• 27 Nov 2012 /  Articles, THEATRE

    An elegant charm was her best material

    Published: August 22, 2011 – 2:00AM

    Trying to bring some order to my files – as I find pieces of interest I will put them. Here is a tribute to one of my favourite Sydney people.


    Rose in Full Bloom!

    Even people who never met Rose Jackson or saw her on stage might have gained a glimpse into her warm and gracious personality. Whereas Terence Stamp is said to have based his version of the transsexual Bernadette in the film Priscilla: Queen of the Desert on Carlotta of Les Girls fame, Tony Sheldon, who has played the part on stage in Australia, London and New York, says he based his classy, ever-so-tender Bernadette on Rose.

    Rose Jackson was born Barry Charles Jackson on September 11, 1935, in Paddington, the son of Trevor Jackson and his wife, Ruby, and said she knew ”from the minute she was born” a male body was not right for her. She was trying on Ruby’s clothes and make-up from the age of five.

    Barry, however, loved to swim and for a period was even a Bondi lifesaver. He preferred attending the cinema at Double Bay to school and, at the age of 15, discovered Marilyn Monroe. After leaving school, he worked briefly collecting rent for his uncle’s real estate business in Kings Cross, where he was drawn into Sydney’s then-bohemian artistic demi-monde and largely hidden homosexual milieu.

    Handsome and successful gay men introduced Barry to a secret world of fine dining, high fashion and wild parties. The pull of his feminine yearnings was also starting to take hold and when Barry began going out in public as a woman he took the name Rose, after Monroe’s character in Niagara, Rose Loomis. From the outset, Rose was known for her elegant demeanour and charm.

    By 18, Barry was working as a window dresser at David Jones. He was so talented, he was soon display manager for Curzons, on Pitt and George streets, where he co-ordinated about 300 fashion parades as well as designed and supervised the seasonal window displays.

    After a few years overseas, Barry returned to Sydney in 1964. Not long after that, he discovered a club in Kings Cross called the Jewel Box, where some of the female impersonators were taking hormone therapy. Rose was encouraged to ”soften her look” and she never looked back. Living as a woman full time (she never underwent surgery) obliged Barry to give up a day job as a costume maker for the Old Tote Theatre Company, where Rose was not accepted.

    By the late ’60s, she had a hectic schedule making clothes for Bobby Lloyd’s costume-making business, including outfits for the Phillip Street Theatre revues and even bigger productions such as Jim Sharman’s Hair. By now, every female star of note, from Nancye Hayes to Toni Lamond, knew nothing would make them look more eye-catching than a new frock by Rose Jackson. She was even once rushed to the Opera House by Sir Robert Helpmann, who, suffering a serious wardrobe malfunction, insisted only she could save the day.

    By night, Rose performed at the Purple Onion, in Kensington, where shows such as A Streetcar Named Beatrice attracted critical acclaim. In 1969, she moved to a club in Oxford Street called Capriccios. Debbie Reynolds got so excited, she wanted to take the troupe to the US.

    In 1983, at Kinselas, Rose starred in Rose’s Turn, based on her life and written by David Mitchell and David Penfold. It was so successful that Rose opened her own club, Rose’s, in Goulburn Street in 1984. The chef was a young Japanese migrant she had met in the Kinselas kitchen, Tetsuya Wakuda. Then one night at the height of its success, Rose’s burnt down.

    Rose returned to making costumes, this time for the Costume Design Centre in Surry Hills. One of her last assignments was to help iOTA realise his transformation into the transsexual character for the hit musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. By her own count, Rose created about 70,000 costumes.

    Rose Jackson never married.

    James Waites

    This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/an-elegant-charm-was-her-best-material-20110821-1j4li.html

  • 09 May 2010 /  Articles, Reviews

    Redfern: One Kind of Stealing

    I went to a little party on Sunday afternoon at Zoe and Matt’s place who have relocated from genteel Melbourne to one of Redfern’s more idiosyncratic lanes – hey they are artists.

    Redfern: Another Kind of Stealing

    Zoe Churchill is a designer who worked on Ngapartji Ngapartji and Matt Davis is a gungho cameraman who travels the world – including working on a doco about young rappers and grafitti-artists in Burma (some in jail of course). But he also sat in the back of the Toyota with his camera when Trevor Jamieson’s cousins went Roo shooting out at Ernabella.

    Zoe Making Stuff for Ernabella Show

    For a guy who gets a thrill out of surviving cyclones and American air-raids, he reckoned the trip in the back of that vehicle was the best fun he has ever had.

    Matt Davis: General Dude

    Matt Davis: General Dude

    You all get to see the footage when the doco Nothing Rhymes With Ngapartji screens on your tele later in the year. Meanwhile a sneak preview on Wednesday night – which is ‘hold-your-breath exciting for a bunch of us who could not get out to a Alice for the first public screening a month ago. I have waxed lyrical too many times now about this trip, the making of this film and all that has come from it. But last night we went a step further when Trevor Jamieson, the film’s lead actor and maturing law man in his own right, honoured me into his family by bestowing on me my own special name – Tjaruru.

    Mates and Brothers: Me & Trevor Out Bush

    I can’t quite get my tongue around the rolling second ‘r’ yet – and I think it translates as ‘He of Many Typos’…or it could be ‘the Brother with No Sense of Direction’ . But hey for a white guy who didn’t grow up in Australia and has never quite found Australia home, this feels like a whole big step towards a much yearned-for ‘belonging’ – though I know I have a long way to go yet. Probably a life time. And a bit more.

    Derek Lynch (Roam) & Anne Golding (Eva) with Petrol

    Trevor is in town performing in Nyuntu Ngali, Big hART co-production with Windmill (Adelaide) that is currently playing at STC Wharf Two. This is officially a show for teenage kids , but it’s so classy and engaging that doesn’t occur to you when you’re watching it. Written as well as directed by Big hART honcho Scott Rankin, Nyuntu Ngali is a version of Romeo and Juliet set in Australia more than a century into the future. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, it is a post-technological landscape, though embued with more hope. Or you might say it is a cross between The Road and Sampson & Delilah, thoough its look and feel is entirely its own.

    Nyuntu Ngali translates from Pitjanjatjara literally into ‘You We Two’ or ‘Lovers’.

    It is the 22nd century in central Australia and humanity has farewelled the days of cars, ipods and mobile telephones. The industrial and technological culture that thrived for generations has ravaged our planet. Welcome to our post climate-change future, where our very survival depends on our ability to recover the traditional hunter-gatherer skills that we have lost. It’s time to get back to basics.

    Despite the harsh environment of this post apocalyptic world, a beautiful and fragile love blossoms between Eva and Roam. Each has found a soul mate in the other but their joy will be short lived. Their wrong-skin marriage has placed them in terrible danger and they must run to escape the terrifying and unseen enemy that now threatens them.

    This moving and powerful story of survival in both English and Pitjanjatjara is interspersed with sand storytelling, choreography, video art, shadow play, weaving and a highly atmospheric musical score.”

    The storyline has been clarified since opening in Adelaide, as we witness the young lovers, mere teenagers, struggle to survive after being drive out by their families for their ‘wrong-skin’ relationship. Eva (Anne Golding) is white and Roam (Derek Lynch) is black. Jamieson plays the role of narrator and also represents the life force of the child, ‘nostalgically’ named Petrol. To my taste the movement now is a little over-choreographed and I get the sense there are fewer songs. But there are still the strong projected visuals, including ‘live’ sand paintings undertaken by singer Jennifer Wells. I guess what I should say is like all Big hART work, Nyuntu Ngali continues to grow and change; and while this Sydney version is better overall (certainly the story is easier to follow and more fun for kids) than what we saw in Adelaide, it would undoubtedly evolve further if given the chance.

    The production did not have enough time to settle into Sydney for opening night, which was stressful for the artists and crew; but the only obvious defect for that audience was some loss in the amplifying of the actors’ voices. Trevor tells me the show has settled in.

    Derek Lynch

    One of highlights of the production is watching the development of the two young actors. Derek Lynch in particular embodies the x-factor found in any first class performer, and it is sweet to watch him at the moment because he is not yet seasoned enough to be aware of this. He has a source of power that reminds one of a young Trevor Jamieson. And while Jamieson possesses a compelling physicality, I am not sure he could match Lynch’s ‘John Travolta’ disco moves.

    Jennifer Wells & Beth Sometimes

    Under the guidance of musical director Beth Sometimes, Jennifer Wells is another Aboriginal performer who is cautiously growing on confidence. I follow the Big hART story, especially in relation top its Aboriginal work because I sincerely believe we are watching a Australian theatre history in the making. Something very special is happening, focused at its most intense between Jamieson and Rankin, but many others – black, white and (as my mother would say) brindle – are also swept into this swirling orbit.

    St Jude: Not So Hopeless Balancing Act

    My patron saint is St Jude – ‘hope for the hopeless’ – better still – ‘desperate cases and lost causes’. What’s lovely about this show is that it will surely inspire young people to discuss very many topical subjects embraced in over-arching theme of love’s endurance: as in Romeo and Juliet – against all odds. With or without St Jude’s protection, there is no life without hope. Nyuntu Ngali puts that proposition to the 21ist century’s first generation of young adults.


  • 17 Apr 2010 /  Articles

    As mentioned last time, you might want to read these Big  hART news catch-ups in reverse order of posting, or you might not. You may, I hope, wish to know what Big hART is up to, now Drive and Ngapartji Ngapartj have come to end end (except for upcoming TV screenings and the long-lasting impact on many people’s lives).

    Best Actor - Trevor Jamieson

    Best Actor: Trevor Jamieson (Ngapartji Ngapartji) 2008/9 Sydney Theatre Critic Awards

    Let’s just say, the intercultural connections born of Ngapartji Ngapartji, especially in the bond formed between leading actor Trevor Jamieson and writer/director Scott Jamieson has led to further projects. Late last year I attended the premiere in Adelaide of Nyuntu Ngali, a Big hART-Windmill youth theatre co-production, which comes to the Sydney Theatre Company as part of its Education strand early May. For more go here.


    Eva (Anne Golding) and her lover, Roam (Derek Lynch)

    This lyrical futuristic tale looks at the survival of a young white woman, Eva (Anne Golding) and her aboriginal partner, Roam (Derek Lynch) in the 22nd century. The production features a narrator called Petrol, played by Jamieson. Any of you following this actor’s work must agree that we have a major talent – well, not emerging: emerged!


    Jamieson as story-teller in Nyuntu Ngali

    Not surprisingly, Jamieson is also playing the title role in the Big hART-Belvoir co-production currently in development – Namatjira – based on the life of the painter Albert Namatjira which opens in Sydney in late September. Derek Lynch will be performing in the show – as will Namatjira clan member who still work in the same painting/drawing tradition.

    Jamieson as Namatjira: Photo by Michael Corridore

    Here’s a message I got from Namatjira’s producer, Sophia Marinos, about a week ago – the morning after excepts from the show had been presented at Long Paddock. Long Paddock is a forum that brings together presenters, producers, state touring coordinators and other stakeholders to discuss productions for national touring. At the Long Paddock forums, producers are invited to “pitch” potential touring productions to a delegation of presenters.

    Jamieson painting with Namatjira descendent Elton Wirri

    Jamieson with Namatjiri descendent Elton Wirri

    “Big hART’s Namatjira arts and community development project has just launched a new project blog. The Namatjira Project, named after artist Albert Namatjira, is focused on research and development, and grass roots activity engaging project partners and key senior Namatjira family members. Over the last few months, members have begun to collect and explore a resource bank of information, photographic material, anecdotes, artifacts and inspirational conversations. The site will bring visitors up to speed with the project’s brief history, and will be updated regularly as it develops. Visitors are invited to read the blog, click through to the flickr photo stream, make comments, pass the link on to their networks, and contact the site owner directly with thoughts or feedback.

    Kevin Namatjira painting with co-director Wayne Blair

    “Yesterday Big hART took a small contingent of the Namatjira team to Riverside Theatres in Sydney [for a Long Paddock presentation].
    Our goal? To pitch Namatjira to venues and presenters in order to build a national tour of the performance piece in 2011 and 2012. The team? Writer/director Scott Rankin, actor Trevor Jamieson, musician Genevieve Lacey and creative producer Sophia Marinos.

    Chalk drawing in the Namatjira tradition

    With one day to rehearse a 15-minute excerpt, the pressure was on…. and we pulled it off.
    The lights went down and up came the audio visuals. The audience is transported to Western Arrarnta country and the world of Lenie and Kevin Namatjira. This important story must be told.
    Seamlessly, Trevor Jamieson moves into live performance. Quietly, slowly, gently removing his socks and shoes and shirt, he creates the the world of Albert Namatjira. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret…” As he tells Namatjira’s totemic flying ant dreaming story through movement and dance, the virtuosic Genevieve Lacey entrances the audience with mystical sounds from her the contra-base recorder. To a backdrop of watercolour paintings by Namatjira family artists this is mesmerising.
    Rousing applause lets us know that people want to see this show.

    Derek Lynch with producer Sophia Marinos

    The buzz in the foyer afterward, and the flurry of exchanging business cards confirms this. Presenters from Launceston, to Ballarat, to Illawarra, to Darwin, all want this show, if not in 2011 then in 2012.
    Now it’s time close the deals..

    Memorial to Albert Namatjira

    So that is all good news. There is a chance I may get up to Alice for a further stage of community consultation and creative development in July – we’ll see – depends on the airfares. But it is important to know that Big hART don’t just put on shows, developed over your average 4-6 weeks rehearsal. Years and months go into the evolution of these shows.

    For a whole lot more on the Namatjira project go to the official website

    No doubt more on this website over the next few months as well.


    the end – for now


  • 13 Sep 2009 /  Articles

    Kathy & Tim Patton with friends John & Gail Heindrich enjoying Bush Tucker Day:

    I get back to the city and my lovely week at Trundle is pushed out of the way by a whirling round of engagements. Most of you know I have a thing going with Big hART – I’m not sure what is, but it feels good. This was my third venture into one of their projects: this one is called GOLD– which is, in the 21st century, another word for ‘water’ – or, in this case, lack of it. The project is connecting with farming families along the length of the Murray Darling Basin – with a view to helping reduce some of the increasing isolation many are feeling – especially through these years of drought. it might have rained in Sydney a few times this past year – but not out Trundle way – where wheat farmers, right now, are looking out over their seventh year in a row of failed annual crop.

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  • 07 Sep 2009 /  Articles


    this is a silly preview in advance of some reporting on my trip away to Trundle for Bushtucker Day with the Big hART project GOLD.  Why these pix? Well, I have a new phone with a camera in it – and I was trying it out. These just happen to be the photos left over after deleting most – that didn’t have my thumb on them etc. So totally random. I few abstruse clues as to the town, its look and character. By no means a representative sample however

    This is the staircase of the famous Trundle Hotel.


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  • 29 Aug 2009 /  Articles

    It’s 1st birthday party time for jameswaites.com  !!!!


    Partying @ my place this weekend

    We debuted 2 September 2009. I have since put up around 150 posts – from snail mail to air express, ranging in import from the silly and deeply shallow to the culture shifting and gloriously profound (yeah right). The site got started because I couldn’t get feature stories up in the print media any more. Two good ones got turned down almost back to back this time last year: Indeed, as is their discourteous way these days, most editors did not even bother to rsvp with even the simplest ‘no thanks’. One was a chance to cover the annual sex workers (Scarlet Alliance) conference, which was being held in Kalgoorlie last year. The other was the making of a documentary film based on Big hART’s Ngapartji Ngapartji project, on location in a town called Ernabella, 500ks south-west of Alice Springs. I so wanted to go on that trip I ended up inventing my own publishing outlet – jameswaites.com. The rest is hysterical.

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  • 24 Aug 2009 /  Articles

    A colleague sent me this article – which further explains why Barrie Kosky feels more at home in Berlin than here.

    Outrageousness, Herr Director, Is a Tough Act to Follow


    (New York Times, 14 January 2007)

    Frank Castorf's production of Kokain (2004)

    Frank Castorf's 2004 production of Kokain

    WHEN the director Frank Castorf was being considered
    to head Berlin’s second largest state-owned theater in 1991, the cultural powerbroker Ivan Nagel urged the German Senate to take a risk on him and his politically minded troupe, saying, “In three years they will either be dead or famous.” Mr. Castorf got the job, and the following year he opened at the Volksbühne, or People’s Theater, with a series of brash productions. Under his direction, actors ignored huge portions of the classical texts they performed, stripped naked, screamed their lines for the duration of five-hour productions, got drunk onstage, dropped out of character, conducted private fights, tossed paint at their public, saw a third of the audience walk out as they spoke two lines at an excruciatingly slow pace, may or may not have induced a theatergoer to drink urine, threw potato salad, immersed themselves in water, recited newspaper reports of Hitler’s last peacetime birthday party, told bad jokes, called the audience East German sellouts and appeared to but did not kill a mouse. After their first season the prestigious magazine Theaterheute (Theater Today) named the Volksbühne Theater of the Year.

    Mr. Castorf and his troupe were famous.

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  • 24 Apr 2009 /  Articles

    This pretty boat- the Suzy Wong – arrived in Australia in the late 1950s - and was fortunate to find acceptance and love, chiefly through the Rankin family, whose son Scott is now the senior creative force behind Big hART. After racial disturbances rocked the Cronulla Beach and broader ‘Shire’ community south of Sydney’s Botany Bay in 2006, the good ship Suzie Wong was put to work to help heal wounds in a community project that was as amazing as it was socially successful. After seasons at the 2007 Sydney Festival and 2008 Adelaide Festival of Arts, Junk Theory was invited to launch this year’s Ten Days On The Island as well. So Big hART had two gigs going at this festival – between them raking in probably the largest audience attendance figures of any company in the festival. For more on Junk Theory go to this site.

    Meanwhile here are some photographs taken by Brett Monaghan one night in the season at Bellerive on the Derwent River.



    I’ll put some more pix up in a couple of days of the Suzy Wong being taken out of the water into dry-dock in the full light of day. But I didn’t want to interfere with the special mood of these ones taken at night in front of an enchanted Hobart audience.



  • 15 Oct 2008 /  Articles

    My life has changed since Germaine Greer declared I was Aboriginal. Not necessarily coz she was right – though she always is! But because this was around the same time I was heading off to Ernabella – and all the good that has come to from that ‘sojourn on another planet’.

    The good from that trip is multi-faceted, but one of the main elements was the opportunity to allow the illness of ‘anxiety’, with which I suffer, to diminish from a big black hole in my heart to a much smaller black smear. Here I am putting my life in my readers’ hands, but – oh well – what are blogs for if not to blog all over. Only a few of you know that I fell off a cliff when I was in my twenties and drifted into a coma while on the operating theatre from which I did not emerge for, I think, something like twelve days. I had many operations, four on my left hip, including two in London – where I limped around for a year with an infection and a bandage from knee to groin for more than a year. It was a tough way to start my global career as a something. From which I returned unsuccessful and instead became a critic.

    Approximately 27 fractures to live with this day, mostly down my left side, so I get a bit of arthritis these days – oh and the blood I received in transfusion was infected with a virus I am still obliged to manage daily. But the only real price I paid for that accident was ‘nominal aphasia’ (aka ‘forgetting names’); and what has been diagnosed as ‘panic disorder’, perhaps better known as ‘shell-shock’. This might help explain to those who think they know me, why sometimes I have been known to ‘over-react’ to challenging or unpleasant situations I have sometimes found myself in.

    It got to a point in my 40s where this behavioural flaw seriously started to have a negative impact on my life at all levels, personal and professional – and I had to go seek help. The highlight of which was being accidentally locked in the toilet of my psychiatrist’s flash new premises, magazines being pushed under the door, while we had to wait a couple of hours for the builder to turn up and get me out.

    I was greatly comforted in that moment by two factors. One was the idea that I was in the middle of the ultimate Woody Allen joke; and the other was a cartoon hand-drawn on the toilet mirror by Leunig – which I really can’t explain here without tiring you out, but which was suitably philosophical to help me through the moment.

    It has taken a lot of hard work for me to feel confident that I could return to crowded buses or bars, though a boss only has to shout at me once for me to get up and exit a new job. It speaks to my love of the form, I guess, (how safe I feel) that I don’t at all mind a crowded theatre foyer.

    But I did let myself down on the drive from Alice Springs to Ernabella when, at a rare petrol station stop, a woman called me to wind my window down so she could pour abuse on me with great enthusiasm for an alleged driving  incident some several hundred kilometres earlier, when – as I tried to explain to her – I was not actually driving the car. In normal circumstances these days I would have done whatever I could to defuse the situation of this hard bush bitch barking obscenities at me with an apology and a soft smiling heart; but instead I fell into the old trap of answering back. All this is very small beer – except for the fact that, while I was chewing angrily on my ‘burger with lot’ (a very good one actually) from the garage diner, Big hART’s Scott Rankin came up and pressed his thumbs gently into my shoulder blades. In front of the rest of the somewhat-alarmed touring squad. It was a gesture of strategic healing and noteable compassion from, in effect, a stranger. And while this piece of writing is not about Scott Rankin, or the recent trip away, it was an action that – I believe now – goes to the heart of his work.

    What I do want to note however was the ‘Whiteness’ of the woman’s attack on me. It is not how I grew up. Something else not many of you would know: but I was born in 1955 in a tiny colonial hospital on the island of Sohano, which sits in the strait between Buka and Bougainville; islands themselves that for thousands of years belonged culturally to what we now identify as the Solomons, but were hived off at the stroke of  a pen and carelessly handed to the colonial powers (first German, then British, then Australian) holding sway over what we like to call New Guinea. Later down the time-line, of course, trouble has come from that.

    Even though my parents were not a great match for marriage, and trouble unfolded in later years; growing up on those islands, and other outposts around New Guinea and Papua (Saidor, Madang, Kerema, Daru, less so Port Moresby in the later years) was characterized by a peacefulness – an absence of ‘anxiety’ – that I have missed since moving to Sydney for boarding school in 1967. ‘Alienation’ is not given its due as one of the structural posts of late capitalism’s consumerist society. “We grieve therefore we shop.” “We grieve therefore we shoplift.” “We grieve therefore we yell at that other customer in the queue.” We grieve therefore we stab the late-night migrant worker before making off with a packet of cigarettes.”

    It was not until I read Patrick White’s Riders In the Chariot and Tree of Man (syllabus texts) in my late teenage years that I found some help in understanding the weird underpinning of gratuitous cruelty that appears to characterize the Australian culture. However ‘low tech’ they might have been, the towns had grown up in across PNG seemed infinitely more civilized.

    I am not talking about some kind of hifaluting colonial pomposity, of the sort indulged in by the British in India. Life in PNG in those post-WWII years was ‘survival’ based, and even if almost all the European households had ‘staff’, there was a great camaraderie and mutual respect between colonizer and colonized – by and large. Mum would babysit the housegirl’s kids if need be. And kids from the nearby village would be rounded up to flesh out attendance at our birthday parties – where such luxuries as lamingtons, meringues and fairy bread appeared as nutritionally mad, if delicious, to the locals, as they actually are.mMy mother used to say she knew we would always be safe on Bougainville, all three of us little children, however far we wandered. That PNG is no longer such a safe place is an indictment of Australia’s mismanagement of it’s obligations as a colonial power: but that is a story for another time.

    It was profoundly tragic to revisit the place of my birth in 1988 – in the midst of a civil war. Bougainville  PNG. All over a goddam copper mine. I found the tiny hospital I was born in abandoned by staff and taken over by a colony abandoned lepers. It was a confrontation as shocking as it was succinct. I had come to find a lost part of myself: and I did so in the form of one young man who would appear from behind trees and bushes, shouting mad things at me with great enthusiasm as he limped along the track behind me – in the belief I was his long lost brother. Jimi! Jimi! Jimi! Well perhaps I was!

    This dislocation in my sense of self is something I have had to learn to live with. And, apart from the occasional fall from good grace, I have done so. More or less. But it does not take away the sadness; nor does it diminish the suspicion in my eye as I gaze across what is brightly described as Western Culture.

    So you can see why my journey to Ernabella with the Ngapartji Ngapartji mob was such a positive experience for me. In the first instance, there is the Big hART working model, which requires all participants to put their egos in their pockets and work as one. As someone who must still be very careful about how much time I spend in the company of large groups, living close to the ground – 24/7 – in so-called ‘primitive conditions’ – with between twenty and forty people was a great test of my susceptibility to ‘illness’. And for 99.99% of the time, the experience was incredibly positive. I fact I have emerged from the adventure with a much stronger and more secure sense of worth and self. And a more secure sense of calm.

    More significant was the experience of being Ernabella itself, which is so like the towns I grew up in. If dryer. Or quite likely similar to what most of these towns would be like if I visited them today. So many memories came flooding back of living in a ‘bi-cultural’ world. And how comfortable I felt with that. I remembered writing in my diary from Rabaul in 1988: “I feel like a frog put back in his pond”; and there was a touch of the same sensation being in Ernabella too. Though I am not making light of the profound cultural differences between indigenous PNG cultures and those of central Australia.

    Dear me: all the above was intended to be no more than of pre-amble to the ‘subject of the day’ – subjet du jour! Which is meant to be what I made of the Deadly Awards in particular but, in the same week, two other trips to the Sydney Opera House. And another tonight to see/hear Pattie Smith. But, in fact, as the week has unfolded, all these ‘live’ experiences survive in the shadow now of the most significant cultural event since my return. That being the opening two episodes of SBS’s bone-shaking series, The First Australians.

    Are you watching it!

    Since few of us these days have very long attention spans, and there are no pretty pictures to go with this post (sorry kids) I am going to stop here. Leave you hanging, as it were; and I will pick up where I am leaving off tomorrow.

    PS: for those of you who love my site exclusively for Brett’s pictures, I assure you, more are on the way. He had to do a wedding on the weekend (yep you know the movie – The Wedding Photographer). But he is back processing images from Outback-DownUnder as you read this

    ….if you got this far (lol).

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  • 19 Sep 2008 /  Articles

    Ngapartji Ngapartji

    I get out of my cosy swag aside the still flickering fire and, as I head over to the vehicle to get something, I notice fresh hoof marks in the red dirt. I thought I had been dreaming, but we must indeed have had a mob of brumbies clatter past in the middle of the night. The evening had been cool and otherwise still – a full moon drifting across, dusk to dawn, from one horizon to the other, like a sacred eye amidst a scattering homage of brilliant stars. I find out later they were wild donkeys: not everything out here is exactly what it seems.

    the drive

    After a seven hours drive from Alice Springs on Sunday, we got in after dark and set up an impromptu base in a rarely used camping ground. A few old buildings include a semi-built shed where I set up a desk. I can see right through the unfinished walls across grassland to khaki hills. This site, a few kilometres outside the township of Ernabella, is surrounded by calm, old, beautifully worn-down mountains wrapping around us like ancient arms in a circle of tender embrace. It is as if we are in nest.

    In a way we are. Such is the camaraderie and spirit of goodwill holding together this cheery group of techies and creatives, admin folk and an entire documentary film crew. Plus a kid and a dog!

    The night before, with most of the team crashed out after a massive first day, a few of us sit around the fire chatting and admiring the hills. The production’s leading actor Trevor Jamieson says that their rounded shapes remind him of country further to the west.


    Ngapartji Ngapartji's Lead Actor Trevor Jamieson

    Over that way, well into central West Australia, similarly rounded mountains belong to an Emu Dreaming. The concept of Dreaming (Tjukurpa) means a lot more to Aboriginal people than to Europeans. I will not have got this exactly right, but the story Trevor told us as we were dozing off goes something like this:

    A flock of young emus have walked a long way when they come across some interesting tucker. They bend down to eat these seeds which make them dopey. One by one they lie down to sleep and never wake up. The roundness of the hills represent the backs of the emus. The emu features strongly in many stories from different locations, often features a ‘law’ aspect, and much contemporary Aboriginal art draws on its symbolic significance in image making.

    Arts center

    If you can picture it, Ernabella sits about 480 kilometre’s south-west of Alice, almost directly under Uluru, on the South Australian side of the border. In 1872 pioneer explorer Ernest Giles passed through the area and wrote: This is a really delightful discovery. In all my wanderings … in Australia I never saw a more fanciful region than this.’

    In 1933, a sheep station was established in Ernabella. The Presbyterian Mission bought the station lease and founded the Ernabella Mission in 1937. While some locals worked on the station, for others the mission served as their first encounter with Europeans.

    Ernabella from Space Station Google

    The Presbyterian Board of Missions established the mission at Ernabella as a buffer against increasingly destructive European expansion into unprotected Indigenous country, and to offer education and medical help. Ernabella mission had a policy of deep respect for traditional culture, best exemplified in their use of a bilingual education policy from the start. School teacher Revd. Ron Trudinger arrived at Ernabella in 1940. He began teaching young Aboriginal children in the local creek bed. Within six weeks he had translated the Lords Prayer into Pitjantjatjara, beginning the bilingual tradition that continues to this day. A remarkable man, Trudinger’s role at the mission over many decades merits particular attention.

    The mission closed in 1973. The Lands were ‘returned’ to Anangu (the people) by the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act 1981 (South Australia) granting them freehold inalienable title to the country which, in fact, they had never left. This ceremony took place on the actual site where we are now camped. Ernabella, now also known as Pukatja, sits close to the centre of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands (APY Lands).

    Ernabella sits north of Maralinga, notorious for the atom-bomb testing undertaken by the British, in consultation with Australian government, but not the consent of traditional landowners and residents who were forcibly moved off their country and dumped elsewhere. For those who didn’t make it out in time were locked in by thousand-kilometre fences and died like starved rabbits.Others hid in caves and survived, though illnesses of various sorts have been passed down through generations: this on top of the price indigenous Australians everywhere have paid for having been dislocated from their lands.

    Ernabella Is a town with an extraordinary history. And those of you already following this blogsite will know that this trip has been in the planning for some months. We are here to observe and, in part, document rehearsals in situ of Big hART’s amazing theatre show, Ngapartji Ngapartji about the atom-bomb testing at Maralinga, its immediate impact, but more importantly the long-term effect it has had in terms of cultural dislocation and spiritual alienation on the region’s descendants.

    An outback production line

    The show is coming ‘home’, as it were, and for the first time, after several years to packed houses in fancy theatres at arts festivals in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

    In just over a week, the show will be presented to many locals who, from various perspectives, already know the story. Or at least bits of some of the stories out of which the drama is composed. Various residents of the Ernabella township have been included in the performing ensemble from the beginning

    On this occasion, the production is to be presented on a specially built site in the heart of the town as part of the Ernabella Arts Centre’s 60th anniversary celebrations. Ernabella is famous for many reasons, particularly the fact that in 1948 a building was dedicated to art making, the first of its kind in Australia.

    Ngapartji Ngapartji Writer and Director Scott Rankin with Roxxi

    Big hART's Creative Director Scott Rankin with Roxxi

    Some are travelling great distances to be here including ex-residents – Aboriginal and European. Among the big ex-mission names is retired Deaconess Winifred Hilliard who arrived In Ernabella in 1954 and stayed on teaching and encouraging arts and crafts skills for the next 32 years. Another guest planning to visit is Bill Edwards, one-time Superintendent. But more of all this in the days ahead.

    brett and easton

    Brett with Easton

    At my Desk

    I should report on other activities so far. Three days ago I was greeting photographer Brett Monaghan off a British Airways flight from Milan. He was coming home after eight years and landed with the bulk of his European life in tow: a mere two hundred kilograms in Excess Baggage. We spent that first night repacking; and then by 10am the next morning we were on a Qantas flight to the Centre of Earth. As we descended into Alice the famous vast red earth revealed itself from horizon to horizon.

    The young lady at the Europcar (free plug) desk helped us into our state-of-the-art, all-mod-cons blue Nissan patrol and we were off. Alice has a lovely town centre, flat and square, with neat simply designed buildings set on the bank of the almost always dry Todd River bed. We found where we had to go, the Ngapartji Ngapartji office, where resident company members were milling with various other recent arrivals.

    A day later we were on the road in convoy. About seven vehicles, several towing trailers stuffed with camping gear, food and – you name it. Our vehicle carried a mountain of swags on its roof racks to which I was greatly tempted to tie some grand ribbons of coloured fabric – a la Priscilla. Along with our own gear in the back sat two massive Eskies of butchered meat. If Brett and I got lost, or stuck, or broken down, we knew we could at least survive on raw protein for some time. All the more tasty if one of us could work how to make fire by rubbing together a couple of sticks!

    The Remains of the Day

    The Remains of the Day

    Less carnivorous vehicles specialized in the transport of fruit, vegetables, water, tofu burgers, muesli, tea bags, water, coffee, six varieties of Mountain bread, and whatever else hard-working pioneers carving out culture on the frontier of contemporary arts practice require.

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