Give your support to State of the Arts Media – a great service with a bright future

State of the Arts Media has just two weeks left to reach their crowdfunding goal of $4000. If they can’t reach it by November 23, they lose the benefit of the donations pledged to date. Their aim is to commission 23 stories from five local writers to continue building a record of arts and culture across western Sydney and regional New South Wales. It’s founded on their generous and audacious vision that the arts help to build understanding, innovation and social cohesion.

After much experimentation, Natalie Wadwell of south west Sydney and her co-founder Lucinda Davison of the NSW south coast established their multi platform website State of the Arts Media at the beginning of the year. At their campaign launch on October 23, they raised $1300 and are now 40% of their way to $4000. The campaign was developed under the umbrella of the international not-for-profit Start Some Good crowdfunding instigator and its Parramatta based event Pitch for Good. They help people initiate and independently finance their own social enterprises.

A year ago, I asked if there was a future for this blog Western Sydney Frontier and following Natalie’s enthusiastic response, State of the Arts Media is now a more than worthy successor. I have gladly contributed copies of my book Passion Purpose Meaning: Arts Activism in Western Sydney as rewards for donations to their fund.

Natalie writes –

There are 3 ways that you can help

Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. You can help us reach our all or nothing fundraising goal by mobilising your community to help us reach $4000 by the 23rd November. Without your support, we risk walking away with nothing.

Are you in?

  • Contribute to our fundraiser. You can choose from some awesome rewards, including copies of Katherine Knight’s book, Passion Purpose Meaning: Arts Activism in Western Sydney. There are only eight $50 vouchers for Taste Cultural Food Tours remaining. You can snap one up before they all go! Gift it to a friend or spoil yourself.
  • Share. Tell your friends why you support SOTA Media. We appreciate that not everyone can financially support our campaign, so don’t forget to include #cultureiseverywhere and we can say a BIG thank you!
  • Read. You can click here to read the talk that started it all at Pitch for Good Parramatta. I spoke about the importance of documenting art and culture from beyond major cities. Will you let me know what you think?

I’d really appreciate any support you can send our way, .
Are you feeling like a cultural crusader?

In creativity,

It will soon be four years since Natalie addressed a TEDxYouth@Sydney forum about engaging communities through art. Already in her second year of cultural theory at UNSW’s College of Fine Arts, she was fed up with the lack of creative opportunity for young people in her home suburb of Campbelltown and the constant assumption that people in western Sydney don’t appreciate arts and culture anyway.

She was well aware that the region already had some outstanding arts facilities and programs, like Campbelltown Arts Centre, almost entirely as a result of community advocacy supported by local councils, but there was little for independent young people wanting to explore opportunities for themselves. She knew it was tough, but there wasn’t much encouragement for a career in the arts and little of a climate that welcomed discussion, ideas and experimentation that might support such development.

Rather than accept the status quo, she set out to acquire the skills and experience necessary to enable the emergence of a self-sustaining dynamic creative environment. It had to be okay to trial things and learn from your mistakes. She volunteered and sought mentorship opportunities with creative venues like Campbelltown Arts Centre, 107 Projects in Redfern and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art to analyse and develop some alternative approaches. She was accepted by The School for Social Entrepreneurs last year and completed a course that gave her more of the tools and mentors she needed.

Check out all the links in this story and support in whatever way you can. Five dollars would be a help and $35 will reward you with a copy of the book. We will all benefit.


200th anniversary of the Appin massacre offers opportunity to reconsider

dailytele-Capt CookMost people probably saw or heard about the Daily Telegraph front page, March 29, which sent commentators into overdrive. Whitewash said the headline – UNSW rewrites the history books to state Cook “invaded” Australia. Some claimed it was political correctness gone mad. Others stated that the university’s guidelines had been around for 20 years and were just that – guidelines for student essay writing. SBS’s “Backburner” offered a satirical opinion piece under the title Outrage as University Teaches History Correctly. In The Guardian online, Paul Daley wrote It’s not politically correct to say Australia was invaded, it’s history. Paul Daley also wrote a story Lachlan Macquarie was no humanitarian – his own words show he was a terrorist.

Camden professional historian, Dr Ian Willis responded to the second story with a blog post Was Governor Lachlan Macquarie a Terrorist? The colonial frontier was a violent location,” he wrote, “and many people suffered and died. Colonialism wreaked havoc on many cultures around the globe. Was Governor Macquarie any better or worse than any other colonial administrator?” Ian considered the NSW colonial frontier and transportation, the colonial frontier wars in North America and elsewhere and the “Sugar Slaves” of Queensland and provided further related references. Among them was a link to the exhibition With Secrecy and Dispatch at Campbelltown Arts Centre. I found myself responding and then copying the response to the Professional Historians Facebook page.

ABC - Tharawal - Glenda Chalker“By chance I have just heard Ellen Fanning on ABC RN Life Matters, this morning, with Tharawal elder Glenda Chalker, reading and discussing Macquarie’s original documents at the State Library and with two historians, considering this proposition “was he a terrorist”. The issue at Appin (in April 1816 – [not 2016!]) was that the Tharawal people gave no “show of resistance” at all. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and the people were sound asleep, The fact that the military attacked in these circumstances, was quite contrary to British law and risked ending the captain’s career and Macquarie’s had it become known. Reporting was therefore oblique and secretive in style, as I understand it. The fact that Aboriginal bodies were beheaded and hung in high places to deter resistance and the heads sent to Scotland [not London], compares with the much condemned contemporary behaviour of Islamic extremists. Those heads were returned to Australia in 1991 and are currently held in a warehouse in Canberra. Dharawal elder Glenda Chalker, above, with the proclamation document ordering the Appin Massacre. (photo by Tracey Trompf on the Life Matters website)

“Arguments which seem to prevail at present,” I wrote, “are that colonial powers at the time were all behaving in similar ways, so this was no worse than any other. For Aboriginal people, context of the times is irrelevant. They did suffer from invasion and where they could, fought back. Australia’s colonial history is much more complex and nuanced than is frequently portrayed. We can’t change it, but we need to face up to it and recognise the continuing consequences to Aboriginal Australians. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, we have a great deal to learn from each other.”

Cataract DamSecretary of the Professional Historians Association, Dr Stephen Gapps, responded, “It’s certainly a 200th anniversary that not a lot of fuss will be made about. Come to the ceremony on 17th” – with a link to Federal MP Laurie Ferguson’s website. Under the heading 2016 Appin Massacre Memorial Ceremony, is written – “To honour the Dharawal people, the Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group is hosting a memorial to mark the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre – Sunday, April 17, 11am, Cataract Dam picnic area. The account given varies somewhat from the Life Matters story, though difficulty, until recently, in getting access to those particular Macquarie documents may well be the cause. Photo – the Cataract Dam as it appears on the website.

Dharawal descendants and supporters have held this annual memorial ceremony now, for 20 years and Ian Willis’s link to the Campbelltown Arts Centre exhibition is closely related. With Secrecy and Despatch has been developed as a response to the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre. New works were commissioned from six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists and are shown alongside existing works by prominent Australian Aboriginal artists. Together these works explore themes of colonial brutality, conflict, identity, culture and memory. If you can’t make it to the memorial, a visit to the exhibition would provide time to reflect on history and contemplate the steps required to share the grieving and find a shared way forward as Australians.

A great opportunity for musicians and music industry professionals

From Information and Cultural Exchange comes this invitation –

ICE - music forumDear friend of ICE,
With changes in technology, the media and the economy many emerging musicians and music industry professionals find themselves in a state of career flux. In response some artists have leveraged their musical career into a sustainable and diverse career in community, the arts or in creative enterprise.
We invite you to join us for presentations and conversations at the More Than This music forum on Thursday 10th December from 6pm.

  • Panel discussion with 4 industry representatives and facilitated by an experienced musician and cultural worker
  • Question & Answer
  • Entertainment and performance
  • Refreshments and networking

ICE is at 8 Victoria Rd, Parramatta. Reserve a place – phone – 9897 5744 or email

Parramatta Council is also concerned about a lack of heritage planning

N Parra - artist's impressionSince publishing this post yesterday, ABC Radio News has amended the report that was the origin of the post. At its meeting on Monday, July 13, Parramatta City Council was asked to support several motions about the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. The motions were defeated by the casting vote of Lord Mayor Scott Lloyd. According to those present discussion of the motions revealed that the council was as concerned as many residents about the lack of any heritage plan in the state government’s proposal. The State Planning Minister, not Parramatta Council, will have the final say on the proposal as it is a state-significant development.

Parramatta Council made a submission to the Planning Department in February. The submission said it was not clear how heritage buildings would be restored as part of the overall development. It also raised concerns over inadequate transport modelling and the lack of detail about possible affordable housing on the site. An item in the Sydney Morning Herald, July 15, outlines the issues facing Parramatta of heritage conservation versus urban development.

A tide of protest has been rising against the government’s plans as groups like the North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) have spread the word locally and nationally about the impact of the proposals. One of the most informed objectors, the National Trust, wasn’t even aware that the matter would be considered by the council last night.

1-IMG_3716Above is a romanticised view of UrbanGrowth NSW’s proposals for the site, which will intrude on existing heritage buildings and turn much of the open space into private enclaves. There are fears that in their haste to make money from developers and to accelerate the growth of “Australia’s next great city”, the council and the state government have overlooked the fundamentals of what makes a city livable and their own statements about the heritage importance of Parramatta’s historical sites. Click here for the council’s statement and here for the state government’s.

Fresh from a recent visit to New York, above is the first view from my window on the 27th floor revealing a diminutive old church spire amid more modern skyscrapers. My first thought was, “is that what we want for Parramatta?” Two 1-IMG_3787days later I found myself looking at the origin of the spire, left – the Church of St Francis of Assisi in West 31 St – a charming building almost completely overwhelmed by its surroundings.

Parramatta Council’s decision has attracted widespread media attention today. ABC Radio 702 – NPRAG committee member, Jason Burcher was interviewed for Linda Mottram’s morning program with updates in the news bulletins. Watch tonight as NPRAG President, Suzette Meade’s is interviewed – Channel 7 News at 6.00pm, and ABC 2 News at 7.00pm.

North Parramatta Residents Action Group’s membership is growing fast. Click here for a membership form and support their fight for better planning and care of Australia’s national heritage.

Watch as Parramatta Female Factory campaign goes national and spread the word

1-IMG_3232NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, announced today that the Old King’s School at Parramatta will be converted to a state primary school. It will not become the long advocated arts and cultural precinct, but at best share facilities for after hours use by artists and the community. Meanwhile, the future of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct continues under threat from the state government’s urban renewal plans. Local residents and their supporters, who are campaigning against the excessive proposals through the recently formed North Parramatta Residents Action Group, are taking their fight up to ABC National Television. Above, is an example of demolition by neglect as the portico of one of the Frances Greenway designed Female Factory buildings slowly collapses.

Spread the word and watch the program:

Saturday, June 20, Australia Wide, ABC News 24, 9.30 pm
Sunday, June 21, Australia Wide, ABC TV, 10.30 am (repeat)

Struggle Street betrayal spurs brilliant FUNPARK response at Mount Druitt

Struggle Street - SBSKaz Therese felt completely gutted three weeks ago when SBS television ran its promo for Struggle Street, set in the western Sydney suburbs of Mount Druitt (photo – SBS – Peta and Ashley Kennedy). Creative director of the highly successful FUNPARK, part of Sydney Festival 2014, Kaz shared a deep sense of personal betrayal with local people who worked with her on the project.

On May 4, she posted on Facebook – “Not long after FUNPARK 2014 finished two film makers came to Bidwill and told everyone they are looking to create a positive series about people from the area. In the light of the positivity created by FUNPARK they gained people’s trust and then produced this Struggle Street a completely negative and defamatory series. The release of promotional material has left many ofStruggle Street - Chan 9 the participants shocked, with a documentary they were told would take a positive look at their struggles instead appearing to mock, degrade, insult and exaggerate their hardships. Because of the promo material there are people in the area who are getting slandered on social media and being shamed and abused.” Above, the Kennedy family described their distress to Channel 9’s A Current Affair. On the same program, they have since given a positive response to the show. Struggle Street attracted record audiences for SBS.

“The film makers from KEO FILMs should be boycotted. They lied to the individuals and the community. Shame on you KEO Films. . . . Please sign this petition and support the shut down of Struggle Street.” The protest, supported by Blacktown Council, was so strong that SBS pulled the promo, though they didn’t cancel the series. They merely brought forward the third episode and showed it with the second.

1-Kaz Therese 2014Local anger was galvanised not merely by Struggle Street, but by the fact that it was yet another in a long line of media forays that consistently portray Mount Druitt in an endlessly negative light. In fact Kaz’s inspiration for FUNPARK had been her childhood experience of the “Bidwill riots” in 1981, when a TV helicopter descended on a fight between two school girls watched by a bunch of other students, and heard her street described on television that night as “the worst in Sydney.” One of the central performances of FUNPARK was a highly entertaining musical parody of the event, which still resonates in community memory. Kaz Therese, above.

One response came on ABC’s Q&A with Tony Jones, on Monday, May 11, Struggle Street on Budget Eve. Among the panellists was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander playwright and actor Nakkiah Lui, who grew up in Mount Druitt. In the audience were local high school students, community workers and the Mayor of Blacktown Stephen Bali. Defying the stereotype and without artifice, they were all highly articulate, dignified and well informed.

Funpark kidsBy May 15, Kaz was announcing the return of FUNPARK to Mount Druitt and the launch of a  Pozible campaign to fund it. FUNPARK was re-ignited. Kaz says, “FUNPARK is about positive action and activism and we want the Mt Druitt community and FUNPARK community to feel like FUNPARK is there when its most needed. We are inviting everyone back to an adventure to Mount Druitt.

“FUNPARK 2015 – July 19th 2015!

“Today I am launching a Pozible campaign to raise $5,000 to create a significant event that re-ignites the positivity created in January 2014. The FUNPARK Pozible campaign accepts any donations from $5 up to a zillion dollars. It’s just about everyone coming together offering what you can to support it. In light of recent events FUNPARK is working to reaffirm the pride and potential of this great community. Sydney and broader Western Sydney audiences are welcome to attend. If you didn’t catch FUNPARK in 2014 this is your chance to come and see what all the excitement is about!

Funpark hoopsters“FUNPARK specifically targets young people who live in Mt Druitt. The project actively involves participants in creative dialogue around the social, civic and imagined spaces of Mt Druitt. Through a program involving community engagement and skills sharing, the FUNPARK initiative will transform the small suburb of Bidwill in Mt Druitt into a funpark on Sunday, July 19. FUNPARK will present original works from 2014; Cuppa tea with Therese, The Occult of Bidwill, presentations of video work The Underpass and a screening of the acclaimed performance work; Mt Druitt Press Conference, presented by the Social Revolutionaries.

Blacktown Council is stepping in to help and artists have already rallied to ensure FUNPARK’s success. Put July 19 into your diary and make a donation by clicking here. Use the search tool on this blog to find more information about FUNPARK 2014, Bidwill, Mount Druitt, and Kaz Therese.


Bidwill hones originality and commitment

Bidwell hoopsters 0114It’s clear that having a classical education in theatre and the arts is not a prerequisite for inspired interpretation in theatre production. In fact the lack of it gave Kaz Therese and Damien Ryan the freedom to develop their own approaches.

Both contemporary theatre directors were students at Bidwill Public School when a TV channel helicopter landed on the roof in 1983 and fomented the media beat-up, which became the “Bidwill Riots”. Bidwill is a suburb of Mt Druitt, an area largely developed for public housing in the 1970s and 80s, and a continuing exemplar of poor infrastructure planning by governments and social disadvantage.

Kaz Therese remembers as a nine year old hearing her street described on 60 Minutes that night as the worst in Sydney. It contributed to her resolution to refute the stereotype and ultimately to develop an international career as a creative producer and artist. Her work is grounded in performance, political activism and community building. She is currently director of Powerhouse Youth Theatre, at Fairfield, and earlier this year directed Fun Park as part of Sydney Festival (see Bidwill Hoopsters above). She plans an extension of the Fun Park experience and has won many academic and arts accolades

Fellow Bidwill student Damien Ryan also has vivid memories of the helicopter on the school roof. The subsequent media hysteria and dismissive stereotyping of locals certainly didn’t deter him from absorbing a passion for Shakespeare’s plays through his mother’s love of the Bard’s work. He developed a professional career in school teaching and theatre. In 2009, he launched the independent theatre company Sport for Jove with the first of a series of annual outdoor productions of Shakespearean and other classic plays in The Hills district and Blue Mountains. In January this year, Sport for Jove won several accolades at the Sydney Theatre Awards for its summer production of Cyrano de Bergerac.

1-SFJ Hamlet 2012Of Shakespeare’s plays, Damien says, “Probably the thing that appeals to me most . . . is that they are so overflowing with life and passion and imagination and incredible poetry, while also being among the most psychologically detailed observations ever made of what it is to be a human being. Young people can learn so much about life and loyalty and love and family and pressure and violence and forgiveness from ‘experiencing’ these plays, not just reading but jostling with them as performers or audience members.”

In 2012, Damien established a NSW school education program in partnership with the Seymour Centre, beginning with a production of Hamlet (see photo above). His philosophy in introducing Shakespeare to students is, “Just plunge into the world of it, make them recognise themselves in it – which it is impossible not to – and they will work out for themselves that some of this stuff is incomparably good. It is far more effective and fulfilling for a student to feel they have discovered something for themselves than to let them share in your ‘ownership’ of it.”

Sport for Jove has increasingly embraced other theatre classics, remaining as faithful as possible to original texts, but offering stimulating interpretations and fresh insights. The latest education program at the Seymour Centre was Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Adam Cook.

You could hear a pi1-SFJ dollshouse01n drop, so absorbed was the audience in A Doll’s House, last month. Henrik Ibsen’s play was first performed in Denmark in 1879 and has lost none of its power to move and provoke an audience. Although the stifling mores of middle class society and the powerlessness of women within that context has eased, the play still resonates strongly with a contemporary audience.

Outstanding in the controversial role of Norma Helmer was Matilda Ridgway (see photo above with Douglas Hansell as husband Torvald). Her gradual transition from  devoted wife and mother to a figure of distraught disillusion and conviction that she was harming her children was entirely credible and deeply moving. In the Q & A following the performance, students questioned the role of women and men in society then and now. To a question about separation of the actor from her role, Matilda responded that acting required the sensitivity of a butterfly and the hide of a rhinoceros.

Damien Ryan himself can be seen in the production of Nora, Upstairs, Belvoir St Theatre, from August 9 to September 14. Nora is a new work by Kit Brookman and Anne-Louise Sarks written in response to Ibsen’s original. Damien plays the role of Nora’s husband.