• 13 Oct 2008 /  News, Videos

    Hey there!

    Back in Sydney town and I have visited my own Dreaming Site, the Sydney Opera House, three times in a week. This was for a Palestinian-Israeli one-man show on its way to the Melbourne Festival called In Spitting Distance; and a couple of night’s back, also on its way to Melbourne, was the Phillip Glass-Leonard Cohen gig The Book of Longing. More of these in my next post which I will work on over next couple of days. Along with a report from The 2008 Deadly’s - the national Indigenous sports, arts and culture awards – held on Thursday 9th at the SOH Concert Hall, where our Ngapartji Ngapartji senior men, Trevor Jamieson and Scott Rankin, took out a major award.

    Outstanding Achievement in Film, TV or Theatre
    Trevor Jamieson & Scott Rankin, Ngapartji Ngapartji

    Something to look at while I burrow away at my keyboard for the next couple of days, here are two videos of the Chooky Dancers from Elcho Island, off the coast from Darwin. The Chooky’s lost to Stephen Page and Bangarra in the  Deadly category for Best Dancing (something like that). But I kinda felt disappointed that these creative kids did not walk off with the gong. Taking nothing away from Page and Bangarra, but they are already successful and well known. The Chooky Dancers are a phenomenon. Since a snippet of video went up on U Tube for fun just over a year ago, it has had over one million hits word-wide and the video itself remains a huge hit in tavernas and cafes across Greece.

    Is This Kid The New Nijinsky?

    Is This Kid The New Nijinsky?

    The original video was posted by a then 34-year-old ‘Tammy’ who comes under the U Tube name of Chineyginey (that’s all I know about her at this point). But if you go to the more info tab on the first video you will find out more about the video maker, his connections to the troupe and the troupe’s own origins. Here are two different camera angles. I’m not even sure if they are from the same performance, though the basketball-court setting appears the same. Both offer an insight into something quite amazing, in my view. One is a long shot, the other camera is closer up.

    I’m sure you’ll notice the lead dancer in action (photo above) – can he move or what?

    Totally Deadly!

    Here is a second view which you might like to look at using your full-screen mode as the lighting is very low and I put it up mainly because it offers a few fantastic details.

    I’ll be back soon with a fuller report on last week’s activities. A certain urgency as I need to clear my mind for Barrie Kosky’s The Women of Troy on Friday night!

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  • 22 Sep 2008 /  Uncategorized

    Three of us got up early on Sunday morning and climbed the largest of the hills embracing our camp. In honour of the local town, Ernabella, we decided to call it Ernie! The view down onto the sleeping camp is fantastic, as is the vista in every other direction. It’s obvious from above how our camp sits on a valley plain of sediment formed over millions of years from the worn-down mountains.

    After making camp – a week ago now! – it has been non-stop for all included in the advance party. This involves three key groups: a tech crew establishing the performance site; a documentary film unit; and some of the senior Ngapartji Ngapartji creatives (which on this project includes logistics and management types):

    Production Manager Mel Robertson Thinking Big

    Key Performer & Co-Creator: Trevor Jamieson
    Writer & Director: Scott Rankin
    Lighting Design: Neil Simpson
    Creative Producer: Alex Kelly
    Filmmaker: Suzy Bates
    Choir Coordinator & Musician: Beth Sometimes
    Production Manager: Mel Robertson
    Stage Manager: Jess Smithett
    Asst. Stage Manager/Ceramicist: Zoe Churchill
    Company Manager: Mariaa Randall
    Production Assts: Nick Higgins, Ben Lambert, Peter Dixon and young Zac

    From the Crew:
    Sound – Neil Fischer
    AV – Sean Bacon

    I’ll put up all the names of those working on the doco next time, with a chat about their work. Oh and not to forget Brett, snapping away with his camera, and me just sitting back and watching everyone work. Well, every now and again they trick me into occasional light duties – like washing up or shooting a kangaroo!

    Bloggist as Hunter Gatherer

    Yep, I can tell you that a couple of days back I shot my first kangaroo. With Brett’s Nikon – boom boom. Fortunately it was already deceased and gone to kangaroo heaven by the time I got to it. Two of Trevor Jamieson’s kin had arrived from Kalgoorlie/Warburton area in the morning and off they went pretty quick smart in one of the tougher vehicles, with film crew guys, Matt Davis (camera) and Stuart Thorne (sound) in the back. Matt’s camera work has taken him to countries across Africa and Asia, including war zones, and he was even working in Burma when the cyclone struck. Matt reckoned this car ride was one of the wildest he’d ever been on. Tjurlu Jackson, at the wheel, carved up the scrub while Lyndon Stevens rode shotgun – striking with devastating accuracy. Trevor – between them on the front seat – oscillated, as the vehicle bounced over the dunes, between his dual identities: a man who loves his traditional culture and, slightly less gung-ho, a leading man of modern Australian theatre.

    Lyndon Stevens with Tjurlu Jackson and other Roo Tucker Fans

    Brett and I were just returning to the camp when Trevor and his brothers passed through on their way to a site to cook up the roos. We followed, kicking into 4-wheel drive, as the real men ahead ignored anything that resembled track. Eventually they skidded to a stop at a site deemed suitable.  To us it looked like nowhere. But, as we quickly discovered, the soil was easy to dig into and there was an abundance of accessible dry wood. In fact, it took only about 30 minutes before the roos were being dipped into hot flame to have their hair singed off.  The animals then taken off the fire until it settled down; before being returned  to the coals to slowly cook way.

    At one point in this process Brett had go return to camp to alert the film crew. It was then, just as kangaroo guts were being carved open, that the onus of visual documentation was placed in my hands. As some of these shots are pretty gory, Brett has put them up on his site on a discrete location. Culturally fascinating, but don’t go there if this is not the sort of thing you want to look at.

    Neil Simpson with Young Zac

    A week of incredible activity began with the production crew heading down to the open-air site in town with a semi-trailer full of gear to unload: the initial task to set up scaffolding. As days went by, sound and lighting was added in, and then several tonnes of rich red sandy-earth was trucked in to create a stage floor.

    The difference between putting up a show like this in a city theatre and out here in the bush is impossible to underestimate, with resourcefulness and extra muscle power but two of the skills regularly called on. Imagine having to set up your own power source, link in your light and sound desks, create scaffolding to hang lights, dig troughs to run wiring, and more: all under a blazing sun and then working way into the late of night.

    On the afternoon of the second day, most of us had a chance to attend rehearsals of one of the other gigs taking place as part of the Ernabella Arts Centre’s 60th anniversary celebrations. This involved a dance for men and another for women. Orlando, the policeman from Umuwa (a town close by) has agreed to take on the challenge of the Emu Dance. He seems to  have quite a touch of Nijinsky about him (a la Firebird!): his hands behind his back to form a tail, his head down in search of tucker, and then looking up a little nervously now and again, keeping an eye out for the threat of dingo. All of us whitefella men on the Ngapartji Ngapartji team were called up by Punch Thompson, a local senior law man, to have a go. The result, as Brett observed was more Chicken Dance. But we had fun and watchers on from the local community a good laugh over our clumsy efforts.

    Orlando on Patrol

    As crew on site worked through the next day, a few of us got a chance this time to sit in on a rehearsal of some of the members of the women’s choir. The choir’s coordinator Beth Sometimes has a long association with Ernabella, and sings in the group with a number of women who are like family to her and have taught her many aspects of language and culture over the years.

    Amanyi (Dora) Haggie with Beth Sometimes

    A number of these women have performed in the show before, including in Sydney at Belvoir Street Theatre last January – where I first saw the show and fell in love with it.

    The Famous Ernabella Backflip!

    By now it’s impossible to say which day it was, but there was a great moment down on the set one afternoon when a small hovering of local kids grew steadily into a crazed storm of riotous play. For us whitefellas from the city there’s some knowledge in these pictures. It’s not all glue sniffing in these communities and the natural athleticism, spirit of community, and love of unstructured play are everywhere to be seen.

    Palya Palya Palya Palya Palya Palya

    This outback adventure is only just over a week old, yet it feels like years of past city life have already fallen away from the likes of Brett and myself.  We watch and listen, and every now and again take instruction from others more familiar than we are with local ways. The pleasure is bountiful, the privilege enormous, and the experience – quite often – beyond words.

    Take a look a more of Brett’s pix.

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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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