Heard of Elephants Archive

Watchful elephants

About Heard of Elephants

In 2015 I was invited by a production company to help write a play about the refugee situation in Australia. A friend I knew was spending time with refugees at the MITA detention centre. She offered to take me with her once a week. So, for much of a year I talked with people who came originally from various parts of the world to escape violence. Now they were trapped waiting for years to fully enter our country.

As I started to piece together people's stories, I came to realise how precarious their situations were and how I could seriously endanger their lives by making their stories available to the public. The MITA guards and other staff would know which stories belonged to which of their detainees. If the federal government took umbrage at these stories being made known, they could easily find out who they belonged to and deport them. This in fact happened to one refugee who spoke with a radio journalist.

I had two short plays produced by La Mama's Writers Theatre which were inspired by my time at MITA. This too was concerning me because we had no one consulting who was a former refugee to ensure the portrayals were fair and honest.

I asked the production company who were waiting for my full-length work whether they had anyone consulting on their project? Would any of the actors be former refugees? Would the director be a former refugee? The answers were "no", and they showed no interest in taking further action. So, I withdrew from the project.

I still wanted to raise awareness about refugees, but was at a loss as to how to do so truthfully and safely. Then I thought about how my one grandfather worked as a goodwill ambassador in Vietnam (well before the war). His job was to help farmers to grow crops using modern methods. Years later he would tell his rapt grandchildren about what it was like to ride on an elephant to work everyday.

I realised that elephants were also being forced to become refugees. Drought and wars in places such as Africa and Southeast Asia meant people were taking over the lands which were still green due to...well...elephant poop. But in order to protect their crops from elephants, they were killing them. This just further desertified the lands in a destructive loop. People would then move on to cities to find some way to survive. This created unrest and spawned wars, where people were also forced to become refugees.

There was my story! In telling a tale about a family of elephants in a war-torn area, I could appeal to my audience's empathy for their plight. They could then recognise that refugees don't just land on our shores, they come here because they have to: just like my elephants and the rangers who protect them under gunfire.

This show sold out on various nights and regularly received standing ovations. The Victorian State Government offered to sponsor the show going on tour throughout country Victoria. Sadly, a number of my actors had regular jobs they couldn't leave to take on this opportunity. So, we had to let it pass. But it was awesome being asked!


Our Theatre Press review

Theatre Press review

Video Footage

Heard of Elephants: Rains Fall

Heard of Elephants: the bachelors

Heard of Elephants: dead elephant



Little Mim Rains Fall Mother and son Family Strong Dad Bachelors Fight Young love Mature love Park rangers Killing poopcam Dead elephant Drought Starving Mim Poachers Last two Elephant ghosts Ranger faces elephants Hope

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Katherine Phelps
0411 359 598
Melbourne, Australia

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