Coranderrk: A 140-year-old story still breaking boundaries
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In 1881 a First Nations community challenged the Aboriginal Protection Board in an attempt to continue their self-sustaining farming on the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve. Adapted from transcripts of the Victorian government's inquiry into the matter, Corandeerk is a landmark play exploring themes of belonging, self-determination and identity.

Coranderrk: A 140-year-old story still breaking boundaries

by Keegan Thomson See Profile
Riverside Theatres, Parramatta NSW, Australia
21st Jul 2017
Coranderrk: A 140-year-old story still breaking boundaries

A strong community of First Nations People fighting against an oppressive government isn't a new story. Across the annals of recent Australian history there are countless fights of strong, independent Indigenous Australians who've gone up against the well-armed white invader. Mabo, Lingiari, Bennelong and Pemulwuy are all well known for their fights against colonial law, but the acts of a group of Indigenous Australians fighting for their own independence is the inspiration for a play touring around Australia.      

In 1881 a tribe of Indigenous Australians went head to head with the Aboriginal Protection Board, fighting to be allowed to continue the self-sustaining farming community they had established on the scrap of country left to them by white colonialists.

This scrap of country was the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve, and yet the Victorian government felt the need to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the matter of self-determining Indigenous People. The transcripts from the inquiry, some 140 years old, were used to create the landmark play, Coranderrk.

coranderrk 1
Source: James Henry

The play’s director, Eva Grace Mullaley, has her own roots to country being a Widi woman from the Yamatji nation in Western Australia.

Ms Mullaley said Coranderrk is significant because it provides a factual and unembellished report of what happened to a group of Indigenous Australians who wanted to create a life of their own.

“It is a very important play because it reveals the real history of Australia,” Ms Mullaley said. “It shows a new ways of activism for First Nations People of Australia way back in 1881.”

Corranderrk was adapted from original transcripts of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the matter. The dialogue within the play was pulled directly from transcripts and quotes from the the 1881 inquiry.

“One of the powerful things about the play is that these are the real words from these real people,” Ms Mullaley said.

“The strength and the intelligence of the people of Coranderrk is noted in the inquiry and it comes to life in the play. Originally they were shown as savages and unintelligent but the transcripts show these Indigenous People are strong and astute.

“It is indisputable, it is in verbatim. It was written by a whitefella but this can’t ever be called a myth because the words come from parliamentary documents. It can’t be called embellished, which is what I love most about it,” she said.

coranderrk 2
Source: Tyson Mowarin

One of the leading actors performing in Coranderrk, Mathew Cooper, said the fact that the play is being revisited in 2017 is a promising sign for the future of Indigenous rights in Australia.

“The way the play is being received is an indication of how we are as a society,” Mr Cooper said.

Mr Cooper is a proud Wongatha man from Western Australia, like Ms Mullaley.

“People today are happy to sit down and listen to these kinds of stories,” he said.

“It says something positive about how we are as a country right now because the audiences are very receptive to these stories and across the country we’re seeing audiences who are mainly white.”

Across the duration of play, 140-year-old tales of country, belonging, self-determination and identity are explored in detail. Mr Cooper said these same themes resonate across the country now more than ever.

“I think there is a direct correlation between Coranderrk and what is happening across Australia today. They were fighting for self determination back in 1881, they wanted to use their land in their own ways and they were fighting for the rights of their children.

“They fought for the things that we are still fighting for today,” he said.

The 2017 version of Coranderrk is playing to a largely rural Australian audience, with Parramatta being one of the largest cities the performance will stop at.

coranderrk 3
Source: James Henry

Buy tickets for the Parramatta performance on June 28.

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Keegan Thomson

About Keegan Thomson

Keegan Thomson is an assistant editor and journalist for The QUO. Keegan has had his work published in The Guardian and The Sydney Morning Herald. He is a community-minded journalist who is always looking for the next story, no matter how big or small it may be. As well as working for The QUO, he works for a number of independent newspapers in Western Sydney including Western News and Nepean News.

More from Keegan Thomson


First Nations
Riverside Theatres, Parramatta NSW, Australia
21st July 2017