A DISTINGUISHED CAREER: Roy Gordon as Yalamundi, the Storyteller in The Secret River.
A DISTINGUISHED CAREER: Roy Gordon as Yalamundi, the Storyteller in The Secret River.

Roy keeps no secrets in the waiting game

ROY Gordon was just back from touring the country with the Sydney Theatre Company when we spoke at his Goonellabah home.

The Bundjalung man has been playing the role of Yalamundi (Storyteller), in the production of Kate Grenville's novel, The Secret River, concerning the clash of colonial explorers with the Dharuk people on the Hawkesbury River.

The company racked up 55 shows in the summer season, playing to most major cities around the nation.

"That's the beauty of a shower. You can wash it all away, y'know?" he said over a cuppa.

"Jingoes, we did eight shows a week, but it's funny, y'know ... no one up here knows that I act at this level."

Roy cites it as his biggest acting job in the past few years, since he withdrew from acting to properly mourn his departed father.

"I've been at that level before - we did Waiting for Godot during the Festival of the Dreaming in Sydney in 1997."

That role, also featuring Max Cullen and Bradley Byquar, was directed by arts force majeure Rhoda Roberts and performed entirely in the Bundjalung language with English subtitles.

But it's only one of several significant roles Roy's played in a distinguished career.

Locally he's been a stalwart of the Goobah Goobah Koori Theatre Company and member of the Bundjalung Theatre Company.

He's written plays for local productions, held educational camps and toured cultural shows. He's played a Kum

baingiri man in the film version of Oscar and Lucinda, so picking up a new dialect for The Secret River was no biggy.

"Because I come from a language background there was no worries there. I picked up the rhythms a lot quicker than the other actors. You're talking about a time 200 years ago, so that's where you have to allow your creative juices to interact."

Roy reckons The Secret River is basically a story about family, but that it incorporates some big ideas. "The two dominant things for me were - what is it the greater audience haven't seen about Aboriginal characteristics that could have been exemplified in this old man, and the other one is the revitalisation of a language that probably hasn't been heard for 150 years or more."

These themes are nothing new to him. Rhoda Robert's Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett's existential masterpiece, explored the intrusion of Western chronology into the timelessness of Aboriginal Australia. But Roy is specific about his personal motivations for acting.

"It's a truism in theatre, y'know: you leave your baggage at the door. You look at your reasons for what you become engaged in and you didn't sign a contract to be an activist or a politician. You sign a contract as an artist - to do a job, and your job is to give this understanding of this story. That doesn't negate discussion outside of who we are, but your main focus is to be able to complement the story."

Being about 70% deaf, Roy relies on his craft - and the help of the professionals around him, to do his job.

"Ah, jingoes, my left ear - I probably couldn't hear ya outside of a couple of yards. But they got these little traffic lights on stage, amber means you've got three minutes to get ready, then you get your green light co-ordinated to your word cues that gives you the go when to move on. The hardest thing as an artist is to be able to encompass what the director sees with the role, and to trust him."

Right now, Roy's got time to draw breath and catch up with friends and family. But he's got some interesting prospects that he can't disclose, and meanwhile, he's waiting on another job.

"After our show in Perth I was lucky enough to be invited to do an audition and a reading for a play. Funnily enough it's called Waiting for Godot …"

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