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Introduction and exploration of historical artefacts

Wesley Enoch explores historical artefacts from the Indigenous Australian experience of the Great War.
REBECCA WHEATLEY: Welcome back to the 100 stories. Today, we’ll be talking with Wesley Enoch, an Indigenous historian who’s recovered the stories of Aboriginal people at war. Wesley Enoch is the artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company. And in a very successful career he’s written and directed a cast of plays, one of which is “The Story of the Miracles at Cookie’s Table,” which won the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award. He’s originally from Stradbroke Island– Minjerribah– and is a proud Noonuccal-Ngugi man.
LAURA JAMES: We’ll be talking to Wesley today about his played “Black Diggers,” which has enjoyed a spectacular season in Sydney, toured Indigenous communities in regional Australia, and is set to take Melborne and the world by storm. We’re going to view a video clip of Wesley’s play a moment, but first we’d like to turn briefly to a much older method of storytelling. Wesley, these clapsticks are from the Nullabor Plains on a mission station. Could you tell us a little bit more about what function they serve?
WESLEY ENOCH: Well, clapsticks would be two things. I mean, all of the carving on here will be a representation of different– well, it would be paintings or a different set of geography, as well, that would be laid out in some of these carvings. And these could be twofold. They could be musical instruments. I think the cracking here shows that they’ve been used to beat each other to make sound. They could also, because of the way they’ve been pointed, be used as digging sticks also. So they could be multiple purpose.
And each of the markings on here would also be a way of telling a story, either of where they came from, some kind of its geography, or it might even– I can’t quite tell– might even have something to do with family iconography, as well. So any kind of artefact like this says a lot about the culture, where it comes from, and who, in fact, owned it, as well.
REBECCA WHEATLEY: Wesley, would you be able to tell us a little bit about the “Black Diggers” project, and really how it all began?
WESLEY ENOCH: Yeah. I mean, “Black Diggers” was fascinating because Lieven Bertels, who’s the artistic director of the Sydney m he comes in Belgium. And there’s a war cemetery right near his little village. And in that war cemetery is the grave of Rufus Rigney, who’s an Aboriginal servicemen from Raukkan in South Australia. And he told me the story of how his children learned about Rufus Rigney, learned about the Anzacs and that in that little town of Ypres is a place where every night they do the last post in memory of those people who gave their lives, sacrificed their lives, to save that part of the country. And so I was going, that’s really fascinating. And I was asking about Rufus Rigney.
And I was going, what does it mean for an Aboriginal man– who was not a recognised citizen, didn’t have the rights of everyone else– to volunteer, to go off and fight for a country that gave him no rights? What does it mean? And then for his body to be there in this ground. And it was moved, I think twice– maybe three times– because of how bodies were moved around at that time. And then also he volunteered with, I think, about 20-odd of his family members and people from Raukkan.
How he was left behind– four of them were left there in the ground, and I think about 17 of them returned, and the sense of what ceremonies were done, what stories were told. And I got really quite upset by it, because I got quite moved by this idea of a sacrifice of a young man who lied about his age– he was 16– lied about his age, as a number of people did, to volunteer, and off he went. And then I started a whole process of trying to work out the spiritual and cultural responsibilities that may have been done for him and what are being done. And so, hence the story. I kept talking to different people.
And when we started the research, they said that they had about 400 names– this is the Australian War Memorial– had about 400 names of Indigenous servicemen that had gone and served. And by the time we then started rehearsal, they had about 800 times. And we went, wow, that’s pretty amazing. And at this point in time, they say they have about 1,300 names, because Indigenous soldiers and their names and their stories and their families keep coming forward and keep coming up. And that’s a quite fascinating thing.

Watch Rebecca Wheatley and Laura James introduce Wesley Enoch and ask him to explore historical artefacts related to the topic of the Indigenous Australian experience of the Great War: clap sticks, fashioned by an Indigenous Australian.

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