Review: Bindjareb Pinjarra

by Jane

Bindjareb Pinjarra

In 1834 in Pinjarra south of Perth, white Mounted Police carried out a deliberate and well planned attack on the local Nyoongar people. Armed with guns and with no warning, the white men easily outmatched the Indigenous people. This was seen to have been necessary action for the protection and claiming of the land for the white settlers. Bindjareb Pinjarra brings this story, often not spoken about, or whitewashed to the point of being explained away as a minor battle, to the stage.

The work spins together three stories – of the white European generals who instigated the massacre, a young man in contemporary Perth coming up against racism before finding out about his familial connections to Pinjarra, and a slightly confused story about a white man Daniel and two indigenous men presumably set in the 1800s – mostly confused because I couldn’t tell if Daniel was supposed to be a child or mentally impaired.

It’s most compelling, though, when the cast speak directly to the audience: of the white performers who weren’t taught about Indigenous history; of the Aboriginal performer who was told by his mother he could just tell people he was Greek; and an extract from A Short History of Western Australia – a book I sincerely hope has been pulled from school library bookshelves.

The company promotes the work as being “a comedy about a massacre” – and it is an interesting technique to tell a horrific story. The company does an admirable job of keeping the work connecting to the young audience through humour, while also carefully detailing the massacre, but too often the humour feels as if it is sitting apart from the work. It sits on top of the rest of the story; this uneven layer of humour to defuse the audience rarely feels integrated with the narrative.

In the Q&A, we were told how the story has impacted the narrative of the massacre when it is taught in Western Australian schools – there is the acknowledgment it was, indeed, a massacre and not a “battle”. For South Australian audiences, too, this is an important story from our history that we should be acknowledging; not least of all because it is only one example in hundreds of appalling acts that were committed against this country’s Indigenous people. The show also teaches wider lessons, talking about harmful stereotypes and racism, and in the need to be vigilant when looking at a whitewashing of Australian history.

The work is very much embedded in an old tradition of theatre-in-education: with the emphasis on the education, rather than the theatre. As such, it does a utilitarian job of telling the story and delivering the message, but it falls short of what we should be asking and expecting from companies artistically in 2013. In the Q&A after the work, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn the company has been presenting this production for twenty-odd years.

The audience I saw it with was mostly high school students, and the company carried them well with laughter and with lessons through the production. But still, I can’t help but feel disappointed in a performance style that feels dated, and feel we should ask for more.

Come Out Festival 2013 in association with the Adelaide Festival Centre presents The Pinjarra Project’s Bindjareb Pinjarra. Created and performed by Isaac Drandic, Sam Longley, Kelton Pell, Craig Williams and Nigel Wilkes. At the Hewitson Theatre, Gawler, season closed. Continues at the Dunstan Playhouse, May 25-28, and the Chaffey Theatre, Renmark May 31. More information and tickets.