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Canberra Today 16°/20° | Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Arts / The other side of Macq’s massacre

Beau Dean Riley Smith and Kaine Sultan-Babij in "Macq". Photo by Edward Mulvihill
Beau Dean Riley Smith and Kaine Sultan-Babij in “Macq”. Photo by Edward Mulvihill
KNOWN to schoolchildren as the “Father of Australia”, the lustre on the name of Governor Lachlan Macquarie has been tarnished of late.

He was the mastermind of government departments, integrator of freed convicts into the community and initiator of significant buildings.

But now we know that he was also the author 100 years ago, in April 1816, of the Appin Massacre, when at least 14 Aboriginal men, women and children were shot and/or driven over the Cataract Gorge south of Sydney.

Choreographer Jasmin Sheppard… “I do have a tiny bit of a soft spot for Macquarie and it comes from the fact that he seems a little bit all over the shop.”
Choreographer Jasmin Sheppard… “I do have a tiny bit of a soft spot for Macquarie and it comes from the fact that he seems a little bit all over the shop.”

Now, as part of a triple-bill, “Our Land People Stories”, Bangarra Dance Theatre takes up the story in “Macq”, choreographed by Jasmin Sheppard.

Sheppard, who will also be dancing in each of the three works, is no stranger to Australian history and dance, having performed the title role in Bangarra’s “Patyegarang” in 2014.

In 2013, artistic director Stephen Page invited female members of the company to take part in “Dance Clan 3”, a studio season of original choreographic works and the result was “Macq”, a revisionist look at the famous governor.

“Stephen was very excited by my story and how I told it, so he asked me to remount it as a 27-minute piece in 2016,” Sheppard tells “CityNews”. She hopes he’ll give her another such chance in the future.

“The image of Lachlan Macquarie is different nowadays,” Sheppard says.

“This is precisely what I wanted to capture. I’d heard about the Appin Massacre when I lived in Liverpool about 10 years ago and I thought: ‘This is interesting’.

“I do feel it’s the same with a lot of Australian history, we hear one side of the story, but not the other side.”

True enough. The “Australian Dictionary of Biography” dismisses the event with the words: “When the natives showed signs of ungrateful hostility, he organised a military drive to chasten them.” But an eight-year-old boy witnessed the event and three skulls from the massacre have been repatriated to the National Museum of Australia.

“The voice of the Dharawal people must be heard,” Sheppard says.

“Don’t we all deserve to know the truth?

“I don’t think Macquarie was an evil person… I saw him as someone caught in the middle, someone who really only acted out of his limited view of what a perfect society would look like.

“I do have a tiny bit of a soft spot for Macquarie and it comes from the fact that he seems a little bit all over the shop.”

Former Canberra dancer Daniel Riley plays the governor.

“We talked about the complexity of his character and the breakdown in communication between white and black,” says Sheppard.

“We really wanted to show the grappling of the two worlds.”

Costume designer Jennifer Irwin supported the theme with traditional feathers and furs for the Aboriginal people and contrasting uniforms for the officers, including Macquarie.

It moves and impresses Sheppard that, of about 30,000 Dharawal people, only 130 remained, “and yet 100 years later, they’re still here and still surviving – isn’t it a miracle?”

Bangarra’s “Our Land People Stories”, Canberra Theatre, July 28-30. Bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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