Black Diggers




Black Diggers

Queensland Theatre Company & Sydney Festival

QPAC Playhouse

September 24 – October 12 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 


This is the beginning of a conversation.

Director, Wesley Enoch


Second class citizens who don a uniform and fight for a nation that doesn’t acknowledge or appreciate them? Sounds like fiction, doesn’t it? It’s not; it’s the strange, sad Australian truth penned by Tom Wright and directed by Wesley Enoch for this year’s Sydney Festival. Opening last week in Brisbane, the staging of Black Diggers in 2014 coincides with 100 Years of ANZAC.


The Indigenous story is one of quiet strength.

Director, Wesley Enoch


In his Conversations interview with Richard Fidler, Enoch reveals that one hundred years ago, the Aboriginal soldiers didn’t fight for king and country. “They fought for justice and freedom”. It’s fascinating to hear the discussion about the construction of an imagined piece, this reconciliation story, from “distant remembered information”.


If you’re prepared to die side by side you should be prepared to live side by side.

Director, Wesley Enoch


One hundred years ago, in 1914, a bullet from an assassin’s gun in Sarajevo sparked a war that ignited the globe. Patriotic young men all over the world lined up to join the fight – including hundreds of Indigenous Australians.


Shunned and downtrodden in their own country – and in fact banned by their own government from serving in the military – Aboriginal men stepped up to enlist. Undaunted, these bold souls took up arms to defend the free world in its time of greatest need. For them, facing the horror of war on a Gallipoli beach was an escape from the shackles of racism at home, at a time when Aboriginal people stood by, segregated, unable to vote, unable to act as their children were ripped from them. When the survivors came back from the war, there was no heroes’ welcome – just a shrug, and a return to drudgery and oppression.


Black Diggers is the story of these men – a story of honour and sacrifice that has been covered up and almost forgotten.


Directed by Wesley Enoch and written by Tom WrightBlack Diggers is the culmination of painstaking research into the lives and deaths of the thousand or so Indigenous soldiers who fought for the British Commonwealth in World War I.


Grand in scale and scope, it draws from in-depth interviews with the families of black Diggers who heard the call to arms from all over Australia, as well as conversations with veterans, historians and academics. Young men will step from the blank pages of history to share their compelling stories – and after the curtain falls, we will finally remember them.


A sleek, smooth, black(board) set designed by Stephen Curtis (I love the ghetto style drum contained eternal flame) invites us to stay awhile on common ground – the best classroom of all – and with the support of Ben Hughes’ lighting states and Tony Brumpton’s soundscape we travel to many different eras and places to hear the stories that one hopes will continue to open hearts and minds.


Soldiers’ names – classic white on black – a simple and effective visual device, serves as a constant reminder that lives were not only lost at war but also, upon the soldiers’ return “home”, where they were expected to take on once more the subservient roles on white mans’ stations, sans newly acquired skills and confidence. The piece maintains good pace, with a bit of Three Stooges style comedy throughout and it’s clear that an attempt has been made to balance the teacher tone of each lesson with dramatic flair.


The notions of mateship, racism and reconciliation come across strongly in this production, from the opening gathering of actors, as Vietnam Veteran and Aboriginal elder, George Bostock, sits centre stage to shine a pair of shoes, to the final scene depicting ANZAC Day commemorative events. During the closing moments The Last Post is played as a “new remembering of a story that may have been forgotten”, with a didgeridoo creeping in beneath the Reverie. Some are visibly moved and on their feet, while others remain seated, reflecting no doubt, and appreciating the monumental amount of work that’s gone into constructing and staging the production just as much as the story itself. Perhaps, for some, the story is more powerful than the telling of it.


Wright’s work would certainly translate well, with the help of a ruthless screenwriter, to our television screens. Surely there is funding for that development following an extensive national tour. In the meantime, particularly in the current political climate, there’s no excuse to miss this landmark production, with so many opportunities to catch the performance at QPAC’s Playhouse or experience the live simulcast on October 8 (see details below).


Let’s continue the conversation. Lest we forget.


People did remember. And they did think about it. It just took time.

Director, Wesley Enoch


Filmed live from The Playhouse QPAC on Wednesday 8 October and streamed direct to nine venues across Queensland, audiences will simultaneously experience the powerful and compelling story of Black Diggers.



Burdekin Theatre

Book at the theatre or visit burdekintheatre.com.au



Moncrieff Entertainment Centre

Book at the Box Office or visit moncrieff-bundaberg.com.au



Cairns Civic Theatre

Book at the ticketLiNK counter, phone 1300 855 835 or visit cairnscivictheatre.com.au



Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre

Book at the Box Office, phone 07 4972 2822 or visit gladecc.com.au



Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre

Book at the Box Office, phone 07 4961 9777 or visit mackayecc.com.au



Mount Isa Civic Centre

Book at Outback at Isa or phone 07 4749 1555



Pilbeam Theatre

Book at the Box Office in person, phone 07 4927 4111 or visit seeitlive.com.au



Empire Theatre – Heritage Bank Auditorium

Book at the Box Office in person, phone 1300 655 299 or visit empiretheatre.com.au



The Amphitheatre, Jezzine Barracks

Bookings not required.  For more details visit townsville.qld.gov.au

This event is proudly supported by the Queensland Government.



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