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R e v ie w \ t h e a r t s
Making tracks …
NAMATJIRA \ Theatre company Big hART’s production of the
life story of Australia’s famous indigenous painter played at the
Malthouse Theatre in August. It starred West Australian-born
Pinjarra-Noongar actor Trevor Jamieson as Albert Namatjira, with
third-generation artists creating watercolours across the stage.
THE SAPPHIRES \ Tony Briggs’ play, based on real-life events when
his mother Laurel Robinson and her cousins Beverly Briggs and
Naomi Mayers formed an all-girl Motown-style Aboriginal singing
group in a club in St Kilda has been a crowd-pleaser on stages
around Australia, and in August the feature film started shooting
in Sydney and Vietnam, with Wayne Blair directing and Samson
& Delilah director Warwick Thornton as cinematographer. Locally,
the stage cast has included Casey Donovan, Christine Anu, Kylie
Farmer, Hollie Andrew, Deborah Mailman, Rachael Maza, Lisa
Flanagan and Ursula Yovich. For the movie, Mailman will return,
along with former Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy and
newcomers Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell. \
Indigenous performers seem to be everywhere, but how easy is it
for Aboriginal actors to get a gig? STEVE DOW meets five of them.
previous relationship after the father he lost.
Fletcher convinced Daley-Jones to play TJ in Mad
Bastards, set in the stunning Kimberley, drawing on
the problems that once plagued him for the character.
In turn, Daley-Jones persuaded Fletcher to make TJ a
Nyoongar man, from south-west Western Australia, and
not a Kimberley blackfella as planned.
“For my first role I wanted to keep it as real as
possible.” So real he was then snapped up for Ivan Sen’s
film, Toomelah, which in May represented Australia at
the Cannes Film Festival.
Take a deep breath and dive: that’s Shai Pittman’s
philosophy. The 25-year-old Dharuk woman, whose
people’s lands stretch from the Blue Mountains to
Picton, loves to scour the reefs of the New South Wales
south coast, searching for abalone stuck along the rocks,
as much a hobby as an acknowledgement of her Yuin
grandfather’s traditional hunting.
Pittman might well have become an athlete: in 2008,
the year she gave birth to son Braith – who turned three
in August – she played Cathy Freeman’s body double,
Ngaire Pigram \ Nella in Mad Bastards
dashing about the streets flicking off the lights in an
Earth Hour TV commercial.
She danced in the Roebuck Bay Hotel in Bran Nue
But it is in writer-director Beck Cole’s feature film
Dae, then this year belted out Motown songs in the
debut Here I Am, playing Karen, a young mother
stage musical The Sapphires at London’s Barbican
released from prison, that Pittman hits her stride.
Theatre, just missing out on reprising the role
Fellow indigenous actor and director Wayne
for the film version about to start shooting (see
Blair had seen Pittman in a short two-hander
to keep it
Making Tracks, top right).
film, Fuse, opposite Chris Haywood, and told
Never mind. Broome-born and Perth-based
Cole when she was casting her film: “There’s
as real as
Ngaire Pigram, 30, of the famous Pigram
this interesting young woman you should
musical family, has revealed her dramatic
look at, really beautiful.”
acting chops as the alcoholic and neglectful
Cole is based in Alice Springs, so Pittman, in
mother Nella in the film Mad Bastards.
Sydney, had to audition via iPhone, but Cole says
Confrontingly, Pigram, whose name is pronounced
she knew she had found her “intriguing, beautiful and
“nigh-ree”, slips out of character at the end of the film
unassuming” actor who could carry every scene.
and reveals: “I grew up witnessing domestic violence.
Both character and actor are young single mothers:
I have consequently been through some relationships
“If you know the emotions behind a line, it just comes
with domestic violence.”
out naturally,” says Pittman, who was inspired by her
Pigram says her parents split when she was five, and
actor cousin Jie and her nanna, who’s worked as a
she saw her mother being assaulted by subsequent
movie extra. But “it’s difficult”, Pittman muses. “A lot of
partners. Pigram had her two boys before studying
indigenous actors get stereotyped and typecast”.
acting at the Western Australian Academy of
Dean Daley-Jones \ TJ in Mad Bastards
Performing Arts, but her studies were interrupted by
her responsibilities as a single mother.
Nyoongar man Dean Daley-Jones still repairs roofs for a
Yet growing up in a musical family had many joys.
living but, nearing 40, his acting career has blossomed.
“I remember dancing on rocks at (James) Price Point
Originally employed on the film Mad Bastards as a
(north of Broome), looking out to the ocean, pretending
key grip, he took a call from director Brendan Fletcher,
that was my stage.” Her father is Stephen Pigram of the
who had heard of Daley-Jones’ brief teenage role in the
Black Arm Band and the Pigram Brothers, and sister
film Shame while enrolled at Fremantle’s John Curtin
Naomi is a successful singer-songwriter.
Senior High School drama and dance programs. This
Ngaire, meanwhile, has started a new job as a support
promising start was marred by a “colourful” mid-20s
worker, identifying indigenous youth at risk, but is keen
when anger, booze and violence drew Daley-Jones to
to continue acting and to make her own films. “I’m
petty crime and short stints in jail.
proud of my heritage; I identify myself as a blackfella
Daley-Jones was 10 when he lost his father, Owen
straight out, but in the acting world I eventually want
Jones – a member of the stolen generations whom he’d
to get roles that have no colour. I don’t want to be
never really known – to an epileptic fit at the age of 38.
constantly portraying an indigenous person.”
“I was angry at society for how my people were
Luke Carroll \ Eddie in Stone Brothers
treated,” recalls the actor. “Drugs and alcohol got
involved.” Counselling taught him to talk and cry, while
At nine, Luke Carroll was the class clown, but instead of
his Nyoongar heritage means “everything … I believe in
punishing him, his teacher suggested his mother send
the rainbow serpent, that’s my god”.
some photographs of him to an actor’s agent. In his first
Daley-Jones named his now 14-year-old son from a
Here I Am.
Dean DaleyJones is “TJ” in
Jack Charles \ Vern in Woodley
plays Nella in
Looking for a
(left) may work
in the US.
role airing in 1991 he played Cameron, a “young Koori
boy, caught between two cultures, whose grandfather
is dying of cancer”, on the TV serial The Flying Doctors.
On the strength of that performance he was cast in a
children’s series, Lift Off.
Twenty years later he’s a presenter on Play School in
the ABC pre-schooler show’s 45th year.
The 32-year-old starred in the film Australian Rules,
for which he was nominated for an AFI award, and the
2009 comedy feature Stone Brothers, his once-curled
hair now worn straight and short.
Three times a year for the last four years, Carroll has
travelled to Palm Island with the Australian Theatre
for Young People to encourage indigenous kids to
engage with the arts; to act. Yet he feels hemmed into
one identity given Australian directors have still not
embraced colourblind casting.
“It’s great to be able to do indigenous roles but I’ve
been in the industry now for more than 20 years and
I have enough runs on the board to go for a role that
doesn’t have nationality or race attached,” he laments.
“We’re limited in what we’re able to do here.”
Born and raised in Sydney with a Wiradjuri
background from the NSW Riverina district, Carroll is
hoping to travel to Los Angeles later this year, find a US
agent and do films there.
He loves Australia and wouldn’t like to leave
permanently – he has a partner, Danica, and 10-year-old
son, Marley, from a previous relationship. He might
remain based here and email audition videos for
possible US roles.
“In America you see a lot of Asian and Hispanic
actors. They’re certainly breaking down a lot of
barriers there.” \
Shai Pittman \ Karen in Here I Am
He stands 152 centimetres, with bushy white hair
and beard and a calming voice deep as a cello. At
68, Bunurong man Jack Charles is not a rising star
but a guiding light. His heroin habit and 22 stays
in prison for burglaries are behind him. He is the
living article of others’ faith in his talents.
Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s AFI-nominated 2009
documentary Bastardy followed Charles for seven
mostly homeless years on the streets of Melbourne.
“It’s one way of exposing the power of addiction;
the bridges you burn,” says Charles, looking a
damned sight healthier two years later. “With the
extreme addiction, you’re willing to do anything.”
This year, sober and focused, Charles took
his autobiographical Melbourne Festival show
Jack Charles v the Crown, which he co-wrote, to
Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre.
Charles has performed on stage and in film,
including The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and the
1975 TV series Ben Hall, for which he wasn’t black
enough. He and fellow indigenous actor, the late
Justine Saunders, both bare-breasted, were “blacked
up” with grease sticks under orders from
British director Don Chaffey.
For their first screen test, Saunders’
character got shot by bushranger
Frank Gardiner, and Charles was
supposed to pick her up and say,
“Look what they’ve done, I’m going
to get him”, join the troopers and
shoot Ben Hall.
“But it was very hot and she
started to slip and slide with the
grease, and her right tit landed
in me left eye. That stopped
the idea I should pick her up;
I’m only little and she was a
buxom girl, you know?”
In January and February
he filmed his role as
Aussie comedian Frank
Vern in an eight-part
romantic comedy series,
Woodley, to air on ABC1
later this year.
“The role wasn’t written
as indigenous,” says producer
Andy Walker. “We all just felt Jack was
perfect for the role.”
And his humour was black