Damion Hunter – Jandamarra

Jandamarra was a legendary indigenous warrior and lawman who led one of Australia’s longest and most successful campaigns to defend Aboriginal country. In 1897, while in his mid-twenties and having led the resistance successfully for years, he was tragically gunned down. During his short life, he created a legacy that should never be forgotten.

Following its sell-out season at Perth International Arts Festival in 2008, Bunuba Films are ‘bringing Jandamarra home’ by presenting Jandamarra, the spectacular theatre production written by playwright Steve Hawke in collaboration with the Bunuba community, and produced by Fitzroy Crossing-based company Bunuba Films, at four Kimberley venues – Broome, Kununurra, Halls Creek and the breathtaking Windjana Gorge in the heart of Bunuba Country.

Jundamarra is played by Damion Hunter who grew up in Karratha, a mining town in the North of Western Australia.

Damion studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney and continued on to star in the BBC series Supernova, guest appeared in The Bill, Farscape, All Saints, yet to be released Killing Time. Damion has worked for theatre companies in Queensland and Sydney.

The theatre season is well underway with the final performance at Windjana Gorge tonight. Bindarri caught up with Damion Hunter to ask him a few questions

What are the highlights so far and what are you looking forward to from this tour?

By playing Jandamarra, I am achieving a a decade long goal. Although I did not write this screen play I have been researching Jandamarra over the past 10 years and writing a feature screenplay. So playing the role as Jandamarra in such a special production is a major highlight of my career.

Another highlight is that we are making Australian theatre history by performing such a massive play in an isolated area. We are bringing a traditional story to traditional land.

I am looking forward to the country…. the landscapes, the people ….. and exploring, climbing, hunting and fishing in the down time.

As a Karratha “townie” that moved to the “big smoke” of Sydney, what process have you been going through to learn the traditional cultural knowledge required to play Jandamarra?

I began by listening with an open heart and mind… being respectful…. and working hard to remember what i hear and am told.

I worked on a week long extensive language course a month before rehearsal, coached by Patsy Bedford who plays Jandamarra’s Mother.

The play includes quite a heavy component of traditional language. Patsy is an amazing teacher and i can almost speak the language fluently outside of my lines. I have learnt traditional dancing and singing from Goombay who is also on the cast. I am privileged to learn sacred songs and dances.. they are quite special and only used at significant times of year.

I also have been exercising like a mad bastard… I now am the proud owner of a six pack.

You have previously discussed the difficulties for indigenous actors getting breaks in Australia compared to other countries such as the UK and USA. Can you elaborate and do you have any ideas for improvements.

It is a hard industry to get into for everyone. It is always the same actors getting the gigs.. the same goes for indigenous actors… So it is a matter of building your profile so you win roles because of skill, not identity.

Traditionally aboriginal actors get cast as “aboriginal” rather than as “character”… This has improved as my roles in Farscape and All Saints were not cast as an Aboriginal. The situation is improving… but slowly and it has a long way to go.

Who are the exciting indigenous actors, leaders or creatives we should look out for?

Emanual James Brown is an unreal actor… The best actor I have ever worked with. You never see as much commitment in a rehearsal space, immense focus and a lot of clarity in his work.. a lot of heart in what he does.

Mark Coles Smith plays my cousin in the play and in real life… he stared in Beneath Hill 60, he is great guy. He will be stealing my roles for the next ten years… LOL!

Patsy Bedford (pictured below) is a beautiful woman. I would love to see her do more acting. This production is her debut and she does it with a lot of grace.

What is the contemporary relevance of the Jandamarra story for Australia?

The fight for indigenous empowerment is still on in contemporary Australia… An example is the whole of the Broome community is against the new Price Point gas project on their traditional lands… yet the government is still going ahead… This is colonisation, the taking of land that doesn’t belong to you and damaging traditional relationships with people and land.

There is a long list of many issues that need to be be addressed for aboriginal empowerment and Jandamarra is a great indigenous hero to follow and we hope he can be respected in popular culture in same way that Ned Kelly is held in esteem….

any advice for others wanting to get into your industry?

become a doctor…. you do it for the love, not money

be creative..write your own stories , songs, elaborate and collaborate… you can’t wait till work comes find you