There is nothing terribly pretty about the history of the impact of white cultures of various sorts on those of the aboriginal people, with not a lot of indigenous ways in responding to it all helping to make it all seamless. Removal from parents at a young age, the cult of celebrity, the pillaging of any money from tribe members who have it to those who don’t and the sad effects of alcohol and so it goes on.
The Albert Namatjira story has it all and Scott Rankin’s Namatjira (created with the Namatjira family) skilfully lays it all out without obvious bias – the piss being taken out of white and black fellas in equal part, the shortcomings of each glaringly obvious.
For the production, Rankin greets patrons with lead actor, Trevor Jamieson, sitting in evocative light being painted by Robert Hannaford. Behind is a distinctly Namatjira / Hermannsburg school mural of a mighty outback range in purple and white on which surviving close members of Albert’s family are working with their oils.
From there the show is Jamieson’s playing a great variety of roles from narrator to Albert himself, assisted by young Derik Lynch and Rhia Parker on a variety of wind instruments, as the life story of Albert Namatjira is told.
Jamieson is quite a talent. Without a misstep he brings to life his various characters adding a variety of skills to his straight acting such as dancing and even some cracking of the stock whip. Lynch provides a delightful foil, excelling in a number of female roles, though monarchists may blush at his portrayal of the young Queen Elizabeth. Parker toils away in the right hand corner, leading an excellent but not excessive musical, sound and lighting accompaniment. Can’t say I am all that sure why Hannaford was paid to sit in the corner and sketch, so hopefully someone can enlighten me.
There is nothing in the razzle, dazzle line about Namatjira but the story is an interesting, moving and (sadly still) a contemporary one. Jamieson deserves far more attention than he gets and as truly Australian sagas, there are few better.