Skip to main content

The Fox and the Freedom Fighters

Performance Space present, THE FOX AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS, co-written by Alana Valentine and Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, in Bay 20, at Carriageworks, Redfern. 13-22 November.

THE FOX AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS is a new Australian work, co-written by Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor and Alana Valentine.

Charles “Chicka” Dixon was a leading Indigenous activist. Born in 1928, his role as activist began to find focus during the preparation of the 1967 Australia Referendum, that amended the constitution to include Aboriginal people in the census and allow the Commonwealth to create laws for them; and, among much else, in 1970, he organised the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern; he was a co-founder of the Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972; travelled with an Indigenous delegation to China; was of interest to the authorities at ASIO. I knew him as an occasional guest at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, when he was invited by John Clark, the then Director of the Institution, to meet (and educate) the young artists of the future. He was always an inspirational talker, robust in sprit and knock-em-out frankness. I learnt never to miss the opportunity to meet and hear him. He passed in 2010. His career to fight for basic human rights and justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People is truly awesome, in the proper sense of that word, or, as his people, today, might say “truly deadly.”

Two members of Mr Dixon’s family, Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, daughter, and granddaughter, Nadeena Dixon, in 2012, having gathered a mountainous collection of research material about their hero-figure, their elder, their father, grandfather, began searching for a way to organise a performance piece to celebrate Chicka’s contribution to Indigenous history, Australian history. They were joined in that process, in Track 8, Carriageworks, by the International prizewinning playwright, Alana Valentine (the latest prize being the 2014, BBC International Radio Writing Competition, for THE RAVEN) who while working with them asked, “What were you doing while Chicka was changing the world?”

That, became the shaping catalyst to THE FOX AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS. They, at first, did not believe that anyone would be interested in the family’s story, but through the progressive support workshops at Performance Space, discovered, that the mingling of Chicka’s achievements, with their own, was something that the audience wanted to hear, as it is noted in the program, that

…people did want to hear our version, did want to understand what the costs, what the experience, what the sacrifices were for the family of (this) in-demand social activist. … (So) THE FOX AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS is the story of an inestimably great man, a visionary hero and social pioneer. (but also) We hope that the unique perspective of hearing that story from his descendants makes it shockingly real and achingly profound, a vivid insight into the human cost of the freedoms and self-determination that were so hard won.

The over-arching theme to this work can be summed up in the words of Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor:

Don’t you for a minute think that there isn’t a cost to every single moment of this fight for freedom. It doesn’t come without a cost.

Director, Liza-Mare Syron, (Brian Syron, now, there is another name that our cultural memories should recall) has staged and wrought, gently, but with true assurance, from archival film and images, and contemporary interview with the actors (Film Makers and Editors: Amanda King and Fabio Cavadini), a verbal, verbatim telling with these two artists, of the lived and remembered history of the era of Chicka Dixon’s world – all of it, ALL, not just the politically important historical parts, but the intimate, personal parts, as well. It is interwoven with song (Nadeena Dixon in transfixing voice), the experience disguised in the ambience of what, dramaturgically, appears to be a simple chat with the guests, the acknowledged audience, in their living room, home. There is much humour, sadness, nostalgia, gripping facts, pride and power in the cumulative ‘education’ that these women give the audience.

The naive community-theatrical skills of the performers is buoyed by the sheer greatness of their authenticity. One is drawn into a mesmeric trance of understanding, compassion and admiration of their courage to have lived their lives, and now to, simply, tell the unadorned truth of the human cost that activism for change can demand, and at the same time, respecting and mightily honouring their father – a figure, who, contemporaneously is barely remembered in the consciousness of our Australian identity – in 1983, after all, Charles “Chicka” Dixon was named the first Aboriginal of the Year. Who remembers, except the family? One day, maybe, he may be celebrated in memory within our historical context as interestingly, and as significant, important, as say, Gandi is to his people, as Martin Luther King is to his. THE FOX AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS is a work from our Indigenous sisters that catches one agape, at its pure honesty and unadorned truths. One is truly moved and enhanced.

THE FOX ANDTHE FREEDOM FIGHTERS, should be seen around the country, perhaps, around the world. One hopes that the major gatekeepers of our Theatre culture have it in its support and must present lists. Hope that the Balnaves Foundation have absorbed this play and production. Hope that the theatre artist, speech maker, essay writer and Indigenous culture champion, Wesley Enoch, made the effort to see this work, especially after his disappointing, but well meaning production, BLACK DIGGERS, that is doing the Festival circuit in Australia. Much thanks to the women artists who have created this work: Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, Nadeena Dixon, Alana Valentine, and Liza-Mare Syron. Support from Neil Simpson (Lighting), Phil Downing (Composer and Sound Design) and co-Designers, Nadeena Dixon and Clare Britton. Performance Space, too, take a bow.

This is a small but beautifully naked work of truths.