It’s hard to know how to begin describing Hunter Page-Lochard. When I met him many years ago he was producing funk-rap music in his bedroom and staying up all night to type a seemingly endless number script ideas into his computer. And that was just in his spare time. He was also dancing daily as a member of the Bangarra Indigenous Dance Theatre, of which his father Steven Page is the artistic director. The next time I saw him almost a year later, he was at the Opera House, acting with the Queensland Theatre Company in Black Diggers to reveal the untold story of indigenous servicemen in the first World War. As the son of a choreographer and ballet dancer, creativity is as entrenched in Hunter’s identity as the Aboriginal and American ancestry that runs through his veins. While his passion lies with writing, he is probably best recognised recently for acting a lead role in Cleverman, the ABC television series that reimagines stories from the Aboriginal Dreamtime, weaving issues of racism, asylum seekers and border protection into a modern sci-fi setting. Hunter’s character Koen is bestowed with superpowers that thrust him into a position of leadership, where he must bridge both the world of the present, and the spiritual world of his indigenous ancestry. As a dancer, musician, actor, director and writer with a firm sense of his spiritual and cultural connection to indigenous Australia, I get the sense that this experience is something Hunter knows only too well. When we catch up for this interview, he is preparing to shoot Cleverman season two and editing the debut short film that he wrote and directed himself. He is as busy as ever, but like always, arrives with a warm smile, orders a hot chocolate and launches straight into an animated and impassioned discussion.
What are your earliest childhood memories?
It was a moment when I was born. A performance even, apparently. To the point where I was 6 months old and was brought onstage for a play because of a joke that my dad played, the actor didn’t know that his prop was a real baby. I think that I’ve been destined to do what I’m doing now ever since I popped out. My faintest memory is light bulbs on the mirrors of dressing rooms and the smell of the Opera House backstage. The arts have always been there to help steer who I am. And my dad and my mum have always been performers so I’ve grown up with a sense of performance. They’ve brought me up to have a foot in each world in a sense, but to understand what each world is.
What kind of worlds are you talking about?
And I feel like I’m in position right now with my culture and my identity as an indigenous person in that I am at a crossroads. But I’ve also kind of rebelled in an artistic way, because my parents wanted me to dance but I wanted to tell stories. I’ve always felt that by being a writer I could help and progress this kind of world that I want. And that drive has been there ever since primary school. I’ve always known what I wanted to do.
So tell us a little about the short film you have just written and directed?
The short film I just made is about suicide. But it’s about the person choosing not to go through with it. It’s actually based around my uncle who committed suicide this year and my cousin two years ago and her father in 2002. It's a personal memorial moment for them. But it’s giving the message that these are the things that need to be talked about.
Do you feel like there are common themes or motifs that you come back to in your writing?Ensembles. I always come back to ensembles because I love characters who talk over each other. It’s Aaron Sorkin writing. People do talk fast, they do interrupt each other. It’s authentic.
How do you want to take risks as a writer?
By putting the elephant in the room and then putting a sign around the elephant saying ‘he’s here guys!’ So for example this television show I’m writing right now is based around the hospitality scene. And so I have my James Packer hierarchy family - but they’re all Aboriginal. But they’re not just aboriginals in suits. The leader is a female she’s is like if a Sasha Fierce Beyonce met with an Aboriginal woman and had a lesbian baby that took over a Donald Trump dynasty. When do you see that in Australian cinema? How come we can’t do that? How come we can’t have an Apocalypto movie about Invasion Day? Where the indigenous warriors actually fight back with awesome fight scenes and Benedict Cumberbatch plays the red jacket and there is traditional language woven throughout it. That’s what I mean about authenticity and that’s what I mean about taking risks.
And that brings us to Cleverman which we couldn’t not talk about. Do you think that Cleverman has taken risks?
Definitely. And I feel like it needs to take more. That was most of the feedback we got from the first season: great work, more risks. The thing with Cleverman is that it’s opened up the doors in the Australian arts industry for people like us within it to go ‘yeah, we are allowed to talk about this’. Because there’s this mentality in Australia that we’re not allowed to talk about these issues of colonisation or the social divide.
A show like Cleverman do you feel like it’s bringing two worlds together – like you were saying earlier?
Definitely. You have people on Twitter who are African American or African British and they are oblivious to the struggle in Australia. The intellectual messages that I think Cleverman has, the social-political messages, they’re just giving them to you, they’re not shying away from these themes. But they’re also still giving you want you want. Its still sci-fi! And it’s a bit overboard but we need that so that people can get that this shit happened in Australia too. So I feel like Cleverman is a great step in the right direction. And it’s given more diversity to our identity, it’s added to the identity that we need to strive for in the Australian film industry.
Is there a pressure that comes with representing your Aboriginality in the media?
It’s hard. You have a foot in each world and a heart in none. It’s a pain in the ass but then at the end of the day your family are proud of you and you’re the flag bearer. I also feel like this country is so young. So the shit that made it is still very rife, still very there. And I mean that energy wise. We’re standing on a massacre right now. You can feel that shit. So its interesting being able to acknowledge that and understand what it is and to then try and play ball in the other world to, the western world. The pressure is unbelievable. But it’s inspiring at the same time.
Is it true that you have real Cleverman blood in your family?
Allegedly yeah. But I think most Aborignals do. But it’s not magic. Giving a broad, western description to it, a Cleverman is the shaman, the man of power within an indigenous community of Australia. The thing with our version of a shaman is that there’s not just one type. Each clan, bloodline, family line and story, each dreaming story for that part of that land is different. And so you’ll have some Clevermen who can shape shift, you have some that are naughty. And there’re women who are Clevermen. For example there is a whole clan apparently in the central desert who are all females and they all have gifts, and they continue and protect the dreaming. And then you have Clevermen who are just clairvoyants. So if you’re related to them you get a call one day that’s just like “Bub, you better be making you’re bed because something’s not right.” And then you’ll start feeling better. And it all comes back to the point that we’re all the same, we’re all one species. And the one thing that connects us is spirituality.
What does spirituality mean to you?
Power. Power within the self. And making the choice in your life to move forward. It’s letting your emotions flow through and then taming them with something that is pure. Like a spiritual lasso, if that makes sense.
What kind of person do you want to become?
I want to be someone who is genuine enough to be inspired by. Who is influential so that you can be influential. I think we need more of those people, because I think we’ve started to lose them. You open up anything on Instagram and it’s just the Kardashians. And I want to be seen as a great writer.