Whitefella Yella Tree

Whitefella Yella Tree
By Dylan Van Den Berg. Griffin Theatre Company. SBW Stables Theatre. Aug 19 – Sep 23, 2022.

Two Aboriginal boys regularly meet in the bush to relay information about the new white settlers to their different mobs.  It’s early 1800’s Australia, but they dress and talk like any kids today as they compete, strut and banter with each other.  

Soon, as teenagers they fall madly in love.

Apparently, this is all cool with their elders.  Until, Neddy turns warrior and infiltrates the white camp, and then returns to the waiting Ty talking of Christian shame and the evils of homosexuality.  An idyllic Eden is receding – homophobia has arrived along with smallpox and murder.

Guy Simon (Neddy) and Callan Purcell (Ty) are empathetic as sweet innocent teenagers, with Simon adding considerable wit and polish. Yet their constant frenzy overrides any possible quieter moments of reflection and cultural revelation, as the ever-booming threats of Steve Toulmin’s score predictably tuns to thunder.

Dylan Van Den Berg has written a good novel drama but skipped the opportunity to reveal more about these young Aboriginal men, their pre-settlement culture, and importantly, how queer love was treated.

This romantic agit prop tale was motivated, he says, by Warren Mundine’s boorish suggestion a decade ago that homosexuality was never part of traditional Aboriginal culture. Unlikely, but the issue remains a mystery.

If you take the “arrival” of homophobia as just a metaphor for other crimes of invasion, Berg’s play still has charm. It’s co-directed by Amy Sole and Griffin’s AD Declan Greene on Mason Browne’s evocative set, nicely bordered with waves of mountains in profile and centred on that yella (lemon) tree. 

Martin Portus

Photographer: Brett Boardman


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