Sitting under a tree on the foreshore of Thursday Island, Ahdi Dimple Bani tells me his story. He is a quiet but welcoming man with sparkling eyes. We speak of time. How it runs. Its ebb and flow. He tells me the story of his culture. About the youth. About the absence of culture. “It’s like the tide,” he says. “If there is no rock to hold onto when the tide changes, you will be washed away. You will not know your identity. You will not be strong. You will be swept away.” These words echo in my ears as Justin Harrison (the Sound and Projection Designer) and I watch the island disappear from our ferry to Horn Island to catch our plane to Cairns and then on to Brisbane.
Time becomes very important because this is the last moment Justin and I see Dimple Bani, the eighth Chief of Wagadagam in European recorded history. Dimple passes away during the making of the play you are about to see. His son, Jimi Bani, the charismatic star of this piece, is now one of the holders of the kwod of Wagadagam culture. But lucky for Australia he is not alone. He is joined on stage by some of his family. They are the custodians of Wagadagam and by making and watching this production so are you and I.
What you are about to see is a unique theatrical experience. When I think deeply about the last four years of work I feel truly blessed to have been given the trust and love of the people you see before you. And I cannot really recall a play like My Name is Jimi. Sure there are works it can be related to, but what you see on stage is only a sliver of what is happening culturally within this family.
There are four generations on stage and three languages spoken. Sometimes when rehearsal pauses, out of the corner of my eye I see 15-year-old Dmitri Bani put his iPhone down and learn dance or language from his uncles, his grandmother or great-grandmother. I watch the tangible passing of language and culture from several generations to another. I watch this boy, who will soon be a man, grapple with Instagram and cultural lore at the same time. Like the two things were made to be together. As if all along the tide needed a conduit.
Jimi Bani, in my opinion, is one of the greatest actors to walk an Australian stage. He is a master storyteller with a heart as big as his laugh. I consider him a great friend and colleague. He will soon be the ninth Chief of Wagadagam. This is a huge and daunting role. But he is not alone. He has his Grandmothers, Mother, Uncles, Aunties, Brothers, Children and Us. You and I are now witness to the strength of Wagadagam. We dedicate this performance to the memory of Adhi Dimple Bani and those that came before.
Koeyma Esso (Many Thanks)
My Name is Jimi is playing at Belvoir 5-21 January. For more information or to purchase tickets, go here.