Award recognises the power of multi-talented storyteller

Jub Clerc wears many hats. A Nyul Nyul/Yawuru woman from the Beagle Bay and Broome regions of the Kimberley in WA, the director, producer, journalist and soprano can now add award-winning playwright to the mix. She is the proud winner of the 2017 Kate Challis RAKA Award for best stage play.

“When I opened the mail saying I had won, my mind exploded and all these memories rushed in,” she says. “The past, the present and the future. I was overwhelmed and had to run out of the building before I burst into tears. I was crying because I was so happy.”

The RAKA Award is administered by the Australian Centre (Faculty of Arts), and was made possible by the generosity of Professor Emeritus Bernard Smith. The $20,000 award for Indigenous creative artists recognises success in one of five different art forms each year: creative prose, drama, the visual arts, poetry or scriptwriting.

Jub won for her debut play The Fever and the Fret, which Arts Hub recognised as a “powerful work of theatre” and a “beautiful reminder of the resilience of the human heart.”

She wrote the play in part to honour her grandparents, who “aren’t exactly (characters) Iggy and Ruby…but they’re the ghosts of them.”

She also wanted to tackle the relationship between mining and Aboriginal displacement.

“We were in the middle of fighting for country against a new mining company that was wanting to do all sorts of terrible things,” she explains. “I thought about how over the last forty years, where other mines had been operating in the region, that nothing sustainable had changed for the local Aboriginal people.” I wanted to explore this in my story.

Writing the play was the “best therapy” Jub could have asked for. “I cried and laughed so much writing this story. I remembered everyone from my past.”

The title of the play comes from Keats’ poem Ode to a Nightingale. Memory, loss and imagination all appear as key themes in the work. Discussing Keats’ poem, Jub says that she was interested in the idea that in life we “all long for something else, even death. Like the immortal song of the Nightingale, there’s a wish to perhaps slip away from the groans of man and be in an eternal dream. All my characters wish for something that will take them away from what life has handed them.”

Jub spent a lot of her childhood on tour with Jimmy Chi’s groundbreaking musical Bran Nue Dae, and was affectionately known as a Bran Nue Dae baby. “I travelled to just about every major Australian city from the age of fourteen to seventeen. It was like stepping through a door to the most amazing fun park and never coming out!”

She’s worked in all sorts of different roles in the creative and media industries. “I love telling my peoples’ stories,” Jub says. “I love bringing the past into the present.”

Winning the $20,000 award will help her continue that journey.

“It will allow me the breathing space to work on scripts that have been patiently waiting for me,” she says. “It will allow me to attend writing events that will extend my knowledge of writing, and connections to my peers.”

She has a lot of respect for those peers, and mentions that great artists are everywhere – from the authors whose books line our shelves to the chefs who work in our restaurants and the designers who create the jewelry that we wear.

“All artists inspire me,” she says. “Whether it’s to keep culture alive or to express your inner heart. Your jugular is always exposed. It’s a long road with little to no recognition and little to no pay, but it’s the only path we know.“

This article is based on an interview with Jub Clerc by Neika Lehman.

Neika Lehman (BA Hons, 2017) is a writer, researcher and educator. She is currently living and working in Narrm/Melbourne, where she teaches Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne. She is descended from the Trawlwoolway peoples of North-East Tasmania.