Dylan Van Den Berg's Milk wins Kate Challis RAKA 2022 Award

The Faculty of Arts is delighted to announce that Dylan Van Den Berg’s stage play, Milk, has been awarded the Kate Challis RAKA Award for 2022.

The Kate Challis Ruth Adeney Koori Award, or RAKA, which means 'five' in the Pintupi language, is awarded annually to an Indigenous artist for a work in one of five categories: creative prose, poetry, script writing, drama and visual arts.

Playwright Dylan Van Den Berg. Image supplied.Milk tells the story of a young Palawa man drawn back to the dawn of colonisation. Carried with the winds of a metaphysical Flinders Island, he is drawn to a woman who bore the brunt of an oppressor’s violence and then forward to her granddaughter, who buried the truth as a means of survival.

Putting three Aboriginal people from three different centuries into conversation with one another, the play effects the collapse of the colonial past into the present. Its condensed and tightly delivered dialogue makes the past feel sudden and urgent, working to reveal the complex shape of contemporary Aboriginal identities today.

Associate Professor Sana Nakata, one of the judges of the 2022 RAKA Award, said of the work:

“The exploitation of temporality produces an extraordinary atmosphere in which the conversation is no simple ghost story nor a laboured history retold. Talking with ancestors is instead made strangely familiar, a type of everyday comfort, an act of making sense of oneself in the world.”

Associate Professor Nakata commended the work as “ambitious and expertly crafted”.

Mr Van Den Berg is a Palawa person from the northeast of lutruwita/Tasmania, whose current practice explores Black identity by pivoting narratives that are already part of our national consciousness to embolden First Nations’ perspectives. He notes that truth-telling is at the core of his writing practice, and he draws on his own experiences, the experiences of mob around him, and recorded history, to construct narratives that challenge pervasive views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In accepting the award, Mr Van Den Berg said:

“I’m absolutely thrilled to receive the Kate Challis RAKA Award. The Award has long history of supporting First Nations artists across a variety of disciplines, and it’s a real vote of confidence in me and my work to be this year’s recipient for playwriting. I’d like to express my thanks to the family of Professor Smith and Kate Challis, the selection panel for choosing my little play, and the University of Melbourne for administering the award. I’m also endlessly grateful to The Street Theatre, Currency Press, Aunty Gaye Doolan and all the mob who helped bring the play to the page and stage. And thanks to my daughter; without her, I might not ever have written it.

Mr Van Den Berg honed his writing skills through residencies with ILBIJERRI Theatre Company (in the dramaturgy stream), Griffin Theatre’s Studio Artist program, and Sydney Theatre Company’s Emerging Writer’s Group.

He now writes for major companies across Australia, including National Theatre of Parramatta, The Street Theatre, Australian Theatre for Young People, and the Sydney Theatre Company. For screen, he’s delighted to be a regular writer for Play School, as well as a new, upcoming, children’s series on the ABC.

Milk has also received the NSW Premier’s Award for Playwriting, the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting, the Victorian Premier’s Award for Drama, and a Canberra Critic’s Circle Award.

Commendations for the RAKA were also made to A Daylight Connection for CHASE, Andrea James for Sunshine Super Girl, and Meyne Wyatt for City of Gold.

Full citations and past winners of the Kate Challis RAKA Award can be found on the Faculty of Arts website.

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Susanna Ling