Arts, sport and pushing back against fear

1-hakawati-team-and-ntopI could kick myself that I’m too late to get a seat for Hakawati, right, National Theatre of Parramatta’s show currently part of Sydney Festival. On the other hand who could begrudge NTofP‘s sold-out success at El Phoenician Restaurant-Bar and the enthusiastic reviews? Hakawati draws on ancient Arabic traditions of entertaining through story telling while sharing a meal, at the same time offering insight into contemporary issues with a powerful western Sydney twist. The show has proved so popular that a return season is planned for later in the year. Click on this link for notification of dates when they are advised..

I was more successful in booking for Champions, at Carriageworks, this week, where the skills of contemporary dance and soccer collide. Directed by Martin del Amo, assisted by Miranda Wheen, Champions tells the story of an all female soccer team and their preparation and performance in a drama filled match. Blurring the boundaries between the elite skills of 1-1-champions-form-dance-projects-photo-by-heidrun-l_hr-webdance and sport, the team worked with coaches and athletes from Western Sydney Wanderers. Channel Seven sports presenter Mel McLaughlin provides analysis and commentary in the show. If Champions, left, has anything like the qualities of previous Form Dance Project productions, including the linked Dance Makers Collective’s Dads, last November, it will be enthralling, thought provoking and highly entertaining.

Providing background to my thoughts about these and many other productions engaging western Sydney artists are the heartfelt observations of two such creatives shortly before Christmas. The first is Aanisa Vylet (below right preparing for Daisy Moon Was Born This Way to be produced by The Q at The Joan, Penrith in 2017, photo by Alana Dimou) – gifted actor, director, adventurous and generous spirit. That’s also Aanisa in the bottom right hand corner of the Hakawati photo above, where she has been dramaturge to the production. On December 21, she posted on her blog Secrets : From one artist to another. Do read it.

aanisa-daisy-moon-q-2017-photo-alana-dimou“I feel like we are living in a very unpredictable and frightening political landscape. I have had this idea sitting in my chest: to write a blog of secrets and tips that I would whisper to a fellow artist…to offer support. So these are some values and strategies that have kept me going as an actress, artist and outsider for the last 11 years . . .”

I’ll leave you to read the 10 points for yourself, but her final note is illuminating. “I will share one last secret…at the beginning of this year, I told myself – “Ok, so this is your last chance to be an actress/artist, you need to give it your best shot and if you don’t land something and if your play turns to shit – you need to find another career and accept it. This is your last shot. NO HOLDING BACK.

“I have not had the time to write a blog this year because I have been overwhelmed by the abundance of what I have experienced. I still had moments where I was  afraid, mistrustful of myself and of the the world at large. What if I eliminate all fear?”

1-natalie-dec-2016On a related theme are the writings of passionate community activist and creative entrepreneur, Natalie Wadwell, left. Natalie is concerned that the arts are not valued in the community in the same way as sport and yet their contributions to physical and mental skills, imagination, social cohesion and much more have many features in common. She wants to see more artists of all disciplines engage directly with communities, take courage in forging their own pathways and enlarge our understandings of our shared humanity.

She is continually putting her words into action. With her colleague Lucinda Davison, they have established a website State of the Arts. It has a big vision – “It aims to bring together creatives, art writers, performers, musicians and art organisations to investigate, engage and promote the diversity of creative initiatives and cultures. From the northern plains to the southern basin of NSW, including Greater Western Sydney and the ACT, State of the Arts will be a guide from country to coast.” Now they are advertising for help in developing their website.

natalie-web-developerState of the Arts web developer [PAID OPPORTUNITY]
Help State of the Arts refine our platform and shape new features to be launched in April 2017. Live, work or playing across Western Sydney or Regional NSW is not essential, but desirable (we want to support local).
If you or a mate you would highly recommend is interested send us an email with the subject line ‘I can web, mate,’ and three samples of recent work.”

Like so many others, Aanisa and Natalie are determined to push back agains the clouds of fear constantly under discussion in mainstream and social media. Working collaboratively, talking openly and honestly about concerns and sharing explorations towards better understanding are just some of their tools. Fear can engender more fear which just ends in paralysis. I love the Bernard Shaw line famously only half quoted by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy . . .  my child, but take courage: it can be delightful.”

Yes, this blog does have a future – building on each other’s achievements!

Well, hello again! It’s more than two months since my last post. In that time, I have been sorting and culling files, books and other records and generally downsizing. Many were used in the writing of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, published in 2013 and in the subsequent publication of this blog Western Sydney Frontier – beginning in 2014. Simultaneously, it has meant a chance to reflect on the last 45 years of arts and cultural development I have witnessed and the monumental changes that have occurred across the region.

1-bsa-collective_blank-slate

In the midst of this period, I was honoured to open the first exhibition of the recently formed Blacktown Studio Artists Collective, Blank Slate. It is a perfect illustration of what has happened in that 45 years. Distance and isolation remain facts of life, but population growth, cultural diversification, growth in social infrastructure like education and the arts and the determined advocacy of hundreds of passionate individuals has produced  extraordinary change.

Above is Blacktown Sun’s photo of the exhibiting artists, Jan Cleveringa, left, Nazanin Masharian, Suzannah Williams, Rosalind Stanley and Alex Cyreszko. Nazanin says “Blank Slate is a metaphor for the collective; we’re not sure what we’re going to be yet. We’re open to the energy of the group and what comes up,” They are all well educated, widely experienced and willing to explore their own histories in a context of local and global issues like displacement by war and colonisation, the impact of changing technologies, and climate change. They came together under the auspice of Blacktown Arts Centre and are also committed to Blacktown and its future.

ian-zammitThen last week I had the immense pleasure of an evening of conversation over dinner with two inspirational people, Ian Zammit, left, and Natalie Wadwell, right below. Our evening resulted from both of them contacting me after I questioned whether this blog has a future. Having reached the age of 75, I am increasingly reminded of my own mortality and the need for me to pass on the baton of networking, support and promotion. Both Ian and Natalie grew up in western Sydney. Each was creative and imaginative, but frustrated by the limited opportunities available locally. Ian grew up in Emu Heights, pursued music and theatre studies and completed an honours degree at Middlesex University in the UK, in 2006. He returned to live in Penrith and for five years worked at Carriageworks arts centre in Redfern. Then he took a gamble on working full time to develop Emu Heights Theatre Company with a group of local artists, teachers and business people and the support of his wife Michelle. The company survived five years of successful productions and work with local schools, but decided to close last year when facing unending struggles for money and resources.

Far from giving up, Ian recognised the need for more collaboration and mutual support among theatre people and established Theatre Links in the West, which meets monthly and shares theatre information through its Facebook page. His track record is leading to increasing professional employment opportunities for him in Penrith and Liverpool performing artsNatalie Wadwell - ARI forum.

Similarly, Natalie has been confronting the frustrations and challenges for young people in her local area and continually investigates, analyses and instigates creative solutions. With an appetite for learning, strategic thinking and a commitment to improved opportunities, she established an online presence with Wadwell Initiatives, giving her own background as a writer and creative instigator and a summary of her projects, writings, ideas and vulnerabilities. She has a Bachelor Art Theory/History (First Class Honours), UNSW Art and Design (2012-2015).

Earlier this year, she graduated with 16 other young people from the inaugural accelerator program conducted by the School of Social Entrepreneurs for young people wanting to drive social change in Western Sydney. Now, she is working with Lucinda Davison, founder and editor of the online publication State of the Arts to develop the site as an online platform promoting a more inclusive arts and culture conversation across New South Wales. “It aims to bring together creatives, art writers, performers, musicians and art organisations to investigate, engage and promote the diversity of creative initiatives and cultures. From the northern plains to the southern basin of NSW, including Greater Western Sydney and the ACT, State of the Arts will be a guide from country to coast.

State of the Arts brings together the broad experiences of art and culture “out there” to take art off its pedestal, because culture is everywhere.” Natalie is determined to ensure that western Sydney is well represented and the platform provides scope for lots of participation. Do check it out and consider contributing. State of the Arts is a more than worthy successor to Western Sydney Frontier and for the time being, we can gladly cross promote each other’s posts. In the meantime, those people who left generous comments supporting the continuation of my blog can feel pleased.

wagana-becky-chatfield-and-jo-clancy-2016While most of the arts and cultural achievements in western Sydney are the result of sustained collaborative effort and many disappointments, some require even more commitment than most. For Becky Chatfield, above left with Jo Clancy of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers in the Blue Mountains, there are daily encounters with casual racism and denial of her own deep sense of identity. Statements like “Aboriginality is just unnecessary. It’s not really in the best interests of Aboriginal people. It’s not good for Aborigines to remain Aborigines.”

A week ago on Facebook, she posted “I tossed up whether or not to watch First Contact last night but decided I had to, the issue is too important. So many people saying ‘ignore it, don’t worry about it, give it no energy’. But unfortunately, I feel that I must indeed give energy to it and I believe we all should, because David Oldfield is not the only one with these sickening views, Australia has many people who think the way he does and I can’t close my eyes to it. I have a responsibility to my daughter and to all of our children to at least try. I will continue to spread the beauty of our culture, and I will call out the bullshit.
I want change and it won’t come unless we actively tackle the situation together.”

Then out of the blue came a contact from Anton Arets, an artist I hadn’t seen for 30 years. It was followed by a completely unsolicited response to my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney  – one that reflects the views of Ian and Natalie. “I have Blog - PPM book coverjust finished reading it. It is such an excellent, well researched and insightful publIcation . . . This book will help everyone contemplating a career in any of the many art forms and cultural support networks, to appreciate that its not an easy road, that there will be challenges, disappointments, limited budgets, rejections, lack of community support and opportunities – just to mention a few.. But they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They need to build on the foundation set by the many dedicated artists and artisans before them, and capitalise on every opportunity that presents itself or is even self created, regardless of how small it appears on the surface. Effort always pays dividends.

“Just thinking….. What the book highlighted in my mind, amongst other things, was how the Aboriginal community and also the European/Asian Migrant population, the New Australians, were basically told to bury their identity or ‘shut up and fit in..’  Art gave them their voice back, and helped them research and regain their identity as individuals worthy of dignity and respect. Its a voice we cannot afford to lose.

“As the powers-that-be continually implement and endorse the time tested quality of not listening to the general populace, this may end up being the only voice we have.”

In officially launching Blacktown Studio Artists Collective exhibition Blank Slate, I gave each of the artists a copy of Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney to thank them for their inspiration to the rest of us and to let them see themselves as part of a rich continuum of creative arts development in western Sydney. They work in a wide range of media to give expression to their ideas. Blank Slate continues at Blacktown Visitor Information and Heritage Centre in the original Blacktown Primary School, Civic Plaza, Flushcombe Rd, Blacktown, (across from Blacktown Library), until January 28, 2017. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm.

It’s a pleasure to know that Ian Zammit and Natalie Wadwell are looking forward as much as I am to getting together again early next year. All good wishes in the meantime.

“Living Traces” offers an international vision for North Parramatta heritage site

1-living-traces-griefThanks to the vision and passionate commitment of artist Bonney Djuric, the current exhibition Living Traces – a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition – is giving us a glimpse of possibilities both poignant and beautiful. The possibilities are implicit in her proposed International Site of Conscience embracing the convict Parramatta Female Factory and the Parramatta Girls Home. Both lie in the Parramatta North Heritage Precinct, a key site of Sydney’s colonial history from 1792 and part of the land of the Burramatta clan of the Darug people for at least 20,000 years.

This core of Australia’s national history is now threatened with subdivision and development by the NSW Government through its agency UrbanGrowth. The girls home is currently under investigation as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse and former individual male staff members are the subject of criminal investigations.

living-traces-workshop-bonney-djuricBonney, left, and the late Christina Green were the co-founders of Parragirls in 2006. Both had been institutionalised in the Parramatta Girls Home under a punitive welfare model  in the 1970s, though like most of the residents, neither had committed any crime. Both had struggled in adulthood to understand the harshness of their experiences and to find healing from the consequences. Parragirls was founded to assist other former residents to find similar recovery. As part of this process, following a chance meeting with artist Lily Hibberd, Bonney initiated the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project with Lily as creative director in 2012. There was little or no money. The early stages involved bringing to light through photography, history documentation, artworks, multimedia presentations and installations, a record of the abuses and punishments of life in the institution. A theatre production, a symposium conducted in partnership with UTS Shopfront and quiet meetings with former girls returning to face their past were all part of the process. They began to reach a wider public totally unaware of the history.

living-traces-workshop-gypsie-hayesAs Bonney explains in the Living Traces catalogue, “Important to both of us was coming up with a new model of ethical practice to engage with and interpret institutional sites of confinement that would place former occupants at the centre of the process rather than at the periphery as subjects, footnotes. . . . Slowly we have built community interest in the site, connections to arts, history and the museum sector, and are rekindling its early Indigenous history. Most importantly we’re exploring new ideas on how these sites can be used, and who should be involved in the process.” There are no similar models to guide the process. Aboriginal artist and Parragirl Gypsie Hayes, above, in a Living Traces workshop.

living-traces-workshop-jenny-mcnallyFor those of us who grew up outside Sydney and NSW, it it difficult to comprehend the fear and shame associated with the girls home. Although originally intended to provide safety and education in life skills for disadvantaged girls from the 1880s, instead it became a focus for brutality, moral judgements and the abuse of power, especially by male officers. As Bonney says in a video interview in Living Traces, “we were told we would never amount to anything.” Civic leaders and the media echoed these judgements, and until the home was forcibly closed in 1986, teenage girls were commonly threatened with the girls home if they didn’t behave. It was a mode of control and punishment, including shaved heads and solitary confinement, that had its origins in British naval practice in earlier centuries. Although Bonney and Christina Green (aka Riley) were each treated very differently in the home – Christina’s Aboriginality compounded her punishments – both buried their experiences until painful memory triggers became inescapable. For almost every former resident who survived the ordeal, this was the pattern – profound shame, guilt and burying memories of the past. Parragirl Jenny McNally, above, and her Living Traces collagraph, below.

living-traces-jenny-mcnallyLiving Traces, a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition has been a year long project with funding assistance from Arts NSW. Among the traces of the brutal and demeaning history perpetrated in the 19th century buildings of the Girls Home are names, initials and statements scratched into doors and window frames by girls locked in solitary confinement. So many records have been lost or destroyed by the state welfare authorities, and others not yet found, that sometimes the scratchings are the only evidence that a girl was ever there. Professional artists Gwen Harrison and Sue Anderson conducted 16 workshops with 12 former Parragirls to create delicate multilayered collagraphs incorporating traces of these scratchings and others in which they respond to those marks on their own lives. The results are printed on exquisite German etching paper, displayed individually throughout the exhibition and gathered into collective artist books.

living-traces-bethel-its-time-for-transparencyThe exhibition is laid out in Bethel, left as seen at the launch of Living Traces, the children’s hospital built in 1862 for the adjacent Roman Catholic Orphanage opened in 1844. Both buildings were subsequently part of the Girls Home. A catalogue and information sheet guide visitors through rooms upstairs and downstairs, where sound recordings, videos, and installations create an atmospheric context for the stories being told. Upstairs in particular the sight of stripped back walls and scratchings on doors bear grim witness to the girls’ experiences. With the official opening on Saturday, September 24, performance artist Zsuzsi Soboslay, presented the verbatim story of Jenny McNally’s struggle against shame and hiding her past from her family. As she spoke, she quietly wiped a window clean to reveal the words – It’s time for transparency. Her strength and dignity were almost palpable and her audience was deeply moved.

1-living-traces-its-time-for-transparencyArt is transforming a terrible history into a transcending experience uniquely personal and universally relevant, from which we can all learn and draw inspiration. Lily says, “Living Traces offers rare insight into the continuous history of a justice system that criminalises, incarcerates and punishes vulnerable children to this day.” For Bonney it is “opening up new ways of understanding ourselves as a nation who never questioned the rule of authority when it came to the fate of those who were placed in institutional care.” The goal is a Memory Museum for Women and Children for which they have already amassed a huge archive.

But there is an elephant in the room potentially threatening the future of the project, other than from the NSW Government. Without a unified voice, the government could easily ignore alternative proposals to their plans. In the last two years, government proposals for the site have led to the rise of the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, which has been instrumental in mounting a widespread inclusive campaign to save the 30 hectare heritage precinct. With the National Trust and Parramatta Chamber of Commerce, among others, they envisage a world class cultural, educational and tourist precinct that is economically viable and remains in public ownership. They have tried to engage Bonney and the Memory Project in the process. Last October they conducted a symposium about the future of the precinct drawing on a broad range of expert opinion and continue to garner support and commission alternative concepts to those of UrbanGrowth.

living-traces-bonney-djuricPrevious experience has taught Bonney to be deeply distrustful of heritage organisations, which “domesticate” or sentimentalise colonial history and fail to see the continuing impact on contemporary society. It is only her highly strategic and total commitment which has brought the project this far and won global recognition as the first Australian member of the 200 strong International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Bonney’s Living Traces collagraph, left.

About the Parramatta Memory Project Lily explains, “The Site of Conscience founding ethos is to bring ‘Memory to Action’ past and present experiences of women and children who have been in state welfare institutions. It is place of recognition for women and children who have been subjected to terrible injustice, cruelty and punishment in welfare and juvenile justice systems. Parramatta Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home are conjoined as the mother and child of this system from its colonial origins and legacies from the 20th century to the present day.

living-traces-gypsie-hayes“The Memory Museum for Women and Children will make the physical and emotional link between the Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home and the intergenerational and contemporary issues for all those who have similar experiences. This is a museum of inclusion: a home for otherwise disparate and vulnerable people: Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations and many others who have been treated unjustly and abandoned by the state and their carers.” International Sites of Conscience generate huge visitor numbers, she says, and strong economic returns. Gypsie Hayes’ Living Traces collagraph, left.

It’s time to talk. In the meantime, UrbanGrowth has just announced –

Sprout

Growing ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct

Two days of panel discussions, working sessions, inspirational presentations, site tours and displays to help us grow ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct. Thursday and Friday, November 10 and 11. The Chapel, Norma Parker Centre,
1 Fleet Street, North Parramatta NSW 2145.
Sprout
is free to attend. Pre-registration is required, as we have limited space. Register

I regret that I shall be unable to attend, but you can still make a contribution by phoning  Sara Wilson on 0419 815 087 or emailing parramattanorth@urbangrowth.nsw.gov.au

Living Traces continues only from Friday September 30 to next Sunday, October 2, 2 – 6pm, 1 Fleet St, Parramatta North.

Workshop images – Lucy Parakhina; Collagraph images – Lily Hibberd; Other images – Suzette Meade

Creative artists present nuanced views of conflict, causes and consequences

ntop-qanonAward wining film director George Miller says, “. . . art is at its best when it allows catharsis through story telling and a nation is at its best when it provides a refuge for humanity to heal and flourish.” It seems that this observation is relevant to three arts events due to launch across western Sydney, where negotiating multiculturalism and difference is a daily  experience.

The first is Diaspora-Making Machines opening at Blacktown Arts Centre, on Thursday, September 29. The second is a public dialogue between writers Ellen van Neerven and Michael Mohammed Ahmad under the provocative title Black and Lebo. The third is The Cartographer’s Curse, a new production created by National Theatre of Parramatta, which explores the complexities of political and social divisions within the Middle East. Above is an image of the qanun, a Middle Eastern instrument featured in The Cartographer’s Curse. Director Paula Abood explains qanun is the origin of the English word canon, encompassing the lore and law of a society.

In Diaspora-Making Machines eight artists of diverse cultural backgrounds explore some of “the systemic devices (the machines) that generate movement and the dispersal of communities (the diaspora).” From the earliest days of the colony, Blacktown has been a scene of continuous waves of migration. Some were forced, like the Aboriginal and Maori children sent to be “reformed” at the 1823 Blacktown Native Institution, and others like migrants and refugees who made new homes there by choice.

1-blak-douglas-bac-for-diaspora-making-machinesOffering an Aboriginal perspective on the exhibition’s theme of Blacktown’s historic place as a centre of migration, attitudes to newcomers, and notions of belonging and assimilation is Blak Douglas, who grew up in the area. His work, left, Pipe Dreams (Part A), suggests a challenge to the role of the church as a systemic device in the dispersal of Aboriginal communities. Another of the artists is Mehwish Iqbal, who grew up in a small town in Pakistan where art wasn’t even taught in the local school. Nonetheless, she defied traditional expectations to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts and then moved to Dubai. In 2006, she moved to Australia with her family where she completed a Masters degree at the College of Fine Arts UNSW. Mehwish has undertaken international artists residencies and has a keen interest in themes of integration, assimilation and separation experienced by migrants living in Australia and issues faced by under privileged children in developing countries.

The other artists are Jumaadi, Nerine Martini, Susannah Williams and Warren Armstrong, Luping Zeng and his son Cheng Zeng. Diaspora Making Machines will continue at Blacktown until Saturday, November 5.

ellen-van-nervanBlack and Lebo promises a lively discussion between two award winning young writers, Aboriginal author Ellen van Neerven, right, and Michael Mohammed Ahmad, below, left. Ellen won the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Prize, among other awards, and has just published a new book Comfort Food, a collection of poetry. Michael is the director of Sweatshop – Western Sydney Literacy Movement, a talented actor, and a doctoral candidate at the Western Sydney University Writing and Society Research Centre. He has won several awards for his work and for his debut novel The Tribe. His second novel The Lebs will be published early next year.

Ellen and Michael Mohammed.AhmadMichael will discuss the intersections between race, faith, class, gender and sexuality in contemporary Australian literature, give performances from their latest works and take questions and comments from their audience. Black and Lebo takes place on Friday, September 30, at Western Sydney University, Bankstown campus, Building 3, Room G 55. The event is free with lunch provided and everyone is welcome, but RSVP is essential.

Prof Ghassan HageFrench and British colonialism of the early 20th century in the Middle East is the starting point for The Cartographer’s Curse. Invasion, colonialism and conflict have been common experiences for centuries among people in this region, where borders have undergone frequent change, according to who holds the power. A century ago, it was the British and French who drew lines on a map to divide the area according to their own interests. The consequences continue to reverberate and have led many people to seek refuge elsewhere in the world. Under the guidance of Paula Abood, history is imagined through spoken word poetry and prose, parkour movements and qanunic music. Among the characters are the cartographer, the wandering professor, the poet, the resistance, the merchant and the master of the qanun. The professor is played by Ghassan Hage, above right, an actual Future Generation Professor of global stature.

1-ntop-cartog-curse-thistle“This ensemble captures the very best of Arab Australian artistry in all its different expression,” Paula says. “Each performer in The Cartographer’s Curse brings a particular prowess and this makes for an exciting performance.” The coupling of the melodic quality of the qanun with the edginess of Parkour movement, she describes as “artistically very exhilarating.” The thistle, left, grows throughout the landscape of the Middle East and could easily be perceived as a metaphor for resilience and survival. The Cartographer’s Curse opens at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, on Thursday, October 5 and continues only until October 8.

Sacred music launch highlights Aboriginal spirit of country and inspires hope

1-IMG_4705I missed the opening event of the Sydney Sacred Music Festival, but by chance discovered unexpected beauty and symbolism. Owing to wet weather, The Gathering Ceremony at Marrong, featuring internationally acclaimed Aboriginal musician William Barton, was transferred from Marrong or Prospect Hill, to Pemulwuy Community Centre. I missed the message and arrived instead at the foot of the hill in Daruga Ave, Pemulwuy, at 2pm, last Friday, September 2. With no one in sight, the concert was clearly happening elsewhere. From the road, the view was of carefully landscaped bushland, polished steel and timber stairways, and signage including Burra – the Darug word for food – found in the bush around.

The hill is a central feature of the Cumberland Plains and the region of western Sydney. The sight was a revelation. The last time I had been on the hill was probably more than 20 years ago. The hillside was deeply scarred after years of mining for building and roadmaking materials, and battered old pine trees still formed a windbreak of sorts along the ridge line. At Worlds Collide, the Festival concert on the following night, others confirmed their only consciousness of public discussion about the hill was a pre-Bicentenary proposal in the 1980s for a giant flagpole on the hill – a symbol of white Australian triumphalism. In the 30 years since that time, a quiet revolution had been taking place with many participants, particularly members of then Holroyd Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee and local resident Jacqui Douglas, a descendant of the Malyankapa language group of western NSW.

1-IMG_4709Jacqui’s research of early documents had led her to question why the third colonial settlement of Portland Place, established at the base of Prospect Hill in 1791 appeared to have been abandoned in favour of Toongabbie, now officially recognised as the third white settlement in Australia. Holroyd Council commissioned historian Michael Flynn to undertake a formal study of Portland Place and the indigenous history of Holroyd. Three months after the establishment of the penal colony at Sydney Cove in 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip set out with a party including Captain Llieutenant Watkin Tench to search for arable land for growing crops. On the fifth day, they arrived at what was soon known as Prospect Hill because of its fine vistas and dominant position in the landscape. Settlement followed but quickly met with Aboriginal resistance. Attacks and counter attacks were occurring elsewhere in the colony. In a chapter called War on the Cumberland Plain, in her award winning book The Colony: A History of Early Sydney, associate professor Grace Karskens details the complexities of relationships that were emerging between Aboriginal groups and white settlers throughout this period. There was no simple racial divide, but a network of sympathies and conflicts between and among Aboriginal and white groups across the plains. Outstanding among the Aboriginal resistance fighters was Bidgigal man, Penmulwuy from the Botany Bay area whose defiant exploits took him to many locations around Sydney. In 1802, despite previous remarkable escapes, Pemulwuy was killed.

1-IMG_4708Grace Karskens writes that in 1805, Governor King reintroduced the strategy that had successfully eliminated Pemulwuy. “A few days later, Aboriginal people of Prospect, Parramatta and the Cowpastures asked (the Reverend) Samuel Marsden to attend a conference ‘with a view to opening the way to reconciliation’. A complex dance of diplomacy and negotiation followed, brokered by Aboriginal women with the assistance of  Prospect settler, Jonathon (also called John) Kennedy, When Marsden arrived at the appointed place, the women told him that the men were in conference and would be calling on him when they were ready. And they did: . . .” Skirmishes in the area died down, though they continued elsewhere, particularly where white settlements had destroyed access to indigenous food sources.

The peace talks were held on May 3, 1805. On Monday, May 4, 2015, the 210th anniversary of the talks, Marrong Reserve was officially launched by the Mayor of Holroyd, Greg Cummings and Darug Elder, Aunty Sandra Lee. The commemorative plaque acknowledged the contribution of resources for the establishment of the reserve from Lend Lease and Boral Resources (NSW) Pty Limited. A Holroyd Council media release stated that “Marrong Reserve provides recreational, cultural and visual amenity to the residents of Pemulwuy and surrounding areas, and is named after the Aboriginal word for Prospect Hill because it follows the ridgeline. . . . The Reserve will be dedicated to Council by land owner, Boral Resources (NSW) Pty Limited and developer, Lend Lease after a maintenance period. The northern section of Marrong Reserve has been completed as Stage 1 with the expectation that Lend Lease will develop the southern portion as Stage 2.”

1-IMG_4704As I walked through the misty rain on Marrong, I heard and saw currawongs, kookaburras, crested pigeons and little finches. The surrounding scrub looked like a metaphor for the symbolic nature of the hill itself. Introduced plants like lantana threatened to overwhelm native shrubs, but other native grasses and trees flourished and hardenbergias were resplendent in purple spring flowers. Clearly there is a lot more planned for the reclamation and maintenance of Marrong/Prospect as a focal point for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal intercultural understanding and respect. Martha Jabour, cultural officer for the new Cumberland Council, which has absorbed much of the former Holroyd and Auburn Councils, writes that “the treatment of Marrong is very much about the work of our ATSI committee. Recent forums and programs have been effective in bringing  additional Aboriginal partners to the process.”

With so much progress in little more than 20 years, it’s encouraging to think that the hotly contested North Parramatta Heritage Precinct might yet emerge as another example of honest Australian story telling, self knowledge, education and cultural tourism. Advocates are heartened by the outstanding 10 year record of achievement of Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne as a model for their future. Click here to see the video highlighted by North Parramatta Resident Action Group president Suzette Meade.

1-img_1706I arrived at the Pemulwuy Community Centre, just as William Barton and his mother Aunty Delmae Barton finished their performance for The Gathering Ceremony. Their audience was clearly uplifted by the experience. Thanks to Martha Jabour for her photo. By good fortune, the artists were present at the following night’s Worlds Collide concert and improvised with musicians in the first piece to the delight of the crowd. Sydney Sacred Music Festival program continues Sydney wide until September 18.

A dance of many dimensions whirls around arts and sciences

1-PRG - Gravity and Wonder - Solar EclipseThere is a dance of many dimensions occurring around arts and sciences in the region. In the meantime, thank you to those who responded to the last post. A loss of internet and phone lines for six days and continuing household sickness has delayed follow up, but it will happen.

Reaching for the stars is just one element of a full program of activities for families, students and specialists to accompany the Gravity (and Wonder) exhibition opening at Penrith Regional Gallery, this Saturday, September 3, at 4pm. Topics will range from the impact of gravity on gardens to the glories of the night sky through the Western Sydney University Observatory telescope. Among the images on display will be the 1922 image, above, of a solar eclipse, part of the Museum of Arts and Sciences collection. The exhibition will be opened by Professor Barney Glover, vice-chancellor of Western Sydney University and president of the MAAS Board of Trustees, responsible for the controversial planned move of the Powerhouse Museum from Darling Harbour to Parramatta.

PRG - Powerhouse-Observatory_credit-Prudence-Upton-016-300x300On Sunday, September 11, there will be an adult and family day of exploration in the gallery gardens. Among the attractions will be Sydney Observatory gravity model demonstrations, left, and a conversation with landscape artist and host of ABC TV’s Gardening Australia, Costa Georgiadis, below. Costa’s conversation with David Duncan and Peter Western will take place in the gallery’s beautiful succulent garden. They will discuss the unique and curious elements of gravity and PRG - Gravity and Wonder - costa_large-300x300gardening.

Gravity (and Wonder) will present an all day Gravity Geeks Art + Science Symposium at Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, November 5. Artists and STEM researchers, educators, students and audience will come together in discussion and demonstration. The work of artists who collaborate with scientists in illuminating scientific concepts and related research concerning gravity will be presented.

Managed by Museums and Galleries of NSW and assisted by a Dobell Exhibition Grant, the Gravity (and Wonder) program will include star gazing from Western Sydney University Observatory and from the gallery gardens. Make sure you make at least one visit before the exhibition closes November 27.

On September 4, the National Trust presents a talk Saving the Powerhouse by Kylie Winkworth, heritage consultant and former trustee of the Powerhouse Museum.
The NSW Government proposes to sell and relocate the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta. The trust opposes the sale of the Powerhouse but supports the establishment of a museum at Parramatta. It believes there has been inadequate consultation on the options. Tickets.

Metadata-2-website-bannerIt will be dance and science that combine in three performances at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, from September 15 to 17. Metadata, image above is the new project of one of Australia’s leading contemporary dance companies, De Quincey Co. Metadata continues the company’s cross art form, cross disciplinary and frequent cross cultural explorations. They describe Metadata – pure light, moths and mathematics as an exploration of the latest developments in physics and cosmology. Metadata will be presented by Form Dance and Riverside Theatres and each performance will be followed by an arts-science exchange led by science academics from the University of Sydney. Bookings and information.

Western Sydney Frontier – does this blog have a future?

1-IMG_4548Have you ever read posts on this blog and thought how they could be further developed? Feedback has suggested there could be more critical depth to the story telling and discussion encouraged of ideas and creative proposals. A continuously updated “what’s on” section, space for reviews of exhibitions, performances, events, books etc, and listing of opportunities – workshops, auditions, employment? Feature items by invited contributors?

Well, now is your chance. By the end of this year I will have reached the age of 75 and would like to pull back from my current engagement. Having a range of contributors would greatly increase the value of the blog, but would require clearly developed policy, shared management and editorial responsibility and more sophisticated technology. A multi-platform website may be one answer and/or a collaborative blogging platform. Clearly, this needs skilled advice. If Western Sydney Frontier is now superseded by other blogs and websites, I am happy to let it wind down and just deliver occasional posts myself.

NPRAG rally T shirtIn the meantime, it’s worth considering some facts. Two subjects which have attracted the largest response are those around Aboriginal experience (see Appin Massacre 200th anniversary commemoration, photo above) and national heritage issues particularly the convict Parramatta Female Factory Precinct in North Parramatta, left, and the former Parramatta Girls Home.

What has been the response since the launch of Western Sydney Frontier in February 2014? WordPress statistics seem to be a bit contradictory, e.g. in recording Facebook links, but the broad figures seem consistent. There are only about 100 followers – people usually “follow” in response to a particular story, whereas the broad reach of the blog across the region and across art forms is usually too broad for most readers – in its present form, anyway. At the time of writing there have been 12,000 visitors in two and a half years and 18,500 views. Best total views in one day – 263, Feb 11, 2016 – Confront the racist crap and create real change – though WordPress later credited those figures to a different story. The vast majority of visits come from within Australia, but views are recorded from a multitude of different countries. 144 posts have been published and 103 comments recorded in response – the reply facility on this particular blog design (Twenty Eleven theme) is disappointingly obscure, so that conversations that begin, rarely have the chance to develop.

What is the anecdotal feedback? Feedback is mostly verbal and generally enthusiastic, though infrequent. Those who are the subjects of stories, usually express great appreciation and share the stories through Facebook, Twitter etc. There are plenty of others who share the links through social media, too. As you know, there is such a plethora of online information and comment, it can be hard to register in the public mind.

If you would like to reply with comments or suggestions – preferably about what you would do, not what I should do, please click on the Leave a reply link at the bottom of the post, click on the Join In page under the blog’s header, or message me or comment under the link on the Passion Purpose Meaning Facebook page. Many thanks.

william+barton+sacred+musicIn the meantime, some of the best developments occurring across the region are represented in the opening events of the 2016 Sydney Sacred Music Festival. Director Richard Petkovic has worked in partnership with Cumberland Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultative Committee. “Come and see Sydney in a 360 degree panoramic view and be part of The Gathering Ceremony, on Friday, September 2, at 2pm.” he says. “Featuring internationally acclaimed artist, William Barton, above, The Gathering Ceremony will bring together the local Aboriginal community to relaunch Marrong (Prospect Hill) as a significant place of culture for Aboriginal people. A place of spirit, a place of the Crow (Pemulwuy’s totem).”

On the following night, at 7pm, Sydney Sacred Music Festival launches Worlds Collide – Eight Storeys High, Seven Cultures, One Amazing New Sound – A live multimedia performance of contemporary world and electronic dance music on Wentworth Street Carpark in Parramatta’s CBD. Here is a short video promo of the music element

Richard says, “The roofworlds+collide+sacred+music+festival top will be transformed into an artistic wonderland, featuring art installations by Khaled Sabsabi, Marian Abboud and Ghasan Saaid, video projections, interactive dance workshops and the world premiere of the Arts NSW funded, Worlds Collide ensemble. Worlds Collide brings together the best world musicians in Sydney and fuses the South Asian Underground beats of Coco Varma’s Sitar Funk, the acoustic world fusion of the Shohrat Tursun Trio; Latin music legend Victor Valdes; soaring vocals of Blue Mary’s Maria Mitar and the hip hop rhymes of Mt Druitt’s Esky the Emcee, all under the direction of music producer and composer Richard Petkovic (Cultural Arts Collective).

Worlds Collide will invite the audience to move their bodies, from meditative drones and sacred African chants to full on dance beats with soaring vocals and hip hop rhymes, this performance is designed to take the listener on a journey into the new sound of multicultural Australia.” Program details and bookings.