A Fight For Survival

Reviewed by Rosie Kilvert

Northland’s A Fight For Survival is a political Blak cabaret shown in YIRRAMBOI. Held in the Pavillion in the Meat Market, walking into the foyer the resistance and strength was immediately apparent; the room was filled with images of the students of Northland, along with the parents, teachers, community members, and everyone involved in the true and harrowing story of Northland’s fight to stay open.

The theatre was an open space, with a large projection of a crackling fire, on the ground, a simulated burning gum leaf installation. For Kooris, this is clear symbolisation that a yarn will be told as I settle into my seat.

What I would learn is one of the greatest, largely untold stories of a fight to keep an extraordinary secondary school open. This school was a place that nurtured many disadvantaged students, in particular, Koorie students because of its unique approach to education, having Koorie programs in its core curriculum, ensuring cultural safety, and becoming a safe haven for many. Even having built a school based creche to for young parents to place their kids, enabling them to complete their education. This school was leading the way in Koorie education in Victoria. That all came to a devastating halt, when Northlands was on the closure hit list of the newly elected Kennett government. This is the story of their resistance.

The story begins in 1992, the audience is given a summary of the events leading up to the fight, in a humorous way by Blak comedy stand up Queen, Ms Shiralee Hood. She walks out in a space suit, helmet on and fist in the air, the screen lights up in ‘star wars’ style; the words appear in a large yellow font. “SCHOOL WARS” and the story unfolds.

Narrated by Ms Hood, from a 3CR radio set, the cabaret switches between real footage of news broadcasts, protests and interviews from the school and community, to live performances.

Each of the performances corresponds to the story, between musical acts, poetry and songs, which entwine the story beautifully. There were some hilarious moments, such as a grotesque Snuff puppet depicting the real life villain of the story- Jeff Kennett, and one of the most touching moments, Uncle Kutcha Edwards performing with former student Deneice Hudson, powerful moments, such as seeing Gary Foley giving what he says is “one of the best speeches he’s ever given in his life” on live television, and Koorie Youth Will Shake Spears dancing- there was so much heart in this cabaret.

The Northland mob retold this story in such a brilliant way that it deeply resonates with everyone who views it, it’s impossible not to be moved.

It was as educational as it was entertaining and engaging – one moment I found myself crying, the next I was laughing, the injustice itself was infuriating to bear, yet the strength and staunchness of the community shines through.

‘A Fight for Survival’ takes you on a journey of collective resilience that is immersive and captivating. It’s innovative storytelling will stick with me for a long time.

Thank you Northlands Mob for sharing your story.