The People Speak

It’s a moment of irony, and a moment of theatre, when Dina Panozzo (Packed to the Rafters) reads Pauline Hanson’s Maiden Speech from Federal Parliament.

I and most Australians want our immigration policy radically reviewed and that of multiculturalism abolished. I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40 % of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.

Panozzo is Italian-Australian, yet she gives the speech on banning Asian immigrants more fire and brimstone than the nervous Hanson mustered in the near-empty Parliament House in 1996.

If there was any applause for Panozzo’s performance by the studio audience at Carriageworks, then it was cut from the final edit. I suspect the crowd was torn between an actor turning it on, and the offensive words of her script.

The People Speak sees history collide with theatre as actors bring to life some of our most remarkable speeches. A cavalcade of actors assembled at Carriageworks in Redfern in July to perform and recite words from our past.

Narrator Thomas Keneally, the first to enter a solitary space before a theatre audience, tells us that the words won’t come from our greatest Prime Ministers, but from those on the sidelines. Rebels, visionaries and protesters. Not all of them (presumably Hanson) will be celebrated, but they help to tell us who we are for better or worse. And I guess we learn from history after all.

Based on the 2009 format by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris Moore and Howard Zinn, this production by WTFN boasts some of our finest actors: Jack Thompson, David Wenham, Chris Haywood, Alex Dimitriades, Dan Wyllie, Rob Carlton, Sophie Lowe.

John Jarratt’s speech as Chris Lambert, a father who lost his son in war in Afghanistan in 2012 is deeply affecting.

Christine Anu relives the words of Mary Lee, who campaigned for the right for women to vote in 1890.

Claudia Karvan reads from Germaine Greer’s 1970 book The Female Eunuch, as part of women’s liberation.

Hazem Shammas gives a powerful performance from the memoir of Najaf Mazari, an Afghani refugee seeking a new life in Australia.

Indira Naidoo relives Charlie Teo’s Australia Day Address, calling for tolerance in 2012.

Others appear in video performance: Rebecca Gibney, Ryan Kwanten, Sam Worthington, and US actor Hal Holbrook speaks about the Eureka Stockade in words by Mark Twain.

For the television production archival footage is heavily used, together with Thomas Keneally’s narration. You’ll see the Bicentennial, protests against Vietnam and the Iraq War, Reconciliation, Cronulla Riots, Mardi Gras and the Union Movement.

Rather than follow a chronological narrative, the performance is thematically linked. It shifts from the disobedience of Ned Kelly to that of union leader Jack Mundey in 1972 (Ryan Kwanten) to the Oz magazine trial of Richard Neville in 1971 (Alex Dimitriades) and gay activist Rodney Croome (Matilda Brown) speaking out for equal rights for same sex marriage.

Words made indelible by men are sometimes read by women. Indigenous actors sometimes read the words of non-Indigenous Australians.

There are also musical performances by Tex Perkins, Julia Stone, Christine Anu and Jack Thompson on a harmonica -does it get any more Australian than this?

It’s hard to ignore the common themes of Indigenous Australians, British colonialism and the classes rising up to fight for justice within an Australian democracy.

Directed by Phillip Tanner with Sally Warhaft as Writer and Researcher, The People Speak is a stirring, comprehensive time capsule of who we are.

The People Speak premieres 7.30pm Sunday, December 2nd on the History Channel.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.