Recently I had the pleasure of documenting Jan's show Buckley as performed at a primary school in Melbourne's west. Its rare for us storytellers to have the opportunity catch each other in action in schools. Thanks Jan for inviting me along and sharing a little of your work.
Why tell the story of William Buckley?
Because it works on many levels. It's classic heroes journey, with perfect three part structure, as in Joseph Campbell's exposition of that story structure.
However all previous tellings of Buckley stopped at the end of act two/beginning of act three, where Buckley, after 32 years with Wathaurong Aborigines, walks into the camp of the settlers/land grabbers who've come to take Port Phillip. Can Buckley use his knowledge to unify black and white? That's the task of the third act, and maybe no previous artists went there because most people are principally besotted with the 'white man goes black' part of the story.
Also, Buckley is trashed by the whites, especially Melbourne's founder, John Fawkner, so this third act is the hard part of the story, because this is where we, us here today, come into it. And as we all know, Australians are not easy about examining our relationship with black Australia. Not that it's black and white, as there were also blacks in on the killing.
So it's an important historical story, and untold, and although Buckley's time in Port Phillip ends in failure, the point is that by honouring him we complete his journey for him; if he can succeed, through his story, in moving us today to a better relationship with this land and it's original people, then we give Buckley's life meaning.
How long have you been working on the story of Buckley? Have you collaborated with a writer, director and designer? Do you offer this show for adults?
Since 2003. It was initially commissioned for an exhibition of Buckley art, and after a lot of reading and walking the country I wrote it in two furious days, then read it at the exhibition opening that night. After that I went back to the drawing board many times.
First I worked with theatre director Paul Hampton, an old friend who'd directed Max Gillies and lots more from the Pram Factory days. Paul was really working as a dramaturg at the start, with me on my feet trying and re-writing the show. We did a few shows, kept re-writing, and got it into shape. But it was just me on stage, telling the story, with very few props. Then when I decided to offer it to schools I felt it needed visuals, and it came to me all at once - the printed shirts representing Batman's six shirts that were included in the land deal (a trinket treaty, as they are called); the washing line for 'civilisation', the poles representing the Wathauring creation story, and everything coming out of the ship's trunk.
So I made that for the school show and it worked so well I took it into the adult version, which is longer, deals more deeply with matters of violence, murder and sexuality. But it's still a simple set up, which I like. Nothing as boring as not being able to play places because the set it too elaborate. So it grew from a bare story into a piece of storytelling theatre.
What is it that drives you to create storytelling shows?
God knows! That my grandmother and auntie used to sit me down and pump the family story into me when I was barely ten? That they taught me that their most important possession was their story - they were refugees arriving in Australia with only a suitcase. That I can string words together, and when on stage it's a total experience, absolutely galvanising, which is great for the whole being. But you have to be firing on all cylinders/chakras for it to be zinging along, so it's a great mind/body/soul/physical check up, because I often don't know how I'm travelling exactly, until I get on stage and start. Because I believe that stories are the basis of nearly all art, and the best way to carry information. And of course, the ego, because any performer who tells you that the ego is not a part of being up there, well...they're fooling themselves.
But as for storytelling shows, I just love shows, and was turned on to story shows in about 1979 when I saw the great director, Peter Brook's production 'Conference of the Birds'.
Favourite story? why?
No such thing as a favourite story for me. I'm a story addict, I'd say, with media and reading going all the time, or yarning with people. Currently I'm reading Xavier Herbert's 'Poor Fellow My Country'. Now there's a story!
Favourite storyteller? (anywhere in the world)
Brian Hungerford, from Canberra. I've put him on in my home town of Castlemaine, and he did the first half with medieval and Innuit tales - deep, hilarious and sexy. At interval a woman who was pregnant left. She said it was too much, she was full, she couldn't take any more. And that happened twice. I've seen the occasional overseas storyteller in Australia, and truly, I've seen no one who's as enthralling, wise, funny or who packs such a psychological punch. You don't see Brian around much because he's not out to make a name for himself, which may be why he's so good. But he's hitting eighty, been at it in many forms - radio, TV, stage, writing - all his life, and is a real treasure.
NB In the final photo Jan is holding a copy of the The Yallukit-Willam: the First People of Hobsons Bay. You can download the link or contact Hobsons Bay Council for a hard copy.