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Yuwaalaraay playwright asks questions of identity and socialisation in new play

Rachael Knowles -

Yuwaalaraay woman, renowned Stiff Gins' musician, and playwright, Nardi Simpson, presents Black Drop Effect to the Sydney Festival this month.

Presented by Sydney Festival and Bankstown Arts Centre, the enthralling and immersive Black Drop Effect confronts its audiences with questions about Country, community and connection in response to the 250th anniversary of Cook landing in Australia.

Directed by Felix Cross, the production hosts a cast of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples.

"It's a very different experience for me because usually I'm on the stage so I've really loved kicking back and watching other people. It's wonderful to see things you've written be given life through the talents of other people," Simpson said.

Black Drop Effect follows the story of Binno, played by Billy McPherson, an Aboriginal Elder and former member of a community dance group. Binno is asked to perform a series of traditional dances alongside the reading of Captain Cook's diaries on January 26.

Unsure at first, Binno is convinced by his sister Beenie, played by Marlene Cummins, and begins to teach three young men seeking connections with culture and Country.

The intentions for the show were borne from a short-term residency at the Arts Centre in 2018.

"There were a whole heap of blak creatives there; poets and dancers, makers, visual artists and musicians, everything you can think of. We were doing this lab for a week and at some stage Wesley Enoch came ... and he said, 'Listen, 2020 is coming.'," Simpson recalled.

"The room went quiet. He said, 'You fellas need to be ready' and that gave me tingles because up until that moment I thought, as artists we make work and it fulfils us and maybe sometimes it has some type of effect on others. But here was one of our most influential and important Aboriginal creatives saying we were going to be the army to tell the story.

"How do you tackle that? Captain Cook, the colonial narrative and this whole narrative? How can one person, or one statement make a difference? But I remember in that room there wasn't just one of us, there were so many of us. And that was just one room, in one city."

"I didn't have to do it alone, other people would tell their stories their own way and this would be a part of another puzzle, like a verse in a song."

A story of conflict between two ways of being, the story asks questions of identity, socialisation, privilege and education.

"I hope that non-Indigenous people can come and see, not the problems that stop us connecting, but see a way through putting aside what we have been taught and [connect] to someone."

"If you can get to the human within each other that's a place to start."

"We have two very experienced performers in Billy McPherson and Marlene Cummins, and we also have a company of young Aboriginal male actors who have their first time on stage and what you are seeing is culture at play.

"When they are learning the play, they are also exchanging and passing on knowledge, even if there's no one in the audience ... at least we have practiced culture. And I'm proud that these fellas have put their name to it and been a part of it â€" that is what this is about, us doing our things in our ways."

Digging deep into her own identity, Simpson created a very intimate and raw story, that not only told stories of her own, but the stories of the land she lived on.

"I was born on Gadigal Country in Sydney ... Traditional Owners of this Country have their stories and the right to tell that first and then me ... not from here, I have a responsibility to privilege the story of that land I'm on," she said.

"And me telling that story of my version of living in the middle of Sydney is paying respect to this place, as long I put the stories of those from this place first then I'm being a strong Yuwaalaraay woman."

Black Drop Effect is showing at Bankstown Arts Centre from Wednesday January 15 to Saturday January 18.

For more information, visit:

By Rachael Knowles


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