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Drama Award Shortlist

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Title: The Return

Author: John Harvey

Publisher: Malthouse Theatre

Image credit: Pia Johnson

An epic, 250-year story to return home the captive bodily remains of First Peoples.

Once considered ‘exotic’ trophies of antiquity, the bodily remains of Indigenous men, women, and children served scientific theories of evolution and were prized objects displayed on mantelpieces. In the cover of darkness, grave robbers would pillage burial grounds, to sell Ancestral remains to the highest bidder under the guise of scientific research. Thousands were stolen and sold.

Today, they are still locked away.

Some are displayed in private homes, while others are hidden deep within the bowels of museums and universities. Now is the time to bring them back to Country.



Judges’ report

Haunting and visceral, lit with moments of dark humour, The Return explores a shameful chapter in the colonisation of this country – the theft of Indigenous peoples’ remains for private and museum collections overseas, and the ongoing struggle to identify and repatriate them.

The Return is an ambitious and sweeping story, moving backwards and forwards in time across more than two centuries since colonisation. The play delves into the stories of various people affected, including bone collectors, curators, and families, shifting from moments of uncomfortable humour to the horror of the violence perpetrated against Indigenous people.

Harvey’s writing is complex and theatrical, presenting us with a broad mix of characters, scenarios, and views, that are deeply grounded in the history of this land. The text is rich with imagery and glimmers of hope in the face of such devastation, leaving us in its final moments with a roadmap for healing such deep wounds to people and country.




An extract from The Return is available here.



About the author

John Harvey is a writer, director, and producer of Saibai Island (Torres Strait) and English descent and the creative director of Brown Cabs. Theatre credits as writer include: Heart is a Wasteland (Malthouse Theatre/Brown Cabs) – touring nationally with Ilbijerri Theatre Company in 2022 and Black Ties (Ilbijerri Theatre Company/Te Rehia); as director; A Little Piece of Heaven (Orana Arts/Brown Cabs); as producer My Lovers Bones (Brown Cabs); and as producer with Ilbijerri Theatre Company: Jack Charles V The Crown, Songlines of a Mutti Mutti Man, The Dirty Mile and Sisters of Gelam. Film writing and directing credits include Katele (NITV), Water (ABC), Out of Range (SBS), Still We Rise (ABC), Off Country (NITV), The Warriors (ABC), Kutcha’s Koorioke docu-series (NITV). In 2015, he produced the acclaimed feature film, Spear (Toronto International Film Festival/Adelaide Film Festival), as well as the chapter Sand for The Turning (Berlinale/MIFF). In 2020, John was commissioned by ACMI to create the multi-channel installation Canopy and a large-scale street mural for Melbourne’s Metro City Square based on the work. John is a board member for Bangarra Dance Theatre.


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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Centre stands. We acknowledge and pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their Elders, past and present, as the custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.