It is difficult to grow up in Australia and not be familiar with the story of the ANZACs. Every government school and practically every independent school commemorates ANZAC day with their own private ceremonies. This year marks the Centenary of the ANZAC. All around the country special exhibits are being held to honour those who fought for our country. Last Wednesday I was invited by the Canberra Theatre Centre to watch the Canberra premiere of Black Diggers.
Black Diggers has drawn upon in-depth interviews with the families of black Diggers, other veterans, historians and academics, to craft a story that fills in the gaps of the otherwise very white version of our ANZAC legacy.
This production could’ve very easily alienated certain members of the audience. Often when we hear of the atrocities and injustices that were inflicted on Indigenous Australians it seems to forever cast judgement on white Australians and, as a white Australian, I often feel like I am being blamed for something I had no control over. But this is not the case with Black Diggers. Instead you are brought into the story, becoming completely invested in their life. At many points you find yourself weeping at the injustices they faced, fighting and giving their life for a country that wouldn’t even give them citizenship or acknowledge them on the census.
Humour was often the medium used to highlight the harsh reality of the racism Indigenous Australians faced in their own country. And while you laughed, the point was also clearly made.
I was lucky enough to interview Trevor Jamieson, who had two great grandfathers who fought in World War One, giving him a personal connection to the play. He spoke of the struggle for equality that the black Diggers faced and how as an actor, through his performance on stage, he was able to give a voice to those who otherwise would’ve gone unheard.
As a teacher, we are told that we must include Indigenous perspectives in what we teach. I often struggle with this and find many of the ways we include them tokenistic and don’t really provide an Indigenous perspective of any merit. I would love to hear that Black Diggers is going to made into a film, because it would make a valuable addition to the curriculum for any student studying Modern History as well as ensure that an authentic Indigenous perspective of this important part of Australian history is heard.
If you’d like to watch Black Diggers, it’s on at the Canberra Theatre until March 28th, it then travels to the Melbourne Arts Centre and the Ulumbarra Theatre in Bendigo.