NGARNGK; Giver of Life

Reviewed by: Kamarra Bell-Wykes

NGARNGK; Giver of Life written and directed by creative force NazAree Dickerson (Nyoongar/Yamatji/Burmese) and is the story of Missy, Sally and Cherie Tannin three generations of Nyoongar women who’ve survived a brutal history of systematic child removal by the West-Australian Government. When we meet the women we learn that another tragic injustice has just occurred, Missy’s newborn RJ has been removed by the Department of Children Services and she must prepare a case for the upcoming hearing. Through a series of flashbacks testifying to the women’s stories and strength we learn their history overcoming a plethora of societal obstacles that many Australian’s will never face. Despite it all the women are now reunited, reclaiming sovereignty over their rights as mothers. Missy, daughter of Sally and granddaughter of Cherie has witnessed the damage and heartbreak her mother and grandmother have experienced at the hands of the white system and so chooses to bypass the hospital system, a site of ongoing trauma for Aboriginal women Australia-wide.

Armed with the cultural knowledge of Nyoongar midwifery which birthed generations of safe, healthy, happy babies for thousands of years pre-Colonisation, Missy plans a traditional Nyoongar birthing ceremony at the local sacred birthing ground in the heart of Perth. As the Department cracks down, attempting to intervene on Missy’s birth plans she draws on the strength and fight of her ancestors, refusing to abandon her cultural practices despite their growing threats. What ensues is a fierce and moving demonstration of motherhood and the choices Aboriginal women must make to protect their cultural identity and practices. Just another demonstration of the atrocity and ongoing acts of cultural genocide by the Australian Government against its First People.

Performed by Kristel Kickett (Missy), Denise Kickett (Cherie) and Carissa Lee (Sally) this is a heart-warming and emotional narrative that every Aboriginal person in this country has a direction connection to. Watching it on Mother’s Day surrounded by Aboriginal women, mothers and our children a stark reminder of how precarious our relationships are. Relationships that for most are sacred and protected. Relationship that for most will never be threatened by a broken, corrupt welfare system relentlessly ripping our families and communities apart. Some of us wept quietly as we remembered the hundreds of thousands children stolen, the hundreds and thousands of mothers left with empty arms and broken hearts.

NazAree’s personal connection to the narrative makes this work even more meaningful and her writing is insightful and impacting, her simple direction cutting through hundreds of years of forced child removal. A powerful reminder that Aboriginal women always have and always will be NGARNGK; Giver of life. NazAree’s cracking Nyoongar humour provides welcome relief from the tension and heartache through her hilariously honest portrayal of pregnancy and motherhood.

The actors give a delightful and gratifying performance maintaining a balance of comedy and raw integrity that only performers with lived experience can. Some things can’t be faked. A particular highlight is seeing mother and daughter Kristel and Denise Kickett playing granddaughter and grandmother, their family chemistry undeniable. Denise (who also provided NGARNGK’s cultural and language consultancy ) is an absolute delight to watch in her theatre debut, handling character transformations, monologues and slap-stick comedy like a consummate professional. Kristel Kickett of The Merindas’ fame is a compelling presence, her mix of beauty, strength, cheek and grace make her talent undeniable. Carissa Lee “the white sheep” of the family holds her own amongst this powerful duo, delivering a quiet twist to her quirky role.

Ultimately this play is a joyous celebration of the strength of Nyoongar women, written, directed and performed by Nyoongar women. It smashes through the stereotypes reminding us all of what Aboriginal women have overcome and continue to fight against. It is a call to wider-Australia to recognise its ugly history and take a stand to ensure it doesn’t become the future for more generations of Aboriginal children. NazAree Dickerson is a woman on a mission (no, not that kind) to centralise matriarchal stories front and centre on Australian stages and I pity the fool that dares stand in her way.

Writer/Director/Producer, Creative Dawn Productions: NazAree Dickerson
Producer: Candice Lorrae
Actor: Kristel Kickett
Actor: Carissa Lee
Actor, Nyoongar Language Consultant: Denice Kickett
Dramaturge: Bridget Boyle
Production Design: Bianca Pardo
Stage Manager: Lowana van Dorssen

Image credit: Darren Gill