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  • Alex First

The Return (Malthouse Theatre) - 90 minutes without interval

The treatment of indigenous Australians and their remains is in the spotlight in The Return.


Inspired by Yorta Yorta man Jason Tamiru’s experiences as a repatriation worker, Torres Strait Islander playwright John Harvey recounts the dark history of Australia.


It concerns grave robbers and “exotic” trophies of antiquity, being the bones of men, women and children.


They served to test scientific theories of evolution and were prized “objects” displayed on mantlepieces.

Photos by Pia Johnson


Under the cover of darkness, burial grounds would be pillaged.


Thousands of ancestral remains were sold to the highest bidder.


Covering a time frame of 250 years, in The Return, three stories intersect. They concern a repatriation officer, a museum curator and a bone collector.


We look at a macabre history of false justifications.


As the truth outs, it is shocking – a indictment of a deeply flawed system that enabled this to happen.

It took me a while to grasp just what was going down, but when I did, I was gobsmacked at the audaciousness of it all.


The impact cuts to the quick.


Eight actors fill various roles in bringing the stories to life.


Zoe Route’s native costume designs put us in the moment.


Co-directors Jason Tamiru and Matthew Lutton have done a fine job with the material, ably supported by striking staging.


The set design of a hill surrounded by stones, around which a small rail line appears, is the work of Zoe Atkinson.

Paul Jackson’s evocative lighting helps propel the stark imagery.


The Return bites … just as it is meant to.


At the heart of the tale is the importance of returning those “taken” to their place of origin and recognising that not doing so is an injustice of the highest order.


The Return is playing at Merlyn Theatre at Malthouse Theatre until 4th June.