Contemplating the 'Welcome to Country'
An AustralianPlays.org script spotlight
We're in the process of adding some new scripts to BlakStage, our showcase of contemporary Indigenous scripts. In celebration of NAIDOC Week, we thought we'd find out a bit more about these writers, who range from emerging to award-winning established playwrights.
First up is Colleen Johnson, with her short piece Welcome to Country.
Mavis is an Aboriginal grandmother who is babysitting her four grandchildren. In a relaxed mood brought on by sipping red wine, she shares with her grandchildren her views created by inner emotional turmoil. She is anxious about doing a ‘Welcome to Country’ speech—the first in her town.
How did you first get interested in playwriting as a means of expressing yourself?
Welcome to Country came into fruition during the Writing for Performance Unit of my Creative Writing Degree. Living as a student on the Batchelor Institute campus, I discovered storytelling through dialogue, as well as discovering I enjoyed performance writing. This is my first play (after countless drafts).
What kind of effect do you hope the play will have on audiences?
I want the audience to know and feel the challenges that some Elders have had to deal with since Native Title has landed on their laps. To empathise for the character as she shares her confusion and insecurities; to understand that Elders have been changing since colonisation and compromising is the only option—for the future generation.
I also want the audience to be aware of the internal issues that Native Title has on an ordinary Elder's life; that the mainstream media doesn't see or hear.
The character in this piece is quite a warm and humourous woman. Is she based on a real person that you've known?
The character Mavis is a fusion of personalities of older murri women that I have come to know personally and from stories about grandmothers, great grandmothers, great aunts who have had to deal with life living in the mainstream. Their cynical (racist, even) view of white people, humour that helped heal the hurt/pain, doing what they needed to do and get on with life for the future generation.
How did you get the idea of stucturing the play around someone preparing a 'Welcome to Country'?
My family have been involved in the Native Title processes in my community, since the beginning. I wanted to share another side of these processes—the 'Welcome to Country'—a wonderful opportunity to stand up tall and proud to acknowledge traditional owners. In my community, where my Elders have had to 'assimilate' and deny their roots, I have felt that doing a 'Welcome to Country' is challenging for them. I could sense their insecurities and yet everyone expects them to jump up for this opportunity.
I have been asked by an Elder to do the 'Welcome to Country' because they could not do it.
I believe 'Welcome to Country' speeches are one of the most powerful elements that has come out of Native Title.
What's next for you? What are you working on?
I have been concentrating on film scriptwriting and working on an ongoing novel, also involving native title and conflicts that surround claims and traditional owners. My list of poems are getting longer.
The short script Welcome to Country is available here.