In 1979, Lynette Narkle landed the role of Rosie Yorla in theatre-in-education piece Kullarkby Indigenous playwright Jack Davis – unaware it would become the beginning of a remarkable international acting career.
Her first taste of the stage was in the late 70s, starring in an amateur production of Jack Davis’ first project –The Steel and the Stone.
“He used all the family like, me and my sister Karen,” she said.
“We had very little money (for the production), and we weren’t paid.
“The Bunbury City Band had an office over in Queen’s Gardens so we rehearsed and went through it there and the family and local community came along to see it.”
Shortly after, Lynette received a telegram from the Perth Theatre Company, inviting her to join them for her first paid role in Kullark, which in Noongar means “home”.
“That is where Ernie Dingo and I cut our teeth in stage work,” she said.
“It opened a door to allow contemporary Indigenous Noongar stories to be told.”
Lynette was involved in all of Davis’ works, who she described as a prolific writer. “Within a space of 10-11 years, he wrote Kullark, The Dreamers, No Sugar, Our Town, The Honey Spot,” she said.
“What was emerging then was professional contemporary Indigenous actors.
“We had no training or anything, but we knew these stories and it catapulted from there – nationally and internationally.”
In 1994 she joined the Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company as associate director, taking on roles as both a performer and director. During this time, she shared her passion of performing arts with budding talents at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
“I have always found it rewarding to work with youth,” she said.
“When you give them that sense of self-confidence, that ‘hey I can do this – I have got a story, I can dance, I can sing’.
“Theatre allows you do that – whether visual arts, performing arts or music.”
Lynette is just as impressive on the silver screen as she is on the stage, winning praise for her feature-film roles in Mad Bastards in 2010, The Sapphires, in 2012 and The Darkside in 2013.
In 2004, she forged the role of Indigenous programs officer at Screenwest to increase the engagement of emerging Indigenous filmmakers, in what Lynette described as “exciting times”.
“That culminated in Aboriginal people directing and writing for screen, which is a new medium for Aboriginal stories,” she said.
“Part of that was Deadly Yarns – little five to eight minute films, just to demystify the whole process of writing for film and television.”
Despite her career pulling her in different directions across Australia and the world, Lynette always found her way back to Bunbury, where her three sons and two daughters were born in the 60s and 70s.
Lynette said her favourite aspect of performing was having the ability to take the audience on a journey.
“When the audience are in, you have your two minute call, the house lights go down and the fact they have paid for their tickets to come in and sit and watch,” she said.
“It’s that sense of ‘I am now listening to this contemporary Indigenous story’ and you take down that fourth wall, you take these people on a journey and they are with you.
“It’s very exciting, very humbling and it is a very powerful medium.”
Not only is Lynette a beacon of light on the stage and screen, but a leading cultural voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, helping to bring issues they face to the fore.
Her lifetime of work was recognised in 2017 when she was surprised to receive the Australia Council’s prestigious Red Ochre Award and last month she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts by Edith Cowan University.
“I have lived such a fortunate, creative and joyful life within visual arts and performing arts,” she said.
“You don’t think ‘oh my god I have done so much, why don’t they give me something?’ – you just keep going.”