Christine Anu is well known as a recording artist, dancer and actor, but this entertainment industry icon is also a businesswoman, mother and someone who’s proud of her indigenous heritage and roots.
Hi Christine. What’s been keeping you busy over the past few years?
In the last 5 to 10 years I’ve been independent, not attached to a record company, so I’ve been able to do a lot broader range of things than I would have been able to do just as a recording artist. That meant I could branch out into the fields of theatre, musicals, television and other projects like children’s albums and a children’s show [Chrissy’s Island Family]. I’ve been developing shows, such as Ladies of Jazz and Women of Soul.
My business is called Stylin’ Up Entertainment. I copyrighted the name of my first album, Stylin’ Up, in celebration of my debut into the entertainment arena. Stylin’ Up is about reclaiming power, being indigenous and that pride of being who you are and doing it with style.
Now I’ve found my way into theatre again, but this time it’s without a microphone, so it’s a straight play. I got a phone call to audition for a theatre show, and I went to the audition and got it!
That was about 2 years ago, and now it’s had regional funding. So now the fun aspect of this is taking the play out into regional territories, in places I normally often wouldn’t go to as a singer.
How much has your background and your upbringing influenced the person you are today?
I wasn’t surrounded by professional musicians. My culture is what really inspired me – and being brought up around that. I didn’t really find myself informed about this until I was in my twenties though, and I was studying at college. I studied a five-year course of traditional Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander dancing, and I discovered a genuine interest in how I could make something of this and turn it into a way to educate people and get them to embrace indigenous Australian culture through music and dance.
When I got the opportunity to sign up with a record label, it was what I’d been planning over the five-year course duration. It just felt as though I was ready for that first album. Of course, I never imagined it would go beyond that, and I always had my dancing to fall back on. It just went from strength to strength after that.
My upbringing … I’ve been living in the city for almost 22 years now, raising my two kids, but it’s still there and it’s something that’s a part of me. I like to pass what I can onto my children.
Give us a brief synopsis of ‘Rainbow’s End’?
It’s about three generations of women living on the flats in Mooroopna, Shepparton, on the banks of the Goulburn River, in the 1950s – this is post Cummeragunja Mission walk-off. The play opens in 1954, when Queen Elizabeth arrives in Australia to do a tour after her coronation. Gladys, that’s my character, gets a taxi out of town to go and see the Queen’s visit.
Jane Harrison, the writer, has really gone to a lot of trouble to gather information about that time, what was happening in Australia and what life was like for Aboriginal people in the 1950s. It’s a very warm, loving story about 3 generations of women who survive in that era. The young girl meets an encyclopaedia salesman … and it’s a story about their little journey, family and love.
What ís you character, Gladys, like?
Gladys missed out on the opportunity to read and write, so she’s illiterate. She feels that even though the Aboriginal people are not recognised as citizens, she has the same opportunities; therefore, her daughter should be able to do as much as anyone else can. She suddenly sees hope and opportunity in the encyclopaedia salesman … and there’s a future in the 24 encyclopaedias she tries to purchase over a period of time. It’s really about her ability to be who she is, regardless of what her situation is in 1954.
How have audiences received the play?
They’ve really loved it. I wasn’t expecting that not to be the reaction, to be honest. That was the reaction two years ago and again when we started off the tour in Sydney this time around.
Regional towns have been wonderful and supported us through and through. People in cities aren’t the only ones who appreciate really good theatre, and the response has been wonderful.
What keeps you inspired to keep performing?
I look for inspiration in so many things … but I have a really wonderful job of being a mother, and that’s the most important job I have.
Interview by Jo Atkins.