Neecy has organised to have three generations of her family to meet at their traditional family camping spot for a secret occasion. Choosing to ignore their personal crises for the weekend, the women wear away the shine of happy quality time very quickly. The intrusion of a controversial photographer, employed to document the event by Neecy, doesn’t help to stabilise rocky communication.
It isn’t unusual for the women to be meeting here and they swap plenty of stories about past trips with relatives who have since passed but who taught them their shared history and traditional skills, like basket weaving, when they were girls. This time Neecy (Roxanne McDonald) and Carol (Tasma Walton) have done a bit of conspiring with Jadah (Tuuli Narkle) to make this a commemorative trip. It doesn’t take long for the secrets and bickering between sisters Wanda (Angeline Penrith) and Margie (Dalara Williams) and the rebellious actions of niece Chantelle (Dubs Yunupingu) to derail and nearly ruin Neecy’s plans.
Andrea James’s script is about truth and honesty, recognition and celebration, and the deep power within Indigenous women as caretakers of their community and ancestral stories. It offers a glimpse into the complicated and often painful relationships between these Yorta Yorta women as sisters, nieces, aunts, (grand)daughters, and mothers but also the complexities of identity within culture and as individuals. Each of these women brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this traditional meeting place and their mission to do right by their ancestors and their future generations is a humbling story about family.
Direction from Anthea Williams delicately maintains the balance between the minutiae of these women’s childhood squabbles and jealousies and the momentous history that their lives contribute to. By representing each aspect honestly, the play reaches an equilibrium that seems to stretch to the horizon, pushing away the threats of bureaucratic institutions, useless partners, and difficulties of identity from the heart of these women’s connection. Centred on the set design by Isabel Hudson, the Belvoir stage seems to organically embody the hazy horizon, ridged landscape, and the campfire providing warmth and sustenance.
Individually, the woman in this family are approaching crisis. Carol is struggling to represent her culture and community within a colonial museum institution, Wanda is trying to learn to value herself and leave the abusive men she keeps loving, Margie is slowly coming out to her wider family and community, Jadah is using her art to find herself between the labels of white and blak, and Chantelle is the youngest, imbibing the mistakes of her mother and aunts while finding her footing as a blak woman. Each is played with a fierce compassion. McDonald is strong as the exasperated self-appointed camp leader especially against the wild flightiness of Yunupingu’s bored and selfish teenager. Narkle as Jadah is placed in a particularly difficult position as an unknown cousin assumed-white and forced to straddle the gulf between her family and her assigned identity.
In many ways the resentment, secrets, memories, and love are present like this in all families and similarly explode at family gatherings around the country but James and Williams use this production to celebrate the unique experience of Indigenous women who carry the trauma of the past and hope for the future into all relationships. In Winyanboga Yurringa, Yorta Yorta language for “women of the sun”, these six women are making opportunities for themselves to love, heal, forgive, and grow together.
Winyanboga Yurringa is running at Belvoir’s Upstairs Theatre from May 4th – 26th