Tribunal is presided over by Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grosvenor – a Darug/Yuin elder and the daughter of late Aboriginal activist Dr. Charles Chika Dixon – creating a real-time tribunal which hears stories of Iraqi/Afghani refugees that have come through the off-shore processing system, as well as conveying the experiences of the human rights lawyers and refugee advocates that seek to help them. Juxtaposing first-person narratives, phone calls, immigration interviews, and photos from the Nauru detention facility, the work presents an array of interwoven humanitarian and systemic failures and inconsistencies that have culminated in ‘Guantanamo’-like conditions for those unfortunate few that have sought asylum in Australia.
The work has been developed and performed by PYT (Powerhouse Youth Theatre) under the direction of Karen Therese, bringing together performers, human rights lawyers, refugee advocates, asylum-seekers and refugees, and Aboriginal elders. The ambition of this action, and its long-term potential in Australian theatre is an exciting prospect.
Avoiding the hyperbole of the mainstream media, Tribunal has sought to tell these true stories with integrity and authenticity, touching upon more traumatic events with a respectful restraint, rather than indulging in shock and outrage, whilst sourcing and verifying each story and fact presented across its duration. In many ways, the work acts as a living newsreel in an era where the public has developed a survivalist-sense of dissonance around the increasing atrocities being reported.
A distinguishing feature of the work is its reference to the parallels between the Australian Government’s current treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and the historical treatment of Aboriginal’s in Australia. As Aunty Rhonda recounts the plights of her father and his generation of social activists, and reflects upon the political rhetoric that continues to perpetuate discriminatory and exclusionary tactics towards Aboriginal people, the audience is introduced to an otherwise hidden but definite trajectory in Australian politics and the persistent narratives of colonialist discourse. It is these rich resources of historical, factual and personal narratives that bring a sense of meaning and weight to the performance of Tribunal.
At times, there is a meandering dialogue and seemingly abrupt shift in tone, suggesting that further consolidation of the work is necessary in order for it to reach its greatest potential with a mainstream audience.
Nevertheless, many that had crowded the foyer at Arts House that night were no doubt there to hear stories that were true, and not just well-performed tales. In that sense, the use of theatre as a medium of urgent social and political discourse, as driven by the community and for the community, is what is most exciting about works such as Tribunal. This is particularly so where those spaces are not otherwise presently available in civil society.
There are shows that aim to provide immaculate and refined theatre performance, and those that seek to present what needs to be presented, driven more by urgency than perfection. Tribunal is a show that most honourably falls into the latter, pushing forth on the difficult quest of using community-based art as a medium for societal awareness and change.
Concept & Lead Artist:
Concept & Human Rights Lawyer:
Creative Collaborators/ Text/Performers:
Rhonda Grovenor Dixon, Mahdi Mohammadi, Karen Therese, Paul Dwyer, Katie Green, Jawad Yaqoubi plus guest speakers
Province Studio (Laura Pike and Anne Louise Dadek)