The area is the site of some painful memories for him, memories he has been exploring and reliving for over 10 years as he has taken the show all over the world, receiving rave reviews in London and at the Edinburgh Festival.
“A few years ago I wouldn’t have done it, not at all, because I didn’t want to go back to North Melbourne or remember, but then something very strange happened,” Tovey explained to the Star Observer.
“I did the play for a week at the Athaneum Theatre [in Melbourne] before I went to Edinburgh, and on the last night four people came back stage… I didn’t remember their faces but when they told me their names I remembered them because they lived in the same street as me.”
Tovey went for lunch with the four and a group of others he had gone to school with around 70 years earlier. Looking at old photos with these people he remembered as bullies in his childhood became an emotional experience, and began a healing process for Tovey that brought him back to the place he first performed Little Black Bastard over a decade ago.
The Aboriginal actor, dancer, director, choreographer and activist is a legend of Australian theatre and an icon who has been fighting for gay rights for half a century.
On again as part of the Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival, Tovey’s autobiographic show deals with the trauma of his early life and the triumphs that have come from it. Lauded as confronting and challenging by critics, Little Black Bastard sees Tovey openly discussing the poverty and sexual abuse of his childhood, a childhood ending abruptly at the age of 17 when he was arrested and incarcerated in Pentridge Prison for having sex with another man.
Doing the show takes a toll on Tovey’s emotional and physical health, and recent health problems have made performing even more demanding.
“I’ll only do it for a week at a time because they’re really not happy memories for me. I face them and they’re cathartic and all of that, but at the end of the day they’re something I don’t want to keep remembering,” Tovey said.
“I’m doing it because it’s a challenge. I had my leg amputated in August and now I’m learning to walk on a prosthetic leg and I have a walking aid. But I wanted to do it because the message in the play is more important than my mobility.”
For the same reason, Tovey has continued to tell the story of his arrest for homosexual sex, and he has been involved in the recent announcement by the Victorian Government whereby they planned to introduce legislation to allow historical gay sex convictions to be expunged.
Tovey hoped good would keep coming out of him sharing his memories, no matter how painful it was for him to do so.
“The message in it is really important and that is, when young kids or young people or people who are disturbed or people in general see me and hear my story they think, god, if he could overcome all that and go on to achieve what [he’s] achieved, then I can do it,” he said.
INFO: Little Black Bastard is on as part of the Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival from February 13–15 at North Melbourne Town Hall. For details, visit www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/miaf.