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Video clip synopsis – Noel Tovey survived a childhood of poverty, neglect, sexual abuse and racial prejudice to become a leading light in the arts as an actor, choreographer, writer and theatre director.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 1min 15sec
Tags - changing communities, creativity, culture, identity, Indigenous Australia, indigenous cultures, racism, stereotypes, theatre, see all tags


Noel Tovey

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About the Video Clip


Noel Tovey is an excerpt from the program Noel Tovey (26 mins), an episode of Australian Biography Series 10 (7×26 mins), produced in 2005.

Noel Tovey:In this interview Noel Tovey speaks – with extraordinary candour and grace – about his complex sense of identity and the forces and events that shaped him, including the prejudice he’s encountered as an Aboriginal and a gay man.

Australian Biography Series 10: The Australian Biography series profiles some of the most extraordinary Australians of our time. Many have had a major impact on the nation’s cultural, political and social life. All are remarkable and inspiring people who have reached a stage in their lives where they can look back and reflect. Through revealing in-depth interviews, they share their stories – of beginnings and challenges, landmarks and turning points. In so doing, they provide us with an invaluable archival record and a unique perspective on the roads we, as a country, have travelled.

Australian Biography Series 10 is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Background Information


It has been claimed that in Victoria, an ‘indigenous male’s life expectancy (56.1 years) is 20.9 years lower than that for non-indigenous Victorian males, while an indigenous female’s life expectancy (63.5 years) is 18.5 years less than that for non-indigenous Victorian females’. (Letter to the editor, The Age, 20 September 2005.)
As well, according to a newspaper report, ‘Aboriginal children are 12 times more likely to be placed in care than other Victorian children’. (The Age, 1 September 2005.)
It is easy to see how these statistics may be true from the example of Noel Tovey’s early years, growing up in poverty-stricken and violent circumstances as a neglected and abused child in the slums of Melbourne, during the 1930s and 1940s. After more abuse in country New South Wales he, too, was taken into temporary care, at the Far West Children’s Home in Sydney, before eventually returning to Melbourne where later he was arrested during a police raid, sent to jail, and further abused by his jailers.

These, and several other experiences in Tovey’s personal life led him to an increased political consciousness. During the time he was in England, involved in theatre production in London’s famous West End, his lover and business partner, Dave, contracted HIV/AIDS. Tovey observed some of the attitudes that came through ignorance about the illness. At this time he also became conscious of the excesses of the South African apartheid regime, and America’s (and Australia’s) involvement in the Vietnam War. His awakened political consciousness as an Australian Aboriginal later drew him home to educate young Indigenous people, and to work for the wider Aboriginal community.
Noel Tovey’s book, published in 2004, Little Black Bastard, looks back over a life of survival and ultimate success.

Classroom Activities

  1. After viewing the video clip about Noel Tovey, discuss in class then write answers to the following:
    1. Comment on how Noel Tovey knew it was time to leave England and to return to Australia.
    2. Define and comment on Noel Tovey’s attitude to the behaviour of his Indigenous drama students after he returned to Australia to teach in an Aboriginal college. Do you think he was too strict on his students?
    3. Explain and comment on Noel’s opinion that in exempting Aboriginals from studying the works of such playwrights as William Shakespeare, Indigenous Australians are being further “marginalised”.
    4. Noel Tovey’s early years were traumatic. Who does he now blame? Explain.
  2. Carry out research then create your own poster display or website page either about Noel Tovey’s work in educating young Indigenous Australians in the dramatic arts, or his own career in the performing arts (including his involvement in the 2000 Sydney Olympic opening ceremony) since returning to Australia.
  3. In small groups research the activities of an Aboriginal arts and cultural group, such as the Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute or the Bangarra Dance Theatre, then plan, draft, organise and present a short, informative radio arts promotion program about them. Consider, in your project, whether the activities and agenda of the group you are investigating could be thought of as “political” in any way. Record the program for playback as a sound file on your school’s intranet, in short segments if necessary which could be edited together, with everyone in your group making an on-air or production contribution. You may incorporate a mix of press releases, mock interviews, music and sound effects etc as desired.
  4. Debate in class the relevance to modern Australia of Indigenous culture and the arts.

Further Resources


Bruce Beresford (dir), The Fringe-Dwellers, 1986
Jane Harrison, Stolen, Currency Press, Redfern, 2002
Noel Tovey, Little Black Bastard: A Story of Survival, Hodder Headline Australia, Sydney, 2004
Go to Noel Tovey interview 1
Go to Noel Tovey interview 2
Go to Indigenous Australia references
Go to Reconciliation Australia
Go to Bangarra Dance Theatre
Go to Tandanya, National Aboriginal Cultural Institute