Elaine Crombie’s artistic wave

Best known for stealing scenes in other writers’ work, now is the time for Elaine Crombie to shine on her own.

Lately, Port Pirie’s Elaine Crombie has been lighting up the stage and screen in productions by groundbreaking Indigenous female voices. These include Ursula Yovich’s acclaimed Barbara and the Camp Dogs for Belvoir St Theatre, Miranda Tapsell’s fantastically crowdpleasing Top End Wedding and Nakkiah Lui’s hilarious Kiki and Kitty (which can be streamed on ABC’s iview). But now it’s time for Crombie to star in her own show: Janet’s Vagrant Love.

“I’m just looking for a change because I’ve done a lot of shows for a lot of other people, and now I just have to do something for myself,” says Crombie, who is a Pitjantjatjara, Warrigmai and South Sea Islander woman.

“It’s looking good and it will be special,” Crombie says of Janet’s Vagrant Love. “And it’s me on stage singing my truth, so who wouldn’t come and see that? I sound so egotistical, I know. But it’s true. It’s actually true. It’s a true yarn because I feel the love that people give me when I’m out in the community and when I see people or when I go home and my kids see me.”

Crombie, whose acting credits include Nowhere Boys and Top of the Lake, says Janet’s Vagrant Love will be a mixture of songs and storytelling, and will be funny and dramatic.

“It will be a mixture of both: comedy and home truths,” says Crombie, who also works for Media and Entertainment Alliance (MEAA) as a First Nations organiser. “You’re just telling stories.

“I’m still here and I’m pretty successful in my career. I am pretty much a queen and I can do what I want to do. I’m still living proof that you can’t really tear me down, you can’t stop me.”

“There’ll always be deeper meanings and messages because that’s what my songs are all about,” Crombie says. “Even though there are songs that were written 20 years ago, they are still relevant today and that’s just [the same] as the history of anybody who has ever written songs and recorded them, you know what I mean? My songs are no different but I always think that me waking up is a political… is being political. Me waking up every day and having to live and survive and go out onto the world every day is a political act, is a radical act.”

“That’s just me as woman, as a black woman. As a woman who makes theatre, as a black woman who makes theatre, as a single mother, as a person who has been called a b**** and a n***** in her life. Someone calling you those words, they want to break you down. But I’m still here and I’m pretty successful in my career. I am pretty much a queen and I can do what I want to do. I’m still living proof that you can’t really tear me down, you can’t stop me.

“And I’m going do what I want to do and what I really want to do is go home and focus on my boys [her children Andrew and Michael] but at the same time I have a job, I work for the MEAA as a First Nations, First People organiser, and that’s about bringing blackfellas, black actors, singers, songwriters and artists together to form a united voice, like that’s radical.”

Crombie (third from left) with Miranda Tapsell and the cast of Top End Wedding (Photo: John Platt)

The last few years have seen a rise in Indigenous female voices on stage and screen with Crombie saying that Tapsell, Lui and Leah Purcell are role models of hers as is Yovich, who Crombie stars alongside in the rock’n’roll theatre production Barbara and the Camp Dogs.

“I posted something on facebook the other day and I was just calling out to people living in Brisbane to come and see the show [Barbara and the Camp Dogs]. I will read you what I wrote:

‘Come one, come all. Bring your family and friends. Astroman at Melbourne Theatre Company was my swansong and now I’m just here for the love of this story but I’m nearly all out of love. Make sure you get here and see us. We are epic. I’ve never played a role like this and without trying to jinx the remainder of my career, the remainder of my theatre work life, I don’t think I ever will again. Becoming Rene [her character] has been my greatest achievement in the last 20 years of my theatre life. Please come, hear the music, see the story.’

“Ursula is a force of nature. She wrote Barbara and the Camp Dogs with Alana Valentine and she’s amazing. She’s the most beautiful song bird. And I get to share a stage with her every night. For me to say ‘we are epic’. For me to have enough confidence to say that, I don’t talk shit, excuse my language, I don’t blow smoke up peoples’ behinds. I’m very serious when I say ‘we are epic’ in this show. This show is amazing. And so [we need] more voices like Ursula’s but also more younger voices.”

Crombie highlights Megan Wilding, Kodie Bedford and Katie Beckett as three rising Indigenous voices who are part of a new wave with Lui and Tapsell.

“I don’t know where I fit in this wave because I’ve been here for a long time and I’ve been on stage for 20 years. So, there is a part of me that looks at this and goes, ‘I wish I was doing that at their age’ but I’m doing what I’m doing now. And I feel like I still have a lot of stories to tell and that I’m on the crest of my own wave.”

Elaine Crombie: Janet’s Vagrant Love
The Famous Spiegeltent
Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22
adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au

Adelaide In-depth

Get the latest stories, insights and exclusive giveaways delivered straight to your inbox every week.