In 2004 an Aboriginal man ‘accidentally’ died in custody at the hands of Palm Island police. Eight years later the people of Palm Island are still demanding justice.

How much do Australians know about Palm Island? Do they know it was set up as a dumping ground for Aboriginal people in 1918 so that Queensland could become a tourist destination? That there were terrible hunger strikes in 1957 or that people had to live under an oppressive Act with curfews and “white only” areas? That women were put in sack dresses and locked up with bread and water?

ILBIJERRI theatre, version 1.0 and Belvoir have created a show that looks at the past while exploring new possibilities for the future.

ILBIJERRI artistic director Rachael Maza is not only one of the performer/devisers but her father and grandparents are Palm Islanders. “You can’t understand the full context of one event of 2004 and what follows unless you understand the history of Palm Island,” she explains. “It was run like a concentration camp, but there are many stories that talk about resistance despite what they had to live through. They survived with humour and pride.”

The show will incorporate footage, court transcripts, newspaper articles and interviews with Palm Islanders using an innovative theatre style – the theatrical documentary. “Gary Foley and Jack Charles are telling their stories like a living oral story – real blackfella style,” Maza says.

Three Palm Islanders (Magdalena Blackley, Kylie Doomadgee and Harry Ruben) also perform in the show.

“I hope people come out much richer in their understanding and able to empathise with blackfellas,” she continues. “What you read in the papers isn’t necessarily what happened. I highly recommend everyone get on the ferry from Townsville over to Palm Island and hang out. They are the most amazing mob of people and the yarns you hear. The history lives in the present with these people.”

Published in City News online and in print on Nov 4, 2012


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