Sunday, April 14, 2024  
1972 -1977

celebrating the 50th anniversary
of the Black Theatre and Tent Embassy

‘It had no filters’: the legacy of Australia’s
provocative National Black Theatre
| TheGuardian
Program launched 25 Aug | All about events |SSH
Redfern: Aboriginal activism in the 1970s
by Johanna Perheentupa  -  thesis  |  book
CHAPTER 4The Black Theatre: Cultural spearhead of activism
    The Redfern story 2014  
film about the Black Theatre 1972-77 featuring
Gerry & Lester BostockBryan Brown, Aileen Corpus, Max Cullen, Lillian Crombie,
Gary Foley
, Marcia Langton, Lisa & Rachel Maza, Bronwyn Penrith, Bindi Williams
Street to stage

Film available from Ronin Films | WATCH online
    181 Regent St @ Sydney Festival 2012  

181 Regent St - Black Theatre
exhibition | festival film | family day

SBS Living Black - 23rd September, 2012 - no longer online
ABC Message Stick - 12th July, 2012
- no longer online
    Links .............................updated 14/04/2017  
    ABC TV archives  

1972 June 23 THIS DAY TONIGHT 184581 [3.48 min.]

Section from play about coping with ill-treatment, actors in white masks, portrays the story of a young woman mistreated by white police, then helped by her militant sisters. Bob Maza takes off mask. Women talk about hopes that whites and press will understand the play and their message. Reporter Andre Heks



1972 July 01 THIS DAY TONIGHT. 184629 [4.25 min.]


Heavy handed tactics deplored by protesters,included prominent people, as tent taken down



1972 October 31 THIS DAY TONIGHT 598051



1972 December 02 FOUR CORNERS 168895

BLACK MOOD [col. 29 min.] Redfern & Bourke

Includes National Black Theatre in Redfern Scene from Basically black at Nimrod theatre.

White paternalism - Bindi Williams, Gary Foley, Zac Martin highlighting sense of identity and pride. ‘Blacks are up fighting ...'

Includes AMS, Moratorium sign 14 July, LAA, Freedom ride, tent embassy demolished, Alana Coorey family and home, breakfast program, black power Foley, Identity magazine Newfong, Perkins, Dixon, Reid.



1973 February 26 164802 [27.48 min.]


Film based on Black Theatre production. Aileen Corpus, Gary Foley, Zac Martin, Bob Maza, Bindi Williams

ABC wouldn't sell due to copywright restrictions - 'Non-ABC footage in this program which was used on a broadcast only basis, which restricts us from selling it commercially, and the performers in the program were also not contracted for commercial sale.'


Available from

    Into the future  
    People 1972 - 1977  
    Clips - Goori2  


© GUWANYI; Stories of the Redfern Aboriginal community.

An exhibition at the Museum of Sydney 21 December 19964 May 1997


Because of the efforts of a small but dedicated group of people who felt the need for such an enterprise there came into existence a black theatre in New South Wales. These people saw the theatre as being established for the following purpose:

·     to provide a theatre which would be able to perform the many plays that were written by young Aboriginal writers

·     to give cultural expression to both the urban and rural experience of life for Aboriginal people through a variety of mediums, and

·     to provide professional training for Aboriginal people in all aspects of theatre and media.


The Black Theatre was formed in 1972 to supply people with art forms to which they could relate. It grew out of political struggle, especially the land rights demonstrations which at the time were being organised by the Black Moratorium Committee. Those who were not political celebrities found they could become involved as actors and dancers etc. and that they could show their convictions in this way. Many had not realised the political force that the theatre represented.


The first public performance by Black Theatre was street theatre in 1972 to publicise the Black Moratorium and the Aboriginal land rights claim against Nabalco. The next performance was to lead the Aboriginal land rights demonstration in July of that year where for the first time Aboriginal people with their families came out on the streets in large numbers to support their younger people. A few days after the land rights demonstration the news came through that the Aboriginal embassy in Canberra had collapsed. It was at the re-erection of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy that the Black Theatre held its first performance.


It performed the ‘dance of the embassy’ which was a symbolic re-erection of the tent embassy but portrayed the whole history of Aboriginal / European conflict and gave powerful expression to the emotions of that event.


The embassy was a crisis point of Aboriginal legal action in Australia. When this subsided some of the activists found a new arena – the stage. A warehouse was rented in Redfern and set up as the headquarters of the Black Theatre. It was a creative hub for artists and where the public congregated socially to see plays that were written by Aboriginal playwrights and produced by Aboriginal people.


In 1973-74, The Cakeman by Bob Merritt had received enormous attention from the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Unfortunately Bob Merritt’s vision of seeing his play performed by the Black Theatre was denied as he was an inmate of Long Bay jail. Attempts were made to gain his release, however ministerial bureaucracy intervened. In 1975 the Theatre took on a new name and changed from National Black Theatre to Aboriginal Black Theatre Arts & Cultural Centre. In 1976 Here comes the nigger, by Gerry Bostock, also provoked attention. Bostock and Merritt acquired their dramatic talents from experience rather than formal education. Theatre gave urban and rural Aboriginal artists a platform and an opportunity to express their stories, attitudes, feelings and spirituality, about life and contemporary society.


The Theatre had funding problems, which escalated when the then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser announced that cultural activities involving Aboriginal people would no longer be helped by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, but would become the responsibility of the Australia Council. No funds were granted to the Council for its additional responsibilities.


The manager of the Black Theatre, Mr Lester Bostock recalled that the Theatre had applied to the Department and to the Australia Council for assistance but had received no reply. Lack of funding had become an enormous strain on the Theatre, and all involved. By the end of 1977 the Black Theatre had ceased operating. Lester Bostock reflected on the positive outcomes of the theatre. It had developed a state of mind and it was also a focus of energy, because it became part of the urban myth of Redfern, where the kooris and Murries knew their grass roots and knew their artistic endeavours. Many individuals have gone onto radio, television, dance or drama and now contemporary Aboriginal culture is recognised throughout the world.



The booklet from this exhibition is available in some second-hand book stores.

Photos Unnamed-   Bettie Fisher?  Cope St warehouse, Bob Maza, Bindi Williams, Aileen Corpus, Gary Foley , 

Program cover for Here comes the nigger, 1976, courtesy Gerry and Lester Bostock - Powerhouse Museum exhibition, 2002

    The Black Theatre site  

When Bob Maza was invited to join the Black Theatre group in 1972, a house was rented at 181 Regent Street. Workshops were held in the hall named Murawina behind a church by Wayside Chapel and the Aboriginal Women’s Action Group who operated the children’s breakfast program. (Shepherd Street Chippendale?) Some people talk about 174 Regent Street, which doesn't show on a map, and a house at 199 Regent Street, where people stayed.


From 1974 to 1977 the group ran the The Black Theatre Arts and Cultural Centre. They leased a hall / warehouse from the Methodist Church, now Uniting Church, (Wesley Central Mission) at 27-31 Cope Street.


The Black Theatre building was handed over to the Aboriginal community to a group called the Organisation for Aboriginal Unity (OAU) after its closure as a theatre. The OAU consisted of members of all of the existing organisations and individuals at that time (1975).  The OAU and the late Charles Perkins wanted the site to be developed as a cultural centre for the Redfern community, but there were never any funds to redevelop the site. It then became a squat. As there are organisations that exist now that that didn’t exist then, Wyanga (next door) being one and the Local Land Council another, the Aboriginal community established another organisation called the Redfern Aboriginal Authority. ATSIC organised the bulldozing of the site, sadly also bulldozing the white terrace next door which was the former home of Radio Redfern. It is said that a large part of their music collection was lost.


When ATSIC was abolished, the ILC (Indigenous Land Council) took over the overseeing of the site. They rebuilt it in 2008, liaising with Sol Bellear, Redfern Aboriginal Authority. Koori Radio moved in, also establishing the Gadigal Music studio. In 2010 The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples leased offices on the second floor.

    Use of the building after the theatre closed  


from pages 6-7 and 10 of The Mac Silva Centre, an oral history project of the Mac Silva Centre and Sydney Institute of Technology, by Sylvia Scott, published c1994.

The book was 'dedicated to the the memory of the people from the Black Theatre and past tenants of the Mac Silva Centre who have passed on.'

This book is available at Waterloo Public Library. LOCAL HISTORY 362.849915 MAC

'The building continued to be known as the Black Theatre. It was used by the Aboriginal community of Redfern for dances run by different Aboriginal organisations such as the Redfern All Blacks football team and Mac Silva's band Black Lace  used to play at those Saturday night dances.

The Black Theatre was alos used by the Murawina Child Care Centre for a couple of years after their building burnt down. The Aboriginal Children's Service also ran from the Black Theatre for a while. The building which was very old and very much in need of repair and constant maintenance became unsafe and there was fear that the floor upstairs could fall in. Eventually the different organisations stopped using the theatre.

The Black Theatre started being used as a squat around 1983. There were a lot of people living at the theatre. The rooms at the back of the building were used as bedrooms, and then the big hall became lined with beds. In the centre of the hall there was a fire tin and people would sit around and drink and sing.

The residents knew that the Black Theatre had been given to the Aboriginal community, and that it was Aboriginal land and they considered the place to be theirs.

The Black Theatre mob, as they are still known, are very close, they have a very special relationship and they all care for one another. Members of the Aboriginal community often used to bring food the Black Theatre and now and then do a big clean up of the place.

As noone was responsible for the care and maintenance of the Theatre it gradually became more and more derelict. The Mac Silva Centre was established in 1990 as a result of the great concern on the Aboriginal community of Redfern for the homeless aboriginal people who lived in the Black Theatre.'

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