Openly gay Indigenous performer David Page has carved out a long and varied career as an actor and composer, working extensively in Australian film, television and theatre.
He also had a past life as a tween pop sensation, with two top ten singles and appearances on Countdown and The Paul Hogan Show.
-œOh God, where’d you get this from? he moaned in mock embarrassment when I raised the topic, before admitting his shameful secret: -œYes, I was a child star in the ’70s.
Page grew up with his family in an unglamorous Housing Commission flat before being plucked from obscurity.
-œI entered a talent quest, which I won, and I kept winning, and kept winning, until some guy from a record company came to watch, and offered me a record deal -” before I knew it, I was in a recording studio at the age of 13! It was just crazy, all that clichÃ©d pop star stuff. I was really young and I didn’t know what was happening, he said.
-œWithin two months, I was on Countdown. I was very starstruck. All the girls at the front of the stage were used to screaming for Daryl Braithwaite or John Paul Young, but instead there’s a little black boy from
Queensland standing in front of them -” they didn’t know who I was! They were standing there going, -˜who the fuck’s this?’ he laughed.
-œMeanwhile, I was standing there going, -˜what am I doing here?’
Sadly, life as a pop star was not to last.
-œIt was all over once my voice broke -¦ as soon as my balls dropped, that was it!
Washed up at 15? Hardly. Since his brief brush with pop fame, Page has worked as a composer for the Bangarra Dance Company, acted in films including Oscar and Lucinda, and performed in a successful autobiographical one-man show, Page 8.
His newest project is as part of the ensemble cast for Yibiyung, opening at the Malthouse Theatre at the end of the month.
The play, based on writer Dallas Winmar’s grandmother’s experience as part of the stolen generation, premiered in Sydney ahead of its Melbourne run. Despite some critical mumblings, audiences have been responsive to the work.
-œIt’s been really positive, said Page, who plays two roles in Yibiyung. -œSome critics have said it’s the same old story, there’s nothing new to tell. But it’s a new character, it’s from Western Australia, it’s a true story, and we have some white characters in there to give another side of the story too.
With the Labor government’s apology to the Indigenous community in February this year, the play arrives at a unique time in Australian history.
-œSome people think, -˜the government’s said sorry, now we should just get over it,’ Page sighed. -œBut these stories still need to be told. These stories are an important part of our history.
Of the apology, he said, -œIt’s helped understanding. It hasn’t put a Band-Aid over everything and fixed it all -” it’s a beginning. Whether you’re white or black, we’re all part of it. I think people are more willing to listen now. But you’re always going to have people who say, -˜enough of those whinging Abos’, he laughed.
Interviewed on a recent episode of Living Black, cast member Sibylla Budd spoke frankly about the play forcing her to confront a subject she’d not given much thought to. Have other cast members felt the same?
-œDefinitely. During the first week of rehearsal, everyone was sitting down and talking about their experiences and their knowledge on the subject. Even some of our own mob are quite green about it, so it was a new world for them to explore.
The cast also includes third-year NIDA student Miranda Tapsell in the title role. It’s a demanding role -” the sort that careers are made from. Page is effusive in his praise for her performance.
-œShe’s doing an amazing job. She’s nailing it!
As it’s her industry debut, Page said she’s not shy about asking for help.
-œOh yeah, all the time. She’s young, and you don’t know anything until you ask questions, so she’s on to that.
Page is refreshingly open about his own youth, from the Countdown days to his coming out.
-œI gave up hiding it years ago. It was too hard! he laughed. -œComing from a big family, [coming out] was hard, because there were a lot of people to tell. But by the time I was 18 or 19, I just couldn’t be bothered hiding it anymore. The longer you leave it, the harder it is.
He insisted that homosexuality isn’t a big deal in the Indigenous community.
-œIt’s pretty well-received, there’s hardly any negativity about it. I’ve had no problems. I have a lot of straight male friends, and they love me!
When Indigenous people judge a person’s worth, he said, -œIt’s not about what you do in your private life, it’s about what you can give to the community.
info: Yibiyung, is at the Malthouse Theatre, October 30 -“ November 13. Book at www.malthousetheatre.com.au or phone 9685 5111.