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Foley - Ilbijerri Theatre Company Festival of Sydney Sydney Opera House Performed by Gary Foley Directed by Rachel Maza review by Jabe Barton.

Gary Foley is a Gumbainggir man. He was born in 1950 and grew up on the NSW Central North Coast near Nambucca Heads. He is well known as an activist, actor, spokesman, orator and guiding light in the political struggle Aboriginal people have undertaken against non-indigenous Australia.

Foley’s performance/lecture is essentially a reading of Aboriginal history from Federation in 1901 to 1988, the year of “national masturbation”, aka the Bicentennial. Foley has been, amongst other things, a Senior Lecturer at the Swinburne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, and his lecturing style, with a bit of poetic licence, is passionate, warm, funny and very engaging. Peppered liberally with personal anecdotes and wry asides – warning Noel Pearson fans (!) – Foley unfolds an alternative, rarely glimpsed Aboriginal history, one I wish we’d been taught in school.

Foley’s thumbnail sketch of the beginning of the 1972 Tent Embassy on the lawns of the Old Parliament House – a happy discovery of an accidental loophole in the ACT law – stands as a priceless piece of oral history, a virtual urban myth waiting to be turned into legend.

Other highlights included a fabulous story about a young Simon Townsend interviewing the nascent Sydney Black Power movement in Sydney; the presence of the legendary Faith Bandler, leading light in the 1967 Referendum on Aboriginal Rights in the audience; and some excellent clips from a 1972 ABC gem, Basically Black, in which an all-Aboriginal cast wrote and performed some brilliant sketch comedy. You can watch it here: watch?v=6cSKGGsrWL4/.

A simple set made of archive boxes effectively “housed” Foley on stage – “an Aboriginal academic in his natural environment,” he joked, “My urban midden”.

An inspirational orator, survivor, a man with a robust sense of humour and a depth of historical knowledge that painted a living, breathing legacy of the struggle for land rights, Foley left the audience uplifted and inspired to stay engaged in this “climate of denialism”. Everything a festival show should be, and no better institution to host it than the Opera House itself, an irony not lost on Gary Foley.

Source: South Sydney Herald March 2012 -