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Published December 4, 2013

Palm Island, 2004 – Cameron Doomadge (tribal name: Mulrunji), an Aboriginal man, dies in police custody. Frustrated by the state response, members of the Palm Island community make a direct challenge to police power. The station is burned down. Eight years later, the people of Palm Island continue to demand real justice, and all the while life continues.

A theatrical documentary is a unique method of telling a story, and Beautiful One Day is a fine example of this. This intriguing and confronting play brings to life the nature of life on Palm Island. Featuring some actors who had their stage debuts, the play really hammered home the nature of the injustice that have occurred on Palm Island. The mixture of video and live performance was interesting, and it felt almost as though the audience was watching an interview more than a stage play. Although there were occasional mishaps, and there were some parts that seemed slightly lengthier than they had to be, the overall performance was certainly a strong and moving one, which should be seen by anyone with an interest in Aboriginal, specifically Palm Islander, history.

BELVOIR

The performance was divided into four parts, with a bell ringing to indicate the start of a new segment. Although the first act seemed a little whimsical and disconnected to the rest of the performance, it did help establish the history of the island and of the individuals involved. For example, each of the performers had a particular connection to Mulrunji Doomadge. The first act also highlighted the racism and injustices that existed (and presumably still exists) on Palm Island. One thing that was particularly unnerving was the fact that this current generation is not so far separated from the events that occurred in this play. People who were alive to see events which would be inconceivable now serve as a reminder that Australia was (and to an extent, still is) until recently an racist nation with a shameful history. It was well performed, and it was easy to see that to some of the performers, due to the personal nature of the performance and the reality of them, became rather emotional, although they managed to continue on and give an excellent performance.

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During the second part however, a coherent storyline or series of events began to emerge. Focusing in around a certain individual, the performers began to weave a story with characters, by cleverly using outside characters to continue to set up the environment, as well as including quotes from police transcripts. The acting was superb during this point, giving the facts humanity. The collage of stories and reports was immersive and thoroughly enjoyable, and this proceeded into the third part of the performance, although by that stage the focus had narrowed and was entirely on the Doomadge case. Another interesting aspect of the second section was the way it managed to link the general injustices and racism of the whites towards the Palm Islander inhabitants to a coherent narrative of events, focused around an individual case.

Whereas the second section had focussed mainly on the event itself and the characters involved, the third act resolved the narrative aspect of the performance. However, aside from highlighting the huge injustices experienced by the community (such as the fact that it took several years and various trials to actually condemn the man), this section of the play also examined the overall community reaction to the murder. For example, a huge part that was featured was the riot that occurred on Palm Island following the murder, in which a police station was torched. Unlike earlier parts of the play, this section made excellent use of the video screens in the background. Four of the performers recreated speeches of some of the leaders in the community, which was excellently portrayed by using slow motion footage of the actual leaders speaking. An interesting part of this section was also the way the sound and lighting crew managed to create an environment which seemed to bring the audience closer to the reality of the events that occurred, or at least the version portrayed in this documentary.

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The fourth section sort of acted as a bit of a long epilogue, concluding the stories for the people that appear throughout the performance. It also featured a speech from one member of the cast, who shed several intriguing lines about her views on what direction the Palm Island community should head. It also included interviews with several elders of the Palm Island community, most of whom are now deceased. They all had interesting stories, and had insights into the events that occurred, as well as views on how Palm Island, and Australia generally, can continue onto a path of reconciliation with the Aboriginal people. Whilst this part of the performance was certainly enjoyable, it did felt as though it could have been cut back slightly. Even though the play was not long, this section of the play did feel a little protracted. That may also be related to the rather confronting nature of this section of the performance, due to the fact that the actual people involved were speaking directly to the audience.

Overall, Beautiful One Day was an interesting performance. Documentaries are something that are not usually seen on the stage, and this one makes a strong use of various mediums to get its message across. Well acted, with a few minor slip-ups, it was made all the more touching due to the fact that most of the performers had personal connections to the events that occurred in 2004. Although various elements of the performance did seem to drag a little bit, especially in the fourth section, it was nonetheless a good performance, and highly informative. In conclusion, well worth viewing, and definitely worth researching to find out details on the injustices committed against the Palm Islanders.

Check out our interview with Rachael Maza here.

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