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In the old courthouse in Geelong, 75km south-west of Melbourne, the Back to Back theatre troupe is rehearsing their new play, Lady Eats Apple. Mark Deans begins the read-through of act three. “Blue car,” he says and, as per the script, is upbraided that – being a man with Down syndrome – he has never driven a car.

Lady Eats Apple will take the audience from a creation story into the contemporary realm when it is staged at the Melbourne festival next month, and next year at Sydney’s Carriageworks. Most of the actors would be perceived by the general community to have an intellectual disability. They write the scripts in part by drawing on improvisations based on their own lives; the story also explores euthanasia and gods destroyed by their own success.

In the rehearsal room at Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre, Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri actor and writer Leah Purcell shows me a beautiful brown leather carved satchel-purse that her father made her. Growing up, she wasn’t allowed to acknowledge him as her dad.

Purcell is getting ready to perform in her radical rewrite of the Henry Lawson short story The Drover’s Wife, retooled with strong Indigenous emphasis and autobiography, while retaining a few Lawson plot points: bullock shooting and rogue swaggies paying a sunset visit to the titular wife, played by Purcell.

Fifty essays and dispatches on
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