Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Show Must Go On

January 23 – 25, 2014

By Shannon Boerner

Stepping out on Friday into a rainy, Portland-esque night, we made our way down to the Sydney Opera House for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Dressed in our very best after explicit instructions to "scrub up," we climbed the stairs to the entry under the tiled sails.

Before the performance. Photo set features one of many "selfies" we have taken on this trip.
We saw Black Diggers, a production meant to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the start of WWI and reclaim the relatively forgotten contributions of Indigenous Australian ANZACS. The play was extremely intense, especially because many of us were in the third row, close enough to feel every tensed muscle and see each tear shed by the actors. I was on the verge of tears for the entire 90-minute show. The play explained how Aboriginal soldiers in a sense became “Australians,” in that they were not marginalized because of the color of their skin and they gained freedoms they were denied as civilians. These soldiers became mates with their white counterparts. 

After the war, most Indigenous ANZACS found that even though they had returned home as changed men, nothing had really changed. They had grown, their brothers in arms had grown, but the world had not. There was one monologue that really got to me. The man, enraged and disappointed, expressed how he had fought for country and for those four years, the color of his skin did not affect his social standing. But the second he stepped off the boat, Australian society painted prejudice right back on him. He felt as if he had won something over there and lost something back here in Australia.  
A picture of the stage - words were written in white paint on the walls to establish the setting.

Most audience members were Australian and probably have deep-seated understanding of the tensions and issues between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians from 1788 and continuing today. As newcomers to Australia, we have learned the historical background of colonization, but it was only on Thursday that we had really been exposed to some of the Indigenous perspectives. Our guest lecturer on Thursday is an Indigenous Australian academic. She taught us more about the varying Aboriginal Australian cultures and also the issues that many contemporary Indigenous Australians face. Having been in feminist theory courses at L&C and recognizing the power and validity of each person's experience, I appreciated her coming to class to tell us about her life experiences and research.

I honestly cannot understand how Aboriginal Australians have been treated so horribly. True, we are in a different time and therefore able to reflect on the past with the bias of hindsight, but once you can see how many people continue to be affected by colonization (displacement, marginalization, erasure of culture and history and so on…) how could anyone deny these problems? Not that we don’t have similar issues in the United States, but for some reason they seem far more pronounced here. It is possible that my status as an outsider, coming to this culture from a different one, has allowed me to notice it more clearly.

I am becoming increasingly interested in the dynamics of the colonization of Australia. This week we took a Dreaming Tour of The Rocks suburb, during which our tour guide shared cultural knowledge. He showed us many places that are spiritually significant to the Gadigal people and are now part of the big, modern city, like the land where the Opera House sits, for example.


Fast-forward to Saturday night and we were off to see a different production. This production was not part of the L&C program and a bit more American than one might expect: my favorite hometown band, Grouplove, was playing at Metro Theatre on George Street. I've seen the band a handful of times before, but the Sydney crowd was more lively and energetic than any other crowd. Ending up in the second row, I had what I would consider to be one of the best nights ever. I never thought that it would take flying across the world to get the opportunity to sing along with the band, interact with the members, hold crowd-surfing drummers and singers, and get a set list. 

Today, Sunday, is Australia Day, the national holiday. The city is buzzing with activity including Aboriginal festivals, ferry racing, and live music performances. I’m off to explore the city and find the best fireworks! Best wishes from the 'land down unda!'


Note from the editor: Shannon is also keeping a personal blog. Check it out!

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