Actor, director, mentor and performing arts cultural advisor.
Critically acclaimed and highly respected actor and director of Indigenous theatre and film Lynette Narkle will be presented with the Australia Council’s prestigious Red Ochre Award for 2017 at the 10th National Indigenous Arts Awards at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday, 27 May.
Lynette, a proud Noongar Nation woman, was born in Wagin in Western Australia in 1946, one of nine children.
Her remarkable career spans five decades and she is recognised nationally and internationally as one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal actors and performing arts practitioners and a pivotal force in theatre.
“I started my career purely by accident in 1979. I was living in Bunbury and a telegram arrived to ring Perth Theatre Company about a theatre-in-education piece called ‘Kullark’, which in Noongar means ‘home’. I came up on the train to Perth and auditioned for the role of Rosie Yorla. Ernie Dingo was there in his Wildcats basketball shirt, rehearsing. I got the job and I haven’t stopped since,” says Lynette.
Her early career was dominated by her performances in many of Indigenous playwright Jack Davis’ stage classics including ‘Kullark’, ‘No Sugar’, ‘The Dreamers’, ‘Barungin’ and ‘Honey Spot’. Some of these productions premiered in Perth and toured to other parts of Australia, and some toured internationally, but they all played to critical and audience acclaim.
“Playing Jack’s matriarch”, as Lynette describes those early days, took her from remote bush workshops to the Sydney Opera House, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre, Fitzroy Town Hall in Melbourne and the Come Out Festival in Adelaide - and on international tours to the Portsmouth Festival UK, Hammersmith Studios London and the World Theatre Festival in Vancouver, Canada.
Lynette said she was extremely honoured to receive the Red Ochre Award, adding: “I have been very lucky in my career as it has allowed me as an actor to be a voice for indigenous people across Australia by telling our stories our way national and internationally.”
This work was significant both because Jack Davis was a talented playwright and it was performed by Aboriginal artists. An authentic Aboriginal voice was being presented to a wider general public audience, an accomplishment that has continued to distinguish Lynette’s work in the performing arts.
In 1994 Lynette joined Western Australia’s fledgling Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company as Associate Director and took on many roles including youth workshop facilitator, director, performer and community liaison. Over the course of ten years Lynette mentored and supported hundreds of young aspiring Indigenous writers, directors, stage managers and actors and played a vital role in Yirra Yaakin’s transition to one of Australia’s largest and most successful Aboriginal theatre companies.
A highlight of Lynette’s Yirra Yaakin years was performing in two of the company’s main stage original works. She played the lead in ‘Cruel Wild Woman’, which opened at the Perth International Arts Festival in 1999 to rave reviews and in the highly successful ‘One Day in 67’ in 2003. She also directed 'Aliwa' (2000), "Donkalonk' (1996), 'Ooh La Nah Nyungah' (1996) and 'Headspace' (1997).
Lynette studied Theatre and Drama studies for nearly three years from 2002 at WA’s Murdoch University in Perth.
Her impressive film and television career includes the award-winning film ‘The Sapphires’ and most recently Warwick Thornton’s ‘The Darkside’. Lynette pioneered the role of Indigenous Programs Officer at Screenwest and from 2004 to 2006 assisted emerging Aboriginal filmmakers to shape their screenplays, cast their work adventurously and secure backing and producers.
Lynette has volunteered her expertise and wisdom as a director on numerous Indigenous boards including the Australia Council's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, Yirra Yaakin Aboriginal Corporation Board and the Australia Council's Community Cultural Development Fund.
Revered by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous industry members for her untiring work as a performing arts practitioner and teacher, Lynette’s passion and dedication to ensuring Aboriginal stories are performed with an authentic voice - and heard in her own community, on a national stage and to international audiences - is unstinting.
A leading pioneering figure in the development of contemporary Indigenous theatre in Australia, Lynette has now come full circle, returning to her own community in the south west of WA, where she has a deep and extensive knowledge of language, culture and history, as a respected Elder, coach, mentor and cultural advisor to a new generation of Aboriginal performers and creators, and representing the region on the Board of Country Arts WA.
The emerging contemporary Aboriginal dance company Ochre Dance appointed Lynette as their cultural advisor during their recent residency in the south west to engage with the local community on their latest work “Kaya”.
Renowned for her humility, Lynette said that whilst she had enjoyed the opportunities to tell Aboriginal stories around the world, the main highlight of her career was travelling to rural and remote communities across Australia.
“The yarning after the shows with the community gave us a sense of belonging and helped us understand the issues facing Aboriginal people”.
Learn more about the 2020 First Nations Arts Awards.