35: Yanagai! Yanagai!

25 Apr

Today is ANZAC Day. A day of remembrance and commemoration. I considered looking for a play about war, but chose instead a play about Australia’s history and remembering language, culture and stories. All of which are integral to Andrea James’ play  about belonging to land. ‘Yanagai! Yanagai!’ is a Yorta Yorta war cry, an emphatic ‘go away’, used in an attempt to dispel the first white intruders.

play and torso

Andrea James was prompted to write the play following the unsuccessful land rights claim of her people: the Yorta Yorta (in 2002). She has successfully woven together Dreaming stories, a high court case, the judicial system, ghosts of settlers and her ancestors. While Yanagai! Yanagai! feels as if it’s written for a particular place and time, it also transcends those boundaries and could be a play about colonisation and healing the land for any time and people.

The scenes set in the court room capture the limitations of a judicial system that does not appreciate or take into consideration different cultural perspectives. At times this is conveyed through humour, and at other times it’s tragically sad.

QC: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

LESLEY: The truth?

QC: Yes, Mr James, do you swear – ?

LESLEY: The truth is in the trees.

QC: Do you swear to – ?

LESLEY: The truth is in the water, in the bush! That’s where it is!

QC: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

LESLEY: That’s all I have left.

QC: Mr James, you must answer, clearly, ‘I do’.

LESLEY: Bloody hell, I feel like I’m getting married – All right, ‘I do’ as long as I can get a divorce later. Nahh, only gammon. What was the question?

James’ uses a chorus of storytellers to dream the past and tell of the way the Murray River used to be. They remember days of plenty and contrast them with the present, haunted by ghosts of trees and children.

Publisher: Currency Press

Cast: 4M, 1F

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