Once considered ‘exotic’ trophies of antiquity, the bodily remains of Indigenous men, women, and children served scientific theories of evolution and were prized objects displayed on mantelpieces. In the cover of darkness, grave robbers would pillage burial grounds, to sell Ancestral remains to the highest bidder under the guise of scientific research. Thousands were stolen and sold. Today, they are still locked away. Some are displayed in private homes, while others are hidden deep within the bowels of museums and universities. Now is the time to bring them back to Country.
Torres Strait Islander playwright John Harvey (Heart is a Wasteland) recounts a dark history of Australia in The Return, inspired by Yorta Yorta man Jason Tamiru’s experiences as a repatriation worker. Three narratives interweave—a repatriation officer, a museum curator, and a bone collector—uncovering a macabre history of false justifications in an epic tale spanning 250 years.
In his Malthouse directorial debut, Jason Tamiru joins forces with Malthouse Theatre Artistic Director Matthew Lutton for a theatrical event that will give rise to how the repatriation of Ancestors can bring us closer to homecoming and healing.
Guy Simon is one of the cast’s ensemble, cycling through a variety of roles in the show.
Guy hails from Biripi Country (near Taree, NSW) and graduated from NIDA in 2010. His theatre credits include My Brilliant Career, Jasper Jones (Belvoir); Playing Beatie Bow, Grand Horizons, The Harp in the South, The Battle of Waterloo (Sydney Theatre Company); Cloudstreet, Blaque Showgirls (Malthouse Theatre); Jasper Jones (Melbourne Theatre Company); First Love is the Revolution (Griffin); Strangers In Between (Cameron Lukey Presents); The Myth Project: Twin (Melbourne Theatre Company’s NEON Festival); Black Diggers (Queensland Theatre Company); This Fella, My Memory (Moogahlin Performing Arts Inc.); I AM MAN (Browns Mart Theatre); Junction (Bakehouse Theatre); and Lucky (IPAN Productions). In 2017 Guy was awarded the Helpmann Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play for Jasper Jones (MTC).
Can you tell me about your history with performing? (background, training, inspiration etc.)
Guy: I started my training at EORA TAFE College in 2006 in stage and screen which was a year long course and in 2008, was accepted into NIDA where I trained for 3 years. Before all of this however, I never knew that I would take this career path. I always wanted to be an actor but somehow, I never thought it was available to me. So I kind of just let myself find it. And 12 years after graduating, here I am.
The Return exposes some darker moments of Australian history – as an Indigenous actor, how have you found working through the play?
Guy: Working on The Return has really widened my eyes to a fight that I knew has been going on for years but had easily been glossed over because we live in a world that moves so quickly. Upon signing onto the project, I never really thought I’d find myself being so invested. When it comes to museums and their collections, you think of Ancient things, such as Dinosaurs and broken pottery. But this story awakens you to the fact that Indigenous peoples may also be part of these collections, and were added to these collections not too long ago.
What has been the most challenging part of the process?
Guy: The most challenging part of the process is witnessing the unfolding of the story and how heavy it can get. Not only does my character in the play witness a dark truth unfold in front of his eyes, but myself as the actor, I have to witness a grim realisation that I may very well have an ancestor sitting in a box in the back room of a museum gathering dust, and dealing with the possibilities of the grim circumstances and injustices that made them arrive there.
Why is it important to tell stories like that of The Return?
Guy: The most exciting part of The Return is getting to tell this story. I get to give my people who are still in these museums around the world a voice. “They have been speaking so loudly for generations, however the only people that hear them are the community who are aware of them, and those fighting for their repatriation, while others treat them like objects”. I get the amazing privilege to work with an all indigenous cast who are all feeling just as strongly about this story and I feel so lucky to share the stage with them.
The Return is playing now as part of RISING Festival.
For tickets and more information, visit the Malthouse Theatre website.