Bob Maza AM 1939-2000

Bob Maza

Bob Maza

Robert Lewis Maza was born on Palm Island in North Queensland on 25 November 1939.

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

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Telling the black man’s story

A few months after Bob Maza died, his wife told an interviewer: ‘I think he felt really strongly
about teaching through entertainment. I can remember when he was writing plays and he’d have a line that was really heavy, he’d say, “I can’t say that because I don’t want to bludgeon people. I don’t want them to hear that and get shocked and switch off.” And he always used to say you could teach people more by making them laugh than by making them cry. Not long after he passed away I was sent the video of Harry’s War. I couldn’t watch it at first. But I watched it about six months later and it’s the best acting he ever did. It was just brilliant, and it was because he worked with an Indigenous director. He really liked Richard Frankland. And he loved working with Indigenous actors, directors, writers. He was so proud that he was part of something that was Indigenous. That’s what he always said: “Let the black man tell the black man’s story. We can do it. We just need to be given the chance.” He used to love it. It wouldn’t matter if they paid nothing, he’d still do it because he wanted to be involved.’

Robert Lewis Maza was born on Palm Island in North Queensland on 25 November 1939. His father came from Murray Island in Torres Strait and his mother was from the coastal Yidinjdji people, and he was reared to respect both cultures. Members of the isolated community often had to entertain each other – and it was this that engendered Maza’s love of both theatre and the arts.

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. In the late 1960s he 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 Maza was a delegate to the 25th United Nations Assembly to highlight the Third World status of Indigenous Australians. In New York he stayed with Barbara Ann Teer, founder of the National Black Theatre of Harlem and in Canada he studied the work of the radical First Nations group. He returned home fired with the ambition to produce theatre that explored socio-political issues.

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Biographical references

Maryrose Casey: Creating Frames, University of Queensland Press, 2004
Adam Shoemaker: ‘Bob Maza’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995