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.