love about the theatre? Uh, sense of family, I think is the main thing. And just constantly learning. Just learning new things. And having a great time. Enjoying it. Can't take yourself too seriously sometimes. You've got to have fun. You're still having fun, are you, Tom? Always have fun. All the emotions. Yeah, I'm allowed to have them.

And I can... the stage is like a womb for me. One of the safest. I can do anything I like. But again, respect the law, that I am responsible for stories. And those stories... if it's handed to me to do, then I have to do the best,

because you don't know who's in the audience. And um, it doesn't matter, you know, who's pushing the stories to get you on there. It doesn't matter. Because they believe in you. Yeah?

And through that exchange of belief, I enjoy both.

The culture, the black and white of this country. And you, Noel? Well, for me, being a director, the thing that I enjoy most is creating a space where other artists can create. And working together to create something which is whole. And then having the courage to hand it back to the actors

and say, "It's yours now". And on watching it, just like a member of the audience.

Taking notes! (Laughs) The whole thing is amazing, honestly. And there is magic. All the time, there's magic. And when the magic happens and you're on stage as an actor, or even as the director off the stage, when the magic happens and it happens to everyone at the same time, it must be like winning a gold medal at the Olympics. You know, when you touch the wall if you're swimming, or if you break the tape.

Because when that magic happens together, there's nothing... there's no other feeling like it. Fantastic. Thank you all very much for being with us here. It's been great to have you on the program. I hope you enjoyed it.

Thank you. We did. Thank you. Whether the theatrical performance has its origins in the classics or in traditional indigenous culture, what indigenous actors bring to a role is a unique and dynamic sensibility. That's all for this week. Thanks for joining us. If you'd like more information, please check out our website at - See you next time. Closed Captions by CSI