In Not Quite Cricket, Jon Rose reaches into the well-known story of the first Australian cricket team to play at Lords and draws out a tragedy dressed up as music hall comedy, in what he calls a 'historical intervention'.
Rose is an Australian-based polymath creator: a musician, inventor, composer, improviser, educator and entertainer. Radio production is just one strand of his prolific body of work. Over decades he has forged an innovative style, a distinctive radio form. His work has always been a fusion of genres, a hybrid of fact and invention with composed and improvised music carrying its own narrative.
With music as a given, Rose has politics, history, and often sport in the mix. As an advocate of Indigenous language and culture he’s worked with a number of Aboriginal elders, teachers and performers in his radio pieces, and projects over some years reflect this commitment. Not Quite Cricket, like other recent works, has the loss and partial restitution of Aboriginal language at its heart.
Cricket was the first white team game in Australia and squatters [land owners] soon had Aboriginal workers playing this quintessentially English game. It was an Aboriginal team with members recruited from the Western Plains of Victoria which, in 1868, toured the United Kingdom. Rose retells a tale that has often been represented as a triumph for Aboriginal Australians and his take isn’t so positive. He challenges the assumption that this was a glorious moment for Indigenous sportsmen and reveals what’s latent in the unquestioning versions of the tour; he views it as a titillating racial freak show, a historical record of racism, exploitation and brutality.
Jon Rose's striking music and characters conjure a palpable world. It’s true radio virtuosity, playing with the medium and creating a radical, satiric review of history, using music and seductive humour to deliver a tough, sometimes shocking, message.
Not Quite Cricket is based on historical documents and aims to tell the story from the Aboriginal team’s perspective. The author abandons conventional historical feature ‘readings’ and instead, from the archival accounts, creates characters larger than life, vital and engaging. The protagonist, Yanggendyinanyuk (played by Richard Kennedy), speaks in the Wergaia language. He’s a strong, dignified presence. The narrator (Warren Foster) is informal, spontaneous, full of energy and wry humour, speaking a kind of ‘pidgin’ English. The Master of Ceremonies (Andrew McLennan) is more music hall villain than anything else, taking a wicked relish in his appalling role. The program gains enormous strength from its fictional framework, opening up opportunities to explore undercurrents not normally considered in archival documents.
It’s not just about the fate of that cricket team but about persistent racism and its ramifications in this country. Rose’s program leaves a lasting impression of the havoc wreaked by white settlers. The tour becomes a metaphor for cultural conquest and white domination bringing with it the fragmentation, often obliteration, of crucial aspects of Aboriginal ways of life.
DISCLOSURE: I need to say that I’m included in the credits for this program, having helped with some travel arrangements and in introducing one of the performers to Jon Rose. However, I took no part in the conception or creation of the work and feel free to write this review.