‘My mum, my grandmother, my great grandmother … I feel them in me, I carry their strength’

Sandy Greenwood's Matriarch is now showing at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Sandy Greenwood’s play Matriarch celebrates the strength, resilience and beauty of Aboriginal women, drawing on 100-years of Australian history through her family’s eyes.

Matriarch—a tale of extreme adversity and survival—will be performed at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and has been nominated for two Greenroom Awards.

Greenwood, a Gumbaynggirr, Dunghutti and Bundjalung woman, brings herself to the stage, sharing stories of her mother and grandmother to pay homage to the matriarchs who shaped her.

“There’s a lot of complex themes in the play, like intergenerational trauma and cultural identity. I’m showing rather than telling, I’m showing pieces of their lives throughout the ages so the audience can experience what it was like for them,” Greenwood said.

“It’s about celebrating our culture, and exploring that intergenerational connection between us, the trauma that lays dormant and that resilience I carry through my grandmother and my mum.”

Greenwood was raised on Bowraville Mission by her single mother, who was a Stolen Generations survivor. Her grandmother raised 14 children and always had faith they would all return home.

“I was in awe of their strength, especially my grandmother, she never held onto any bitterness, she was just happy that eventually all her kids made their way home.”

Greenwood touches on the presence of intergenerational trauma caused by colonisation in the play, and said the key to moving forward is in connecting to culture and country.

“So many Aboriginal people know that that is what we need to heal, going to the source. It breaks my heart, these little ones who have so much pain embedded in them, generations of trauma, pain and suffering. I’m glad the spotlight is on it now. I truly believe healing is through culture, through telling our stories and celebrating our culture, creating a safe space for our young ones to feel proud of who they are and realise they’re from the most incredible oldest continuing culture in the world.”

Greenwood began this journey in her last year of university when, at 21, she performed a 20-minute piece which detailed similar themes. She recalled the feeling of needing to finish the piece, it gnawed at her, it was crucial for her healing to tell her own story in her own way.

“Every time I perform, it’s that extra bit of healing for me. It’s been frustrating not being able to tell my story, but now I get to tell my own story in my own way. My grandmother is there is spirit. The trauma and the pain releases in theatre and I always walk away feeling better,” Greenwood said.

“There have been times in my life when I’ve really hit rock bottom and deep depression. Being the eldest daughter of a Stolen Generation survivor, you take on that pain from a very young age. I’ve had a full-on life and I do surprise myself sometimes, I pick myself up from so much. I think it’s because of my mum, and my grandmother, and my great grandmother. I feel them in me, I carry their strength. I hope that this is healing in the spirit world for them.”

The reaction from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences has been overwhelmingly positive. Greenwood attributed this to the universal nature of her stories and the empathetic connection between audience and performer.

“It’s not didactic, it’s not lecturing anyone, it’s showing not telling. It’s fluid, beautiful storytelling. It allows them to immerse themselves in it, and allows them to process what they need to process.”

Greenwood hopes her show and story will encourage other Aboriginal people suffering trauma to embrace healing through storytelling.

“Don’t be shame, put pen to paper, just write, let it flow through you, even if it feels a bit awkward. Write it out, act it out, dance it out—we come from a long history of storytelling, it is in us, that is who we are. We are living our culture by telling our story. This is the time now, the country is ready for our stories. It’s never been a better time, there’s a lot of love and support and a lot of interest.”

“We are all from generations of strong women; Aboriginal women are incredibly strong. Carry that and know that, feel proud and be inspired to tell your own story and know we are beautiful and strong and the backbone of society. We are from matriarchal blueprints. Reembrace the strength that is in us, show the country and show the world, live it.”

Matriarch is showing from February 21st to March 3rd as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

By Rachael Knowles

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