Woollarawarre Bennelong holds a unique place in Australian history. The best-known Aboriginal figure in the early decades of colonial settlement, he was one of the first indigenous Australians to be introduced to European ways. Forging a friendship with Governor Arthur Phillip, he was taken to London and introduced to society.
Not only did he learn to speak English quickly, but he penned the first known text in English by an Aboriginal person – a letter written to Governor Phillips’ wife, thanking her for caring for him while he was overseas. Yet, says Stephen Page wryly, if you google “Bennelong”, the first thing that comes up is the Bennelong Restaurant at the Sydney Opera House: “We don’t even have a strong sense of his legacy.”
As Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, Page is doing his bit to address that with a new dance work about the mercurial man who gave his name to Bennelong Point on which the Sydney Opera House stands.
Choreographed by Page to a new score by Steve Francis – which includes the rekindling of a song that Bennelong is known to have sung in London – Bennelong...