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Black Diggers is touring Australia

Tuesday 10 March, 2015


Currently touring Australia, Black Diggers is a Queensland Theatre Company and Sydney Festival co-production, written by Tom Wright and directed by Wesley Enoch.


One purpose of Indigenous theatre is to write on to the public record neglected or forgotten stories.

Many of these stories survive in our oral storytelling traditions and have been passed down through families to arrive today as folklore – stories of the people. Theatre has become a crossover point where these stories are made public and expressed to demonstrate our history.

One hundred years ago Indigenous servicemen volunteered to fight for the newly formed country called Australia. Though the constitution of this newest of old countries did not recognise them as citizens, Indigenous men signed up and fought in Palestine, the Somme, Gallipoli, Flanders Fields and every major battlefront during what would be called the Great War. Despite limited social standing, appalling living conditions and lack of human rights, Indigenous men enlisted. Was it the sense of freedom and adventure? Was it the fact that the newly minted AIF (Australian Imperial Force) had no way of administratively recognising their Indigenous background and hence granted all soldiers the same rights? Or was it a sense of patriotism in a country that offered renewed hope for change?

Over 1000 Indigenous men fought side by side with their white countrymen and forged bonds that would sow the seeds of the modern reconciliation movement.

When constructing this piece of theatre we were confronted by the enormity of the task, the cultural protocols, the military records, the family lore – so we adopted a broad acceptance of truth. In post-apartheid South Africa during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there was a four-part definition of truth:

  • Personal truth – the thing you believe to be true
  • Social truth – what a group believe to be true through discussion and debate
  • Forensic truth – the truth that can be proven through science and records
  • Public truth – the value of telling the truth for the greater good

Stories have come to us through interviews with family members, scouring the official records, scholarly historical analysis and research and our own narratives; we believe them all to have equal value and truth.


Black Diggers honours the memories of these men and their families, and through them demonstrates the long history of national service and participation in public life by Indigenous Australians. We follow a number of archetypal character journeys based on real-life events in a fragmented view of history. It’s like the shellshock experience of those in war – fragments of story mixed with emotional responses.

There are 60 scenes broken into five parts:

  • Pre-Nation – a reflection on the wars and experience of Indigenous people before nationhood
  • Enlistment – the process of Indigenous men signing up
  • The Theatre of War – the stories from the front as reported in journals, letters, official records and oral history
  • The Return – the effects of returning and the expectations of both the men who returned and those they were returning to
  • Legacy – what has been left behind for us

The invitation is to accumulate the stories and follow the characters/actors as they journey through. It has been a great honour to work on this project with such a dedicated and insightful group of contributors. There is much we know and there is much we can never know but sharing stories is the best way for us all to know more.

If you know a story of Indigenous service in World War I or have a photo or a piece of ephemera, please contact the Australian War Memorial and have it recorded. As we commemorate the centenary of World War I these words become even more apt. Lest We Forget.

Wesley Enoch, Director

This production has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Major Festival initiative, managed by the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, in association with the Confederation of Australian International Arts Festivals, Adelaide Festival, Brisbane Festival, Perth International Arts Festival and Sydney Festival.






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