Miranda Tapsell is a proud Larrakia and Tiwi woman from Australia’s Northern Territory, growing up in Darwin and the small town of Jabiru in the Kakadu National Park. Her memoir is fairly light and breezy, but doesn’t shy away from the complexities of being a biracial Indigenous woman in a country and industry with a lot to learn about treating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures with the respect they deserve.
Miranda always loved to perform, but it wasn’t until Arrerente and Arabana actor Aaron Pederson led a workshop at her school that she realised that this was something she could aspire to do as a job. This set her on her path to the elite National Institute of Dramatic Art and on to become a successful actor and then to co-write, co-produce and star in Top End Wedding.
At NIDA and in the early stages of her career Miranda struggled to ground herself. She felt out of place as a girl from the north living in Sydney. As one of only two Indigenous students in her cohort at NIDA. her confidence was shaken by the ignorance of her fellow students, an unsupportive institutional environment, and criticism of her Territory accent Early roles based on Australia’s shameful history of mistreatment of Aboriginal people loaded her with the emotional and intellectual weight of reliving trauma without support.
Miranda persevered and with her hard work, talent, charisma, self-awareness and network of First Nations mentors and peers she blossomed, winning major Australian TV awards, and heading to Cannes with the cast of hit movie The Sapphires. Her next step was to use her profile and connections to make the sort of film she wished she’d been able to see as a young girl.
The making of Top End Wedding, in the same year as her own wedding, is the highlight of the memoir. The film is a romantic comedy about a young woman much like Miranda – a biracial professional living away from the Northern Territory with uneven connections to her heritage. Her co-star is a Brit, a step further from her own background than real-life husband James, serving as the “Luke Skywalker” of the movie leading the viewer into the strange and beautiful environment of the Top End. This movie is Miranda’s love letter to the Territory, her family, and her culture.
To non-Australian Cannonballers, I recommend you watch the movie and read this book to learn something about one of the facets of First Nations Australia. And if you can get access to it, also watch the Season 2 finale of TV comedy series Get Krack!n where Miranda and besty Nakkiah Lui play heightened versions of themselves being thrust from guests to fill-in hosts of a very early morning TV show culminating in some hilariously frank talk about race in Australia.