WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.

 

19 July 2020 // Bob Maza

Robert Lewis Maza AM (25 November 1939 – 14 May 2000) was born on Palm Island in North Queensland. His father was from Murray Island in the Torres Strait, his mother of the Yidinjdji people.

Maza had virtually no formal training in the theatre. After rudimentary schooling in Cairns he worked as a manual labourer and later in an office in Darwin.

After the 1967 referendum he became active in Aboriginal affairs and moved to Melbourne, where he joined the Aboriginal Advancement League, shaped his political views, and determined to improve the status of Indigenous Australians.

He established himself as a musician and featured actor in television dramas such as Hunter and Homicide, but it was his continuing role as the articled clerk Gerry Walters in the ABC’s popular serial Bellbird that changed the way Indigenous people were portrayed in the media

In 1970 he travelled to the US as part of a delegation to the United Nations, and spent time working with the National Black Theatre of Harlem. On his return to Australia he co-founded the National Black Theatre of Australia, and began to work as a playwright. His best-known play, The Keepers, was performed at the Adelaide Festival and Belvoir Street Theatre in 1988, and earned him that year's National Black Playwright Award.

His other plays include No Shame and the radio drama Sugarbag. As an actor he had a regular role on ABC TV's Bellbird during the 1970s. His work in film included roles in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978), The Fringe Dwellers (1985) and Ground Zero (1987).

He won the Order of Australia in 1993 and the Red Ochre Award, for outstanding contribution to the arts, in 1988.

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