Throughout her stage and screen career, the actor Ningali Lawford-Wolf used the English she only began learning in earnest at about age 11 for diplomatic reasoning. She spoke three Indigenous languages too. Born circa 1967 in the large remote Aboriginal community of Wangkatjungka, 100 kilometres south-east of Fitzroy Crossing in the Western Australian Kimberley region, Lawford-Wolf would go on to appear in films such as Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence, released in 2002, playing Maude, the mother of two of three little girls stolen from their families, based on a true story that chimed with her own: her father, who worked on a cattle farm, had forcibly been removed from his parents too.
‘If you want to say something in anger they won’t listen to you,’ said Lawford-Wolf, who originally trained as a dancer with the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre before performing with Bangarra Dance Theatre, in an interview in 1995. ‘So you’ve got to learn to be diplomatic, to learn to change it all around, to do it in their little syrupy way … I’ve managed to perfect that.’ By the time Lawford-Wolf was cast as the omniscient narrator in the stage adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River—a tale of bloody first contact between Indigenous Australians and the colonialist newcomers, with the original book, adaption and stage direction all by white artists—she was seasoned in bringing the genocidal truth to bear, in as much a way as a largely white audience could handle.
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