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Back Home

Deadly Vibe Issue 109 March 2006

Wild, Wild West

Editor-in-Chief Gavin Jones takes a trip Back Home, and discovers another side to Sydney.

It’s as telling as Schindler’s List. And it all happens in a Blacktown backyard with a barbeque, a basketball and an acoustic guitar. It’s Back Home, part of the Sydney Festival and produced by Urban Theatre Project. And it’s a job well done.

Just because you’re an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person living in Sydney, it doesn’t mean you know much about the history of the land you walk on, or understand what’s really going on in the Aboriginal community. Bits and pieces, for sure. But probably not the kinds of things that I learned by going Back Home.

Did you know, for example, that Blacktown was originally called “Blacks Town”? This was not only because of the large local population of Darug people who lived there around the time of English settlement, but also because of the large number of Aboriginal people relocated to that land to make room for an expanding Sydney.

“And they’re still trying to move us out here ” this time from Redfern and Waterloo,” our cultural guide explained.

Back Home starts with an hour-long, cross-cultural awareness lesson meets sisterly yarn, on a coach that winds its way from Parramatta to Blacktown. Traditional sites as well as post-colonial sits are pointed out and historical perspectives are provided. Myths are dispelled and realities checked.

It’s all about understanding the past to make sense of the present. Dispossession, marginalisation, violence and frustration have been around longer than the Macquarie Fields riots of 2005. These are experiences entrenched in the Sydney tradition. Probably since as long ago the Native Institute (a euphemistic term for a birthplace of the stolen generations) was built near the M4 motorway in about 1813.

I found myself squinting from my window seat, trying to block the houses and lights out ” I wanted to see Pemulwuy siting high on Prospect Hill, rallying his guerrilla forces to resist the English.

The bus trip is a perfect curtain raiser, much better than a beer in a poncy foyer could hope to be. The stories that the custodians tell wash the smell of the inner city off you, and get you ready for the main event ” Western Sydney, 2006 style.

Once off the bus we took our seats in a Eucalyptus-lined backyard. We didn’t know what to expect.

Deadly winner Shannon Williams and Middle Eastern rapper NOMISe open the show by preparing a barbeque. It’s all very upbeat, and very funny. But even the funny bits of Back Home would be confronting to much of the audience ” especially with all that cursing.

The other two characters ” Leo Tanoi, a big Samoan fella who is powerful in voice, word and punch, and Remote Area Nurse heartthrob Aaron Fa’Aoso ” join them on stage shortly after. Leo has been playing it straight as a local council youth worker and Aaron has just returned from Los Angeles.

Shannon is the instigator of this get-together, which is being hosted after an eight-year hiatus in their relationship. And things have changed.

Since the brothers last scrummed it down, friends had died with needles in their arms, some had been through divorce, alcoholism, children born, children gone, hopes dashed. Reality has bitten. And, of course, grass cut.

“Hey, he even used your lawn mower!”

It begins like a Sunday afternoon post-footy victory charge. Joking, singing and laughing. But these brothers know innately what buttons to push and it’s not long before everyone’s hang-ups are hanging out.

The four actors act so casually and artfully that you don’t realise they’re even acting. You’re just eavesdropping. And of course enjoying the music. It’s great to see a rapper like Shannon and a tough guy like Aaron perform a soulful Bob Marley track.

Fuelled by yarndi and bourbon, the testosterone-filled evening rolls on. And tension slowly builds to a finale that is in a class all of its own.

The brutal physicality of the show, which highlights the anger across black cultures, is what makes this show different.

Back Home is not just a snapshot of what it’s like to grow up in Western Sydney, but a cry for unity across all isolated communities, particularly our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

It shows what immense damage adults can inflict on their children and explains how easily people can have hopes, dreams and aspirations crushed through circumstance. Unity between the brothas is a snap shot of unity between our communities.

Shannon, Aaron, NOMISe and Leo’s outstanding performances in no way left me devastated. Rather, I was relieved that four young men ” three of whom are Indigenous Australians ” could be co-devisors of such a powerful piece that delivers a clear and important message about race relations where I live ” Sydney.

(Story 13/2006 end)

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