From the playwright – Sandra Thibodeaux talks The Age of Bones

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Age of Bones (Jaman Belulang)  is a new Australian-Indonesian theatre production that traces the story of Ikan, an Indonesian boy who goes fishing one day and fails to return. Fearing the worst, his family hires a famed seafarer to track him down – he finds nothing. Combining Indonesian puppetry, music and digital projection, The Age of Bones follows Ikan’s fantastical story from Indonesia to his eventual imprisonment ‘down under’ and his fight to get home to his family.

A heartfelt and darkly funny tale inspired by the real-life stories of 60 Indonesian boys allegedly imprisoned in Australia for working on refugee boats. We caught up with playwright, Sandra Thibodeaux, to find out more:

“I came across this story when my son was a teenager – about 15. I was researching something else at the time and stumbled on the reports – the first stories by Lindsay Murdoch, in particular. I was horrified to hear about the young boys in jail – particularly, the detail that no-one had told these boys’ parents (with the result that they had assumed the boys dead at sea). As a mother, I could relate to the parents’ grief.

At the same time, there was widespread concern in Australia about the treatment of Australian live cattle in Indonesia. This was all over the news, while the story about the Indonesian boys was not very well known. It concerned me that an Australian steer was of greater value than an Indonesian boy – at least, in public debate.

I conducted considerable research online, looking at the details of the cases, and talked with Lindsay Murdoch and with a lawyer who had represented some of the boys in Queensland. They were both terrific in providing extra details that were fascinating. Then I spent a few weeks on the island of Rote, trying to gain an understanding of life in poverty-stricken eastern Indonesia (Nusa Tenggara). I met some of the boys who had been in jail and their families, and this was the beginning of an ongoing relationship we’ve had over the last two years. These families read drafts of the script and gave feedback.

In terms of style, I chose to go with both satire and magical realism, setting all of the Australian scenes literally ‘down under’, beneath the ocean.

To achieve the ocean ambience, we’ve used music, set, costumes, video and shadow puppetry. The lawyer became a White Pointer; the judge an octopus, and so on ….

There’s a hint of the fairy tale or the myth in the shadow puppetry, and it evokes a sense of Indonesian storytelling. There’s also something about it that resonates with childhood – we see these shadow plays as children, and the protagonist is longing for his home/his childhood. It’s also a practical way of achieving big fight scenes between hammerhead sharks and stingrays and sea snakes!

In the play, we often move from shadow to real life and back again. Perhaps this creates a sense of the layers of story – what we hear in the media, what other stories lie below this surface reportage, what shadows/echoes are cast by these stories – the ripples that spread outwards as we consider the simple story of a boy in jail.”

Sandra Thibodeaux – playwright.

Season: Wednesday 8 March – Saturday 11 March , 7.30 pm
Matinees: on Friday 10 March (1am), and Saturday 11 march (2pm)
Tickets: $40 adult| $35 concession or group 4+| $30 student or under 30 | Family (2 adults + 2 children or 1 adult + 3 children): $100. Book online or call 6182 0000

  • Photo by Sarah Walker.