Black, gender queer and fiercely talented, Nellie Small was a trailblazing star in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Today, she’s barely remembered. Elissa Blake talks to dramatist Alana Valentine, director Liesel Badorrek and actor Elenoa Rokobaro about putting this Sydney icon back into the spotlight.

Nellie Small
Nellie Small, photographed for People Magazine, 1952. All photos © Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

It takes a determined dig into dusty corners of newspaper archives to find Nellie Small. A back issue of Sydney’s long-gone The Arrow, for example, ran a profile piece on Nellie in 1932, while she was starring in a Tivoli circuit vaudeville show. 

Under the breathtaking headline “She may be Black but she’s no one’s Slave”, columnist Jean Hull writes: “Do you know Nellie Small?...