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Black Cockatoo — Ensemble Theatre

The story of Australia's first Indigenous sporting hero and his team finally gets the recognition it deserves.
By Melanie Colwell
December 23, 2019
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Black Cockatoo — Ensemble Theatre

The story of Australia's first Indigenous sporting hero and his team finally gets the recognition it deserves.
By Melanie Colwell
December 23, 2019
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Whether you're a sports fanatic or not, it's hard to escape chat about the cricket at this time year. But among the in-depth analyses of certain plays and team strategy, comparison of players past and present and reliving of legendary moments in the sport's history, there is one tale that has long been ignored.

In 1868, a group of Aboriginal Australian cricket players became the first Australian sports team to travel and play overseas. Beyond all expectations, the team did extremely well — they won as many games as they lost — and one particular player, Johnny Mullagh (born Unaarrimin), was lauded for his performance, which included scoring 1698 runs across the tour. The tour was a pretty remarkable feat, particularly given the climate of Indigenous affairs in Australia at the time, but the history books have, for the most part, failed to recognise it as such.

That's exactly what this new play by screenwriter Geoffery Atherden (Mother and Son, BabaKiueria) and director Wesley Enoch (Black Diggers, Sydney Festival 2014 and Sydney Festival artistic director) aims to rectify. Black Cockatoo begins with a group of activists sneaking into a museum to hunt down (and expose) the story of Mullagh and his team. The play then shifts its focus onto that very story — it tracks the team's journey from regional Victoria to Lord's Cricket Ground and reveals the travesties that were unfolding at home while the team were away.

This poignant play is premiering at Kirribilli's Ensemble Theatre as part of Sydney Festival 2020, before a five-night run at Parramatta's Riverside Theatres in February. It's part of Riverside Theatre's jam-packed 2020 schedule, which also includes Aboriginal musical comedy Bran Nue Dae (January 16–February 1), Les Misérables (February 14–29), Monty Python's Spamalot (March 19–22), Sydney Theatre Company's No Pay? No Way! (April 1–4) and the Sydney Comedy Festival Gala (April 22). To see the full 2020 lineup, visit the Riverside Theatres website.

To see the full 2020 lineup, visit the Riverside Theatres website.

Image: Christian Trinder.

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