Reflections by Pamela Nathan – Director CASSE Australia
Bighouse Dreaming showed at the Arts Centre Melbourne from the 5-9th of May, 2021. Pamela Nathan notes “it now has added poignancy in light of the ‘tough on crime’ legislation recently passed in the NT. I spoke with Declan at the end of the play and strongly recommend they bring it to Alice Springs”.
Here are her reflections on a play that speaks to the challenges that CASSE Australia are currently trying to address with Shields for Living Tools for Life cultural camps. Shields for Living Tools for Life offer a much needed alternative to detention for the youth and the number of youth going into detention it is said will now increase with the legislation. The NT government report they are seeking alternatives for youth on diversion.
Declan Furber Gillick, an Arrente male, starkly dramatises the crisis of Aboriginal youth in the justice system in his play Bighouse Dreaming showing at the Fairfax. The youth, Chris Wallace, is sentenced to detention for breach of an order and was originally charged and sentenced for a minor crime. Declan as writer and actor – Chris – takes the audience on the trajectory of injustice and ultimately murder by a prison guard who remained deaf to his harrowing cry ‘I cannot breathe.’ The play begins with Chris placing red earth in a circle around the stage which took me to Central Australia and the youth crisis. He called himself C-War and likened himself to being in a war zone. Chris dies because the prison guard repeatedly demands him to give him a piece of paper he was holding. Chris became angry and distressed and told the guard it was not drugs and to leave him alone. The guard ignored his pleas and aggressively closed in on Chris killing him. On the paper was a song. Chris was an aspiring rapper. His song represented his sacred core that got violated. His song was HIS and so precious to him. It was all he had. He furiously and desperately sought to keep it. He begged the guard to leave him alone. Some of the words were ‘I don’t want to live no more’. At the end of the play Chris, albeit murdered, sang his song. The poignancy was gut wrenching.
Declan captured the portrayal of the Aboriginal youth in Alice Springs in movement, silence and exclusion and, in the nurture of embryonic sacredness. The youth was outside of the court process and silent. Yet he was the apprehended. The court process was all about him. His lawyer did all the talking for him and the judge did all the cruel, dehumanising condemnation. The psychologist asked him why he left the secure setting and Chris became angry with the questioning. The psychologist asked Chris and what made him angry and Chris said he was bullied. Was he bullied by the system and its processes?
Chris wanted to be left alone to sing his songs. He wanted to become a rapper.
Just like Kumenjay Walker wanted to stay on country and not return to custody but he died in the process of arrest.
The lawyer was helpless. He asked Chris to come to court and not make a ‘mess’ of the justice process. The abject, cajoling plea of the lawyer conveyed that he knew there was a much bigger mess he denied. He decided he was leaving after the death of Chris. He could not bear to stay.
I spent February this year talking to the youth involved in our program Shields For Living Tools For Life, a dual cultural and therapeutic program taking high risk youth on country. Declan gave representation to the plight of these youth and the story was told by Chris as narrator. In the portrayal, Chris depicted anyone of these youth. He depicted the projected world of badness by the Whitefellah into the Aboriginal youth via the judge and prison guard and of the justice system that safely locks up the projected badness.
The play is minimalist with few props. Chris is a solitary, silent character. Declan has taken us, with a searing simplicity, to the heartbreaking epicentre of the Aboriginal youth crisis.
‘I don’t want to live no more’.