The third iteration of The History Salon featured Uncle Noel C Tovey AM, in conversation with Blak Betty. Uncle Noel was instrumental in paving the way for indigenous artists working in theatre, and in advocating for both Aboriginal and gay rights.

Tovey grew up in the Melbourne of the 1940s, and experienced a very different version of the city that we see today. In the early 60s, he began working in London – singing, dancing, and choreography – and continued to work in the UK and Europe in through the 70s and 80s, when he started a gallery with then partner, David Sarel, called L’Odeon, which folded at Sarel’s passing.

Uncle Noel set up a performing arts course at Eora Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Sydney in 1991, and performed in the first Aboriginal production at Sydney Theatre Company in 1996 – Ray Kelly’s ‘Somewhere in the Darkness’. He was the first Aboriginal man to launch the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney in the same year.

Tovey directed the first Shakespeare play with an all-Aboriginal cast at the Sydney Theatre Company for The Festival of The Dreaming 1997 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and directed and choreographed the first Aboriginal play The Aboriginal Protesters Confront the Proclamation of the Australian Republic at Sydney Festival in 1996.

He is well known for his autobiographical books, Little Black Bastard (2004), which has since seen critically acclaimed theatre adaptations in many different countries, and And Then I Found Me (2017). He moved back to Australia permanently, from London, in the early 2000s, and has found solace in his life’s work.

In 2014, he was awarded the Uncle Bob Maza Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contribution to Victorian Indigenous Theatre, and in 2015, received and Order of Australia. In 2016, the Victorian Government apologised to him and others in the gay community for old laws that criminalised homosexual behaviour, for which Tovey served time at Pentridge Prison in the 50s.

Now 85 years of age, Uncle Noel has boundless experiences and will reflect on moments that shaped not only his career, but the progression of Indigenous Arts in Australia. Hosted by Blak Betty.

Where: Bombini Buzz Bar Mezzanine at Arts Centre Melbourne, Southbank Promenade, Melbourne
When: Wednesday 30 May, 6-7pm