Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji – SMH Review

TREVOR Jamieson is a Pitjantjatjara actor who finds himself straddling two worlds: that of the traditional country where he was raised and the urban white culture in which he plies his trade.

TREVOR Jamieson is a Pitjantjatjara actor who finds himself straddling two worlds: that of the traditional country where he was raised and the urban white culture in which he plies his trade. He made a name in the big smoke with Ngapartji Ngapartji, his acclaimed stage show about the experiences of indigenous peoples around the nuclear tests at Maralinga in the 1950s and early ’60s. The show is performed in two languages, side by side, and so far he has presented it only to English-speaking audiences, including a sellout season at the Sydney Festival. Now he is taking the production thousands of kilometres away to Ernabella, South Australia, for its first performance in front of a traditional Pitjantjatjara-speaking audience. He’s understandably nervous – the show includes references to and footage of deceased people, a taboo in traditional indigenous culture. Much of it involves his father, who died weeks before the Ernabella production.

We follow Trevor and crew as they travel to the remote community and feel his trepidation about the possible community response to the show as he questions his sense of identity. It’s not just that he fears a flogging from the community – a real possibility facing anyone who breaks tribal law – the inner conflict tears at him. From the opening moments of Suzy Bates’s documentary, you know you’re in for something special. Jamieson is engaging and appealing, his personal story compelling and the backdrop of the central desert magnificent.

Bates’s direction is masterful and Jamieson’s trials are beautifully captured as she weaves his story with that of the theatre production, archival footage of the Ernabella mission and memories of those who experienced the devastating ”smoke” that carried poison and sickness to their communities, victims of a tension between superpowers on the other side of the world. Never didactic but always insightful, this is rewarding television.

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