Jane Harrison’s Stolen brought tears to my eyes on the bus this morning. First commissioned in 1992, this is a play about the Stolen Generation, told through the voices of five Aboriginal children.
By using five characters, Harrison is able to reflect on the differences and similarities in experience. There’s the little girl who is repeatedly abused by the couples who take her out of the children’s home for a weekend ‘visit’ (how could this ever have been considered a good idea? Letting people come and pick a kid to take home for a weekend? Were authorities wilfully blind or just plain stupid?), there’s the boy who’s told his mum is dead while she writes to him every week, longing to hear from him, there’s the girl who’s taken from her mum and then has her kids taken from her, there’s a boy who manages to hold onto some of the stories and there’s a girl who’s adopted out and brought up white.
In her playwright’s note, Harrison says: “Numerous people – Koori and non-Koori – contributed their time, skills and a good chunk of their souls to make it happen. In the end Stolen took six years, four workshops and many tears to get to the stage.” Once on the stage, I am sure it has inspired many more tears as people hear and feel these stories for themselves.
The play is a series of vignettes, with all the cast playing multiple characters as they enact different parts of the children’s lives. For instance, in Ruby’s descent into madness:
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Clean for me, Ruby.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Wash for me, Ruby.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Cook for me, Ruby.
RUBY: Don’t need no family of me own.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Scrub for me, Ruby.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Nurse for me, Ruby.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Mop for me, Ruby.
RUBY: Got enough to do.
As the scene progresses, the voices get nastier, turning into the sleaze, the arsehole and the lady as they force Ruby to her knees and abuse her.
Stolen is an important play. Some people won’t want to see it because they’ll recognise that it will be harrowing, but there is also humour and resilience. The issue of the Stolen Generations isn’t going to blow away with the sand, much as some people would like it to. It is part of our history and we need to shed tears over it before there is any hope of moving on.
SANDY: The land where my people come from is covered in red sand and in the old days, the women to try to stop the white men from raping them, would shove sand inside themselves. Anything to stop the men from raping them, anything. And that’s what my mother did, but it didn’t stop them and so I came along. My mother, she loved me, but she called me Sandy anyway. She sure had a sense of humour that one.
Stolen will be shown in Brisbane at QPAC this November.
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 3F, 2M