Writer and producer, Jannali Jones talks about Trail's End and Reconciliation

Thu, May 30 2024
In line with our commitment to amplifying First Nations voices in the arts, we caught up with Gunai/Kurnai writer and producer Jannali Jones to hear her inspirations in developing her award-winning work, 'Trail's End' and the value of giving a voice and space for First Nations people to share culture. As the winner of both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award and the Holden Street Theatres Award this Fringe season, Jannali Jones explains how 'Trail's End' shares the story of intergenerational disadvantage and how important it is to continue to share First Nations culture through storytelling.
Jannali Jones writer and producer stands in front of a tree smiling at the camera. She is wearing all black.
Jannali Jones. Photo: Jenny Kwok 2024
What is something that first inspired you or drew you to start writing?

I've always loved writing ever since I was a kid. I also used to be dragged along to my mum's musical theatre rehearsals. She played cello in the orchestra, so I would be going along to rehearsals at the Adelaide High School after hours, seeing these amazing productions of Les Misérables and Nicholas Nickerby that really started off my love of Theatre. So I did various things and eventually did a master's in creative writing and that journey kind of led me along to writing a book, which was published a few years ago, a young adult book and I've also recently been getting more into playwriting, reflecting my love of theatre.

What does story writing mean for you?

Story writing is so important, and to me, it forms part of my identity. A lot of my day job is very dry work, so I need a creative outlet. I've always been a very creative person. I've done a bit of acting and singing, and I used to play the flute. If I'm away from pen and paper for too long, I'll go crazy because I'm just constantly thinking about things and just daydreaming about characters and getting lost in my own worlds and creations. I just love it. I love being able to create and tell stories and also talk about things that are important to me.

What is a way we can better show Reconciliation?

I think that there's still room for more participation, more shows in Adelaide Fringe. I think that also by promoting and showcasing what's already there, what's already happening will help to encourage other people because it can be a little bit intimidating if you feel like you're sort of the only person in the space. So I think getting more people involved and I think that's a big part of it  just building that space up and making sure that everyone knows, ‘Hey, come to the Fringe.’ It's a great space for First Nations people and the support is definitely there to help in that space and then we're nearly there. 

How do you feel First Nations storytelling through the arts impacts culture in Australia?

We have so many stories that haven't been told yet and our culture is so vibrant. Art is culture for us. It's so much a part of who we are. I think that Australia in general still has a long way to go in terms of embracing and understanding Aboriginal people and, you know, the referendum just kind of demonstrates that there's still people who want to be heard and who want our voices out there. So, having being able to tell a story creatively is just really important and I think there is actually quite a large part of the industry who are just so keen to see more and to embrace it.  I think it really does enrich us when we're able to understand more about each other, of all different Australians and First Nations history in Australia's history, and I would love to see that embraced more by all Australians.

Obstacles you had making Trail’s End?

I definitely had a lot of obstacles in getting Trail’s End up at Adelaide Fringe. It was my first time doing any kind of producing work and being new to playwriting. That was kind of another challenge. Having those dual roles also had a director lined up who dropped out. So I had to sort of scramble to find a new one and be sort of new again to Adelaide. 

I didn't have a lot of pre-existing networks that I could draw on, So Adelaide friends were really great at that. There's a lot of events and things, and you can meet up with people and can just call them on the phone. They were really helpful in giving me tips and steer me towards people I could connect with in order to help find a new director and crew for the play.

It's a steep learning curve, as anyone will tell you, producing for the first time and getting something up for the first time. Having Fringe is that extra support and that structure really helped me to get through.

Rewarding experiences you had making Trail’s End?

For me personally being able to say, ‘Oh, I wrote this play that was in Adelaide Fringe,’ that by itself is an achievement. And then also, it won two awards, which was a surprise to me. So that was just kind of an extra cherry on top. Being able to share stories and help contribute to the Aboriginal theatre space, the local industry, that was really important to me.

I think that we definitely need to hear more Indigenous voices and stories and there's definitely an appetite for it out there. Being able to give people opportunities to a lot of cast and crew that were First Nations, emerging artists and emerging creatives and pay them for their work. I think that they were really enthusiastic about it as well. It was just a great experience for everyone who was involved and it also has led to a couple of other opportunities.

Tell us about the themes and the catalyst that sparked Trail’s End? 

The themes in Trail’s End were very much about family connection and coming-of-age identity, like figuring out who you are, but also dealing with themes of grief. For me, writing it was very much about reflecting part of my experience growing up, trying to figure out who I was in a mixed family. I think it's a very common story for unfortunately, for a lot of First Nations Australians, this sort of fragmentation and dissemination of our families, historically through things like family removal, being put on missions, that sort of thing. So I wanted it to speak both to a general audience, but also to First Nations, people who came to see the play and we got a lot of good positive feedback on it. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.