Matriarch is a family memoir. An intimate portrait of four generations of salt water women from a matriarchal clan. It's also a tale of inter-generational trauma arising from the shameful Australian Government policies that delivered the Stolen Generations.
Sandy Greenwood was raised on Bowraville mission by her single mum, and hails from the Dunghutti, Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung nations. The very fact she wrote and performed this one woman work of theatre is testament to her strength and resilience, and that of the women who went before her.
Greenwood plays herself, her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother at different points in their lives, as well as various side characters, and intersperses the time-travelling family saga with a personal narrative and a creation story. Her characterisation is touching and performance formidable. The convoluted structure does get confusing at times though, and could be stripped back.
The power of her family story does shine through. There are heartbreaking scenes where 14 siblings are stolen from their mother, then wrenched apart to various institutions "for their own good," while their mother weepingly searches for them. There are distressing scenes where the impacts of this trauma bubble up in each generation. Then there are scenes of joy – flickers of a long-lost dream life – and flashes of hope this nightmare will be overcome.
This is an important story, one Australia needs to keep hearing, and one that needs to be told through the lens of the women who experienced it first hand. I applaud Greenwood for sharing hers with us.
Matriarch plays at Tandanya until 3rd March. Tickets can be purchased here.