The Black Mother

Premiere 23 November 1985
Venue Albert Park Lake, Albert Park VIC

Handspan Theatre Victoria's 150 celebrations line drawing of half circle on horizon

Handspan Theatre Victoria's 150 celebrations line drawing of barbed wire crossed in Union Jack shape in front of circle with stick figure appearing under the fence

Handspan Theatre Victoria's 150 celebrations line drawing of circle between angled flags with small figure climbing flagpole on right

The Black Mother Storyboard sketches for Albert Park Lake performance, South Melbourne
Handspan Theatre Archives, 1985

THE BLACK MOTHER was a ten-minute performance segment devised by company members for the closing ceremony of Victoria’s 150th Celebrations, held at Albert Park Lake, South Melbourne.

Handspan artists, fresh from their cultural exchange in Central Australia and the development of The Haunted, created a short performance involving images of the Australian landscape, its fencing in, and subsequent Aboriginal dislocation and white settlement.

THE BLACK MOTHER was staged on a water stage in the lake and viewed from its banks.

To the strains of Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory a large sphere rose from the water and was blocked by lines of barbed wire fencing flanked by a kangaroo and emu. The soundtrack rose in segments from Greg Sneddon's soundscape for The Haunted with its recorded song fragments from the central Australian desert and an abstract black figure appeared. In a struggle with the wire, the figure was broken apart and the circle destroyed. From the chaos a white baby appeared, lost and bewildered. Re-formed, the Black Mother scooped the child into her arms as banners in red, black and yellow were raised, cocooning them both. The soundtrack soared, and red, black and yellow balloons were released into the air amongst the waving banners.

The production was a brief vignette for the special occasion, its sentiments appreciated by the lakeside crowd.

THE BLACK MOTHER was Handspan's first venture into water performance and for the company there was some disappointment as its execution was compromised by the elements. Sunglare made the yellow circle vibrant but also made it a shadow screen that meant 'backstage' activity was difficult to conceal. Wind gusts on the water made the banners billow in unexpected directions obscuring the poignant puppetry of its final scene. The company's subsequent Bicentennial production in water, Waves of Change (1988) benefited from the experience however and the puppets and banners remained in the company's street image collection and were used and reused in street and protest performances of the following decade.

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Creative team
Devised by Performers and production crew
Storyboard Peter J.Wilson copy
Soundscape Greg Sneddon

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