Review: Matriarch at the Tandanya Theatre

By Yona Eagle


Matriarch is a one woman show by Sandy Greenwood who first shares with us that she is a white skinned indigenous woman from Gumbaynggirr and through this show is paying tribute to her mother grandmother & great grandmother and over 100 years of history. Appropriately, this is show is performed at the Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute and is an important piece in reminding us of the history of First Nations and connection to this land.


Dressed in black leotard she embodies these women, her family, by changing her dress, her voice her language & demeanour. However, although able to successfully move between these women, we are reminded of her own plight as she describes herself as in no mans land being uncomfortable having a black heart in a white skin.


We meet her along a river bed of country and the beautiful music of bush sounds by Minjarrah Jarrett.


She tells of her grandmother known as Bub, who was one of the ‘lucky ones’ who were picked out by the missionaries to become a domestic in a white household and later was chosen to help the white teachers with the black kids. However none of this helped her maintain custody of her 14 children. She tells of her mother and describes her as being shy as a child and the horror she felt when taken to hospital to be shaved to prevent lice. Although I sometimes found the details of her stories confusing, this did not detract from the story.


Sandy is a consummate storyteller as well as a dancer and even raps…She tells us that often people question her black origins due to her white skin…but that she suffers a generational trauma that defies the tone of her skin. As she exposes us further to what the previous generations have endured, we immediately understand.


The show is not always coherent in language or order , which adds to portray the confusion her elders must have experienced at the hand of the white man. She describes what being the descendant from the Stolen Generation has meant – her grandmother had 14 children removed from her care for the sole reason that she was a single mother after her husband absconded. In turn, Sandy then speaks of her experience of being the child of a single mother. Her scream of heart ache in the scene of removal of her children portrays this trauma without a poker word.


If this wasn’t perfect writing by Sandy Greenwood, it’s strong message still came through poignantly.



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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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