by Andrea James
YANAGAI! YANAGAI! is set in a mythical landscape on the banks of a mighty river. We call him Dhungula (the Murray River). The landscape is expansive, like a plain dotted with ancient trees. Timezoned in the dreaming, present and future. A clan of storytellers have banded together to remember a beautiful place they once knew. Together they tell stories that happened thousands of years ago. Some stories are told so that they may be remembered; others are told so that they may never happen again.
From the sky is dropped a thunderous black woman, we call her Munarra, and she is as mad as hell! Cast out by her husband and our creator, Biami, she is our reluctant hero. Sent – unbeknowns to her – to save the very stinking earth she now stands upon. She cries for the land and people she once knew. She cries a river. Two dingoes and a sturdy nulla nulla are her only companions.
On a silent canoe she encounters an old foe – Edward Curr – the first invader to her lands. His ghost haunts the land and refuses to leave. Revenge boils behind her eyes and she realises her fate. She must confront this ghost and in turn heal her land, her people. Many times she returns to his ghostly homestead. She’s come for more than a cup of tea.
Meanwhile another struggle is taking place. In realtime, a landclaim war is being fought. Eighteen Yorta Yorta claims to land and resources have been made since the arrival of Sir Edward Curr. One man holds the key to land justice and freedom. One man has the knowledge of a thousand years and more. One man can stand in court and win his people’s land for once and for all. But this one man, our Uncle, wants nothing more but peace and quiet. He has come back to his land to fish! He has come back to his land to die! And it is poor Lyall a young Yorta Yorta man who must convince this stubborn Elder to take to the gubbar law courts once more. Bouyed by the success of Mabo and the determination and fire of his people, Lyall takes the hopes and dreams of an entire nation to the confines of the colonial courtrooms. We cry and we laugh as one by one we see proud Yorta Yorta Elders confronted on the courtroom stand.
Memories are being stirred – the good ones and the bad. Memories that are better off forgotten. Memories that eat at your very soul.
The entire universe is being shaken and Munarra her dingoe companions and her nulla nulla feel a stirring. Edward Curr can feel something too, but he will never admit it. He refuses to leave. He refuses to see.
But deep into the beautiful dark forest one glorious victory is taking place. One old man, our stubborn Elder, we call him Uncle, is dying. As he planned. Guided by the min min lights. At his rightful place. His tree. His land.
And as always, another victory is being planned. The right to land justice and freedom. We are, after all, the Yorta Yorta – the “No!” People – and we will never give up.
We are here.
Andrea James graduated from LaTrobe University as a Bachelor of Art in Drama in 1991 and then went on to complete a Bachelor of Performing Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts in 1996 as an Animateur. In 1997 she collaborated with John Bolton, Tammy Anderson, Hank Kerr and Pauline Whyman to create the all-Indigenous clown troupe, The Oogadee Boogadees who went on to tour the Sydney Festival of the Dreaming and MIFA. She has taught and directed at Swinburne University’s Indigenous Performing Arts course and is Melbourne Workers Theatre’s Artistic Director where she directed “Magpie” written by Richard Frankland and Melissa Reeves. She was Associate Director to the MWT production of “Fever” directed by Julian Meyrick. Andrea wrote and directed her first full length play, “Yanagai! Yanagai!” (inspired by the dreaming, stories , people and land claim of the Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Nation) which completed its world premiere season in September 2003 in co-production with Playbox at the Malthouse Theatre. The play will tour in 2006 to regional Victoria and the UK. She has just enjoyed directing the controversial and successful production of Non Parlo di Salo by Christos Tsialkos and Spiro Economopolous for the Melbourne Workers Theatre.