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This play had its genesis at Belvoir in 2012 and, in many ways, has come full circle. Winyanboga Yurringa, in my Yorta Yorta language, translates as Women of the Sun and is inspired by Hyllus Maris and Sonia Borg’s fiercely political and poetically groundbreaking story that burst onto the small screen on SBS and later on ABC television in 1981. As a fledgling writer, I vividly recall watching this harrowing and powerful series on television and, realizing that this was the first time, ever, I had seen Aboriginal women portrayed on the small screen with integrity and accuracy. This, in no small part, was due to Auntie Hyllus Maris’ vital contribution to the work as a Yorta Yorta woman from the Ulupna clan; that ensured that the stories and women represented rang true. Originally seeded from an ambitious staged adaptation by a team of writers spearheaded by Auntie Hyllus’ nephew, Tony Briggs along with Wesley Enoch; this play began its life as a short play and later became a full length work with support from Playwriting Australia.

In the initial development of this epic production, each writer in the team adapted one of the four episodes of the series; while I was tasked with writing a new episode that would outlay the needs and concerns of Aboriginal women today. I interviewed many women who I knew in and around Melbourne and on Yorta Yorta Country. Real struggles with identity, lateral violence, repatriation and cultural inheritance began to form the basis of this “everywomen” play. Whilst Auntie Hyllus and Sonia centred
each generational episode around one woman; I knew that the many voices and stories I had heard needed to be represented through numerous characters; in order to celebrate and critique our multi-faceted worldviews, that are invariably influenced by the Aboriginal nations and clans that each woman I spoke to represented with warrior-like grace.

Despite great adversities and a myriad of distractions, all of the women who shared their personal stories with me, demonstrated an all-powerful connection to people and land. The stories were determined, compassionate, sometimes bitchy and often funny. All of the women I interviewed had an enormous sense of responsibility towards their mob and a relentless drive to make positive contributions to their communities and families in large and small ways. This play invites you to come sit with us and see us in all our beauty and ugliness. To laugh with us, to understand us more fully, and to appreciate the value of our land and culture. Many strong and skilled winyanboga have inspired and supported this work by telling me their stories, workshopping or performing in the play and encouraging me.

Thank you to Deidre Bux, Vicki Couzens, Felicia Dean, Caroline Martin, Greta Morgan, Hilda Stewart, Lyn Thorpe, Zeta Thomson, Laurel Robinson, Alana Valentine, Ursula Yovich, Christine Anu, Miranda Tapsell, Elaine Crombie, Angeline Penrith, Nakkiah Lui, Suzie Dee, Patricia Cornelius, Julie Pittle, Kylie Farmer, Tessa Rose, Leah Purcell, Nicole Foreshew, Lynette Narkle, Irma Woods, Rae Hodgson, Matilda Brown, Kylie Coolwell, Alexis Lane, Pamela Young, Danièle Hromek, Karen Norris, Nadeena Dixon, Alison Murphy-Oates, Liza-Mare Syron, Lily Shearer, Lou Bennett, Louise Gough, Anthea Williams, the beautiful Belvoir cast, my fiesty niece Dayna James-French and, of course, Auntie Hyllus Maris, whose poetry and words continue to inspire. Winyanboga Yurringa was first produced by Moogahlin Performing Arts at  Carriageworks on 3 August 2016, played by Matilda Brown, Kylie Coolwell, Alexis Lane, Angeline Penrith, Tessa Rose and Pamela Young and directed by me. It is rare and precious for a work to be given a remount and I thank Belvoir for trusting this play to your wonderful stage and for carefully surrounding the work with your expert team.

Andrea James

For more information and to buy tickets head to the official page of Winynaboga Yurringa.