Black Diggers

Black Diggers charts the confluence and fallout of two of the most sombre stories in Australian history: our racially prejudiced past and WWI’s ANZAC mythology.

Black Diggers charts the confluence and fallout of two of the most sombre stories in Australian history: our racially prejudiced past and WWI’s ANZAC mythology.

Yet through this shade there is dappled light, and a lot of beauty in its portrayal. The play is a series of vignettes, following characters throughout their experiences in the war. It focusses on the indigenous men who thrust themselves into the war.

We learn that their reasons to do so are many, and ultimately quite heartbreaking, as the show goes on. There is no particular narrative, location or battle focussed on here, as so often is the case with war stories.

This is instead a series of flashes in the dark, chronicling the bravery and naivety of men who went to fight for a cause and country that ultimately dealt them the deadliest blow: to be forgotten. It is a mostly unheard or unthought of story, though entirely true, that indigenous Australians went to war in 1914 for King and Country.

Their portrayal onstage evokes the appropriate resentment so many feel over their amnesiac slight in popular history, but keeps the feeling light with song, a strong dose of ANZAC spirit and all-conquering resilience. In this we see a dissection of the horrible reality of war, and the trauma its carriage inflicts on those who participate, whatever colour or nation they hail from.

There is also a contemporary resonance in Black Diggers. The connections drawn between men arriving in boats to any kind of land, as well as discussion of invasion and occupation is a clear comment on ongoing inconsistencies in the Australian national psyche.

Black Diggers makes its point, and makes it thoroughly. This is a heavy slog and could grind on the audience at times. While the play’s direction and staging is inspired, the constant changing of characters, which it must be said, the actors do impeccably, still makes it hard to follow particular arcs as it goes on.

Likewise, the rumination over the horrors of war and the brutality of racial prejudice becomes repetitive towards the end of the performance. This is a show that can bring all corners of Australian life together though.

In the meeting point of such indispensable pieces of Australian history we can all share, and try to comprehend such grief. As Black Diggers so eloquently echoes, “lest we forget.”

 

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