ASK Nakkiah Lui why she writes plays about indigenous identity and she replies with a story about a friend who asked: ''Why do you go on about being Aboriginal when you live in the city and have access to healthcare?''
''This was from an educated person who was quite a good friend,'' says Lui, who won the inaugural Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright's Award on Tuesday.
The 26-year-old was awarded the $20,000 prize after submitting her play This Heaven, which will be staged at Belvoir next year, and an idea for a jukebox musical play about Aboriginal karaoke contests called Koorioke.
''It's a pretty big opportunity for a playwright to get a commission with a mainstage company,'' Lui says. ''The cash reward always helps, too.''
The award caps off a big year for Lui, who grew up in Mount Druitt and is the daughter of a Gamilaroi woman and Torres Strait Islander. This year she has already won the Australia Council's $20,000 Dreaming Award, completed a law degree and begun a playwright residency at Belvoir. The playhouse has a long history of presenting indigenous theatre but Lui says it is important to present contemporary stories rather than looking to the past.
She says the experiences of young Aboriginal people living in the suburbs is not the same as outback dwellers, let alone indigenous people from Redfern. ''I love theatre but I couldn't see a story that explored an indigenous Australia that I could relate to. Those plays resonated with me but there was nothing that said, 'this is my life'.''
The Balnaves Foundation's Hamish Balnaves says the award aims to bridge the divide between Aboriginal people and white Australia. ''Reconciliation is difficult without an understanding of indigenous issues, culture and history by the non-indigenous community. We hope that by supporting indigenous playwrights, these stories will be told.''