Ningali Lawford

Article Works Merits
crossroads:
Aborigines, multi-culturalism
genre(subgenre):
Performing Arts (cabaret, comedy, storytelling)
region:
Australia and New Zealand
country/territory:
Australia
city:
Freemantle
created on:
May 16, 2003
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since September 25, 2008. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Ningali Lawford
Ningali Lawford

Article

Ningali Lawford is one of Australia´s most admired aboriginal performers. In her shows she uses both traditional and modern song and dance as well as traditional storytelling and modern slapstick comedy to show the culture of the first Australians and the problems of co-existence in Australia´s multicultural society. With a lot of humour she makes her audience reconsider its prejudices.
In her attractive show Ningali, which was to be seen in 1995 in the House of World cultures in Berlin, the Australian performer Ningali Lawford told her life-story. Born under a tree at the edge of the great sandy waste in Northwest Australia, Ningali grew up in one of the most lonely areas in the world. Her parents lived in the aboriginal community Wangkatjunka (Christmas Creek Station), where her father earned a modest wage as a worker on a ranch. ‘We were the last folk the colonialists came to, so our language and our culture were largely intact,’ she said.
At the age of 13, she was sent 2500 km to a boarding-school in Perth, the capital of western Austrailia. The number of whites she had seen till then could be numbered on the fingers of one hand. At 16 she applied, mainly as a joke, for an exchange grant for the USA. Asked to name her preferred destination, she named Hollywood, the only American place she had heard of. She was not invited to Hollywood but rather to Alaska, which was a real adventure for a girl whose language does not have a word for snow.

After coming home from Alaska Ningali Lawford worked briefly in a shop in Fitzroy Crossing near her old home. In 1988 she went to Sidney to join the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre. In 1989 in western Australia the first Aborigine musical Bran Nue Dae appeared with Ningali in the main role. The production toured Australia, was a milestone in its cultural and theatrical history and brought Ningali to the attention of a wide public.

Ningali’s experiences with Indians and Eskimos in Alaska made her aware that the situation of the Australian Aborigines is not unique in the world and also that ‘moaning about the past’ is not a way to change the future, so she tirelessly uses all her artistic talent to change the image of Aborigines in the eyes of Australians.

‘I was tired of having the Australian Aborigines thought of as being a big group. There are many different aborigine nations with their own dissimilar traditions and customs,’ says Ningali Lawford as regards her work Solid, which she staged in 1999 together with Kelton Pell and which deals with the tensions and differences between life in the bush and in towns, between north and south, and between traditional and modern aboriginal cultures.

Carol, the main character, is a successful civil servant on her way home to her settlement in the Kimberleys, where she wants to take part in her grandfather’s burial. She has been brought up traditionally and has a strong feeling for her language, culture and customs. She happens to meet Graham (Kelton Pell), a ‘city blackfella’ from Noongar (Perth), who is trying to flee from his problems into alcohol and drugs.

In the comedy show Black and Tran (2000), Ningali Lawford and Hung Lee produced a new variation on the same theme. An Aborigine and a Vietnamese happen to meet in a bar. At first glance they have nothing in common, but they lead the audience on a voyage of discovery round the Australian identity. Whereas the Aborigine at first takes the Vietnamese to be an Asian tourist, the Vietnamese takes the Aborigine to be an African woman.

In the course of the show the viewer gets to know that they are both Australians, the Aborigine being the descendent of folk who have been living in Australia for 40 000 years, and the Asian having spent most of his life in Australia after the flight of his parents from Vietnam. Their cultural backgrounds are vastly different but they are both looked down on by white settlers and forced to live as outsiders.

The tough history of the ‘lost generation’ is another theme close to Ningali Lawford’s heart. Her work Aliwa is set in Australia in the 1930s and about the Davies family, whose tale is widely known. At that time the Australian government snatched Aborigine children from their parents and sent them to grow up in white families. To escape the ‘protectors of Aborigines’, the Davis family moved on from town to town, facing ignorance, prejudice, patronising meddling and plain stupidity. Kept together by the love and strong will of Mum Davies, the family showed surprising resilience.

Besides working for the theatre, Ningali Lawford holds workshops within the framework of health projects, was the speaker of the Second National Youth Reconciliation Convention, and the ‘ambassador’ during so-called Harmony Day, which celebrates multicultural Australia once a year. She is working on a Multicultural Audience Development project, and is a guest at nearly all festivals celebrating the culture of the Aborigines and Torres Straits Islanders and bringing it to a wider public.


Events at the HKW:
Friday, 21st July - Sunday 23rd July, 1995
Ningali
Deck Chair Theatre, Freemantle, with Ningali Lawford
Organiser: House of World Cultures


Author: Beate Mielemeier

Works

You Always Hurt the Ones You Love

Film / TV,
2007

Home Is Where the Past Is

Film / TV,
2007
TV episode

The Circuit

Film / TV,
2007
2 episodes

The Drover´s Boy

Film / TV,
2003

Heartlands

Film / TV,
2003

The Games

Film / TV,
2003

River of Dreams

Film / TV,
2003

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Film / TV,
2002

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Film / TV,
2002

Aliwa

Production / Performance,
2001
Directed by Ningali Lawford

Black and Tran

Production / Performance,
2000
Directed by Ningali Lawford and Hung Le

Solid

Production / Performance,
1999
Directed: Ningali Lawford and Kelton Pell

Merits

1995 1st Prize of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
1996 the Green Room Award in Melbourne in the category Best Actress