Weaving together ancient and contemporary storytelling, MUDSKIPPER: A New Mythology comes to the stage bringing stories of family, Country and home.

A co-commission between Queensland Theatre and Playwright Australia (PWA), MUDSKIPPER is one of seven works created as part of PWA’s Ignition program 2020.

Ignition aims to diversify Australian playwriting by commissioning and supporting the development of major works. This year each creative received a total investment of $25,000 into their process and work.

A love story with roots in the Torres Strait’s Saibai Island, MUDSKIPPER tells the story of a husband and wife living in a world 60 days out from totally depleted water reserves.

MUDSKIPPER is the product of collaboration between Saibai Island Elder and respected cultural man, Walter Waia, and his nephew John Harvey.

Harvey himself is an acclaimed storyteller, producing award-winning plays such as Heart is a Wasteland and Black Ties. He is also founder of independent Indigenous production company Brown Cabs.

“The story really is about home and longing for home. For Uncle Walter, he grew up on Saibai and moved away at an early age and lived away from the island most of his life,” said Harvey.

“For me, I grew up down south in Southern Queensland, and I guess we all have a want and a longing for home.”

“A lot of Indigenous people don’t live on their ancestral homelands, so I guess we all have that desire to be connected with home.”

“One of the key things for me was being able to work with Walter Waia, he is an Uncle of mine from Saibai Island,” said Harvey.

“It’s felt amazing, it has been a really enjoyable process. He is an incredible storyteller in his own right; a writer, a playwright, a poet, a songwriter, a choreographer—he has many talents, he is more than a triple threat.”

MUDSKIPPER connects the spiritual and contemporary worlds to reflect the current climate we live in.

“As artists, we reflect on the world and we reflect on our own stories. Through our artwork we try to find meaning and bring meaning to things and so, I think for us, we want audiences to come into this world and connect with the story and the characters that we have,” said Harvey.

“There is a different view of seeing the world and being in the world and I think particularly now … people are questioning how they are in the world as human beings and how we relate to each other, and how we relate to where we are living and the Country we are on … this work explores those kinds of themes as well.

“We’re trying to bring people in to a deeper understanding of things that they might not have experienced, or that they might get glimpses of through media … we want to immerse people and we know that we have people’s attention for a period of time to really get them to open their spirits, hearts and minds to the story that we are telling.”

Queensland Theatre and PWA have worked on MUDSKIPPER with Harvey’s production company Brown Cabs.

“What was important for me was that we still keep control of the process as Indigenous storytellers,” said Harvey.

“Processes are as important as the outcome. We are at a time where we need to think about what those relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous companies are around telling our stories.”

By Rachael Knowles