This year’s National Play Festival playwrights answer Five Questions about playwriting craft and writing inspirations.
In 1973 a science laboratory was launched into earth’s outer orbit. The exact nature of the experiments conducted on Skylab were top secret. Then, one day it started falling back to earth.
What if Skylab didn’t fall to earth by accident? What if those experiments were on Indigenous DNA and Skylab was actually piloted down? Things got pretty random after Auntie had that yarn on the payphone with President Jimmy Carter outside the Balladonia roadhouse and Amy got that pink horse she always wanted.
Based on a true story (only the facts have been changed to protect the innocent).
Skylab was originally developed with the support of Moogahlin Performing Arts through the Yellamundie National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Playwriting Festival 2015. Skylab is presented in partnership with Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company and Ilbijerri Theatre Company.
We talk to Melodie about growing up in Western Australia, the sci-fi genre and stumbling across KGB footage.
Skylab did actually land on country near Esperance, do you know anyone who was there at the time?
Yes, in 1979 parts of Skylab crashed off the coast of Esperance, in the town, and in a North East direction towards Balladonia and the central desert. My family lived and still live in Esperance, I was young and the people about my parents age that I yarned with remember the sonic booms. I have a vague memory of people panicking.
It’s common these days to hear that Aboriginal people “survived” on the land long before invasion but you take issue with that term, can you help us understand why?
When it is said and written that Aboriginal people ‘survived’ on the land long before invasion it annoys me because survive denotes a separation and our people are not separate from the land. When people realise there is no separation to all things, then you don’t fear what is a part of you. Thrive, not survive I say. The word survive comes from “sur” meaning on top of and “vive” meaning live. How can we be on top of something that we are?
Tell us about that KGB footage you stumbled across.
I love finding a thread of what we think and are told is the ‘truth’ and pulling it until I get to something that resonates with me. So, in my conspiracy hunts through the Skylab world on the net, this black and white footage with a Russian voice over and English subtitles came up. It shows the final few orbits of Skylab towards the Southwest of Australia shot from a Russian space station and makes some very provocative speculations about what was on board. I researched if it’s real or not and I found people arguing about their threads of truth, so it’s up in the air or like Skylab, in pieces.
NB. the etymology of “conspiracy” simply means with the breath.
So many sci-fi and fantasy tropes are evoked and riffed on in your play. Were you into that kind of drama as a kid?
Growing up in semi remote West Australia you always see strange lights, hear UFO stories, and also the black fella stories that would give Stephen King nightmares. My Nan and I were also big Doctor Who fans and of course there’s Monkey Magic which I think was closer to our world’s as kids then say, Neighbours. The magic themes in Monkey, echoed our own cultural world of creation where anything is possible, somewhere beyond the sublime and the ridiculous really..or not really, whatever you want to believe. Anyway like they say ‘reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.’
There seems to be quite a lot of indigenous sci-fi coming through at the moment (Cleverman, One of the Good Ones, Skylab). It seems to have a kinship with the Afro-Futurist movement in the US, why do you think speculative fiction is attractive to black writers?
It could be that because in the past and presently, they have been trying to get rid of us, so we write ourselves into the future, to “survive”.
The idea of sci-fi is not new, we have been writing songs and dances about the stars and beyond for centuries. I feel fiction and nonfiction is speculative, maybe the past present and future all exist now? Maybe our DNA is awakening to drip feed the public knowledge that there is more to life than the so-called accepted facts??
Thursday 28 July, 6.30pm
Saturday 30 July, 2pm
Melodie Reynolds-Diarra is a Wangkathaa woman from Western Australia and is one of Australia’s most accomplished female Aboriginal actors. More recently Melodie was a participant in Ilbijerri Theatre Company’s Black Writers Lab. In 2013 Melodie was the Associate Director for The Shadow King (Malthouse Theatre). In 2015 she collaborated with the community of Swan Hill to direct The Marruk Project, and participated in the Yellamundie Playwriting Festival.