It’s 1st birthday party time for jameswaites.com !!!!
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.
My favourite photo from Ngapartji Ngapartji on location: Photo Brett Monaghan.
I went out there with my photographer pal Brett Monaghan and it was one of the great life experiences. Above – my favourite photo taken by Brett of the show – which seems to me to perfectly capture the heartbreak at the centre of this epic tale. There is heaps on that trip in the archives of this site – for any one new to visiting here with lots of photos and links to more photos. So that was my introduction to Big hART, who so kindly ushered me into their family living room again earlier this year when I got to spend a few weeks in Tasmania with another gig, This is Living – where I conducted some writing workshops. Also a truly great experience. On Tuesday I head off to Trundle, near Condobolin, for my baptism into Gold, a huge Big hART project working with farming communities along the Murray-Darling basin. But first some catching up to do – for me and you.
This is Living – Finale: ‘On for Young & Old’
I never quite got to finish writing about This Is Living (see other posts in box under this title) as I was caught in a world-wind of activity once I got back to Sydney. After describing what had happened in each of the Tasmanian towns we visited, In never got to say what I thought about the show. Like all Big hART work, This is Living was grounded in community. While the core story written by Scott Rankin examined the relationships of three friends growing older together; the professional three actors shared the stage with elderly citizens and young kids (mostly skate-boarders).
There was no doubt that the impact the project had on the communities it worked with was hugely positive. Whether the show itself successfully scaled the heights of professional stage making is doubtful. But that is the nature of a lot of Big hART work, of which Ngapartji Ngapartji is the most famous. Big hART shows can develop over years, and its in this slow (almost irrevocable) evolution that truly fine work sometimes eventually emerges. Who know what Big hART has in mind for This Is Living. Will it go to a next stage sometime? We will have to wait and see.
Kids on the set @ Ernabella: Photo By Brett Monaghan
Meanwhile, after a decade-long journey, Ngapartji Ngapartji is about to come to an end. Sadly a trip to a London Festival was cancelled (at the height of last year’s financial crash. But the film – called Lost for Words – is almost finished. One important aspect of the Ngapartji Ngapartj project we city-slickers and art lovers have been inclined to overlook is its concern for the fate Australia’s fast-disappearing indigenous languages. While people like me fell in love with the show, we are also being tempted into a contemplation of this crisis. And alerted to what could be done – including what role we – as individuals might play. This included a chance to learn one language – the central deserts’ Pitjantjatjara - to getting involved in alerting our federal politicians to the fact that we care. Meantime, while most of the writing on this site has been about the theatre work, much much else has been happening under the Ngapartji Ngapartji umbrella of activities.
What amazes me about the Ngapartji Ngapartji project and Big hART overal, is the vast range of activity it has been involved in. Every time I look into the matrix of site online, I find a new secret conrer crammed with treasure. Here, for example, are some images from a photo workshop for young indigenous participants.
Kurungku Nyanganyi Kuranyukutu
“With an eye to the future” was a digital photography workshop project hosted in Pukatja, South Australia. A group of children who showed a strong interest in the medium of photography were given an amazing opportunity to experiment with quality cameras, in their own community, in their own spaces. They engaged in a lengthy series of workshops, and prepared for an exhibition of their work which was held at the local arts centre. The exhibition has gone on to the Alice Springs Public Library and may tour with Artback NT. Showing here on the Ngapartji website is some of their work, selected by the children themselves. The theme of walytja – family – clearly emerges, through gorgeous images of many of the photographers younger relatives!”
The good news is that the research and practice (workshops etc) which led to informed lobbying has led to what appears to be positive response from the Federal government. A meeting was held in Canberra on 23 June at which Ngapartji Ngapartji Creative Producer, Alex Kelly, presented forty letters from significant individuals in the indigenous languages movement to Jenny Macklin and representatives of other important federal portfolio holders, including Peter Garrett. The short is answer is that the lobbying has been well received and the federal government has agreed to go ahead. This is a historical decision – and the best I can do here is offer you some links to what is going on. Fascinating stuff and no well-meaning arts loving whitefella has an excuse for not getting themselves at least partly across this topic (cause).
Language campaign Time-line
Feb 2004 – Ngapartji Ngapartji project conceptualised
Sept 2004 – Produced pilot language lesson and website in Coober Pedy
Mid 2005 – Meet with FATSIL to discuss application of project in termsof policy outcomes
July 2005 – Community film production workshops commence in AliceSprings
Oct 2005 – Work in progress season of Ngapartji Ngapartji in Melbourne International Arts Festival
April 2006 – Launch of Ninti site – online Pitjantjatjara language andculture site
Oct 2006 – World Premiere of Ngaparjti Ngaparjti main stage production
June 2007 – Peter Garrett launches tour to Dreaming Festival and news website, Alice Springs
Sept 2007 – Indigenous languages conference, Adelaide
July 2008 – Lingfest Conference, Sydney
July 2008 – Ngapartji Ngaparjti release background paper on indigenous languages
April 2009 – Central Australian Linguistics Circle presentation
June 2009 – Canberra meeting with Macklin et al
For more on this campaign go to “The ‘kata-alipiri-muta- tjina’ Approach to Campaigning for Indigenous Language Policy”, posted only recently on the Ngapartji Ngapartji website….which finishes thus:
“Only days after this meeting, Alex received word that DEWHA (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts) has commenced drafting an Indigenous Languages Action Plan and will coordinate this process through relevant Government agencies before consulting with key indigenous stakeholders. Obviously this is only the start of a long process but it demonstrates a commitment to the issues around indigenous languages being taken seriously at a federal level. Yeeee-haaaa!”
Anyone interested in what it takes to effect social change through culture practice and art making should take some time to look into how the Ngapartji Ngapartji team set out to achieve their goals and what strategies they applied on the way. Meanwhile, as the Ngapartji Ngapartji office in Alice Springs starts closing down operations, we regular punters can look forward to the doco – Lost for Words – directed by Suzy Bates and produced by Alex Kelly, now in its final stages of post-production. More on that when fresh news comes to hand.
Nyuntu Ngali – You We Two
There are more spin-offs including a whole new theatre production which has just started rehearsals in Adelaide. Nyuntu Ngali (trans: ‘You We Two’) is being co-produced by Windmill Performing Arts who have had a three-year working relationship with the Pitjantjatjara community at Mimili. The work has been inspired and informed by a series of community workshops and trips run throughout 2009. This post-apocalyptic bi-cultural love story has been written and being directed by Scott Rankin, opens at the Adelaide Festival Centre on 26 September. So keep an eye out for more on that.
Here’s a taste of the story:
“It is the 22nd century in central Australia. Everyday life is basic in this future world. The post climate change environment demands that skills for living return to the way they were for thousands of years before that fast-paced period of just 10 generations, which resulted in global warming and the near destruction of the planet. Eva and Roam have fallen in love and they face a life and death predicament as they run from an unseen enemy, because of their wrong-skin marriage. This moving and powerful story of survival in both English and Pitjantjatjara is interspersed with sand storytelling, choreography, video art, shadow play, weaving and a highly atmospheric musical score.”
I might leave it there for today, and come back with some more on the Gold project in a separate post as soon as I can. The images below are from the ‘Self -Sown’ community photo competitions Gold has been offering since early 2009. Hardly needs mentioning what a store-house of unrealised talent the project is uncovering. For more go see
So what’s taking me to Trundle on Tuesday? Well, Trundle Bush Tucker Day of course, to be held on Saturday 5 September which will include Big hART’s photographic and film exhibition, Gold Crop. Preparations for this including writing workshops to be disorganized by your truly; and further promotion of Gold’s photographic competition. Currently I am engaged, as I always am before a Big hART gig, in the question of what to wear!