Get FUNPARKED this weekend!

Funpark 2016 - WorkshopsWow! It’s happening already! School holiday workshops are underway this week in preparation for FUNPARK at Bidwill on Saturday, April 23. Now making it easier than ever to participate in popular activities from previous FUNPARK celebrations are workshops in Parkour, hulahooping, art and craft and “Let’s paint Bidwell” – see times in poster, left. A packed program will run from 12 noon to 3.30pm, on Saturday in Bidwill Square and the adjacent Bidwell Uniting Grounds. FUNPARK specifically targets young people who live in Mt Druitt. The project continues to involve participants in creative dialogue around the social, civic and imagined spaces of Mt Druitt.

FUNPARK is the brainchild of award winning theatre director, Kaz Therese, whose own childhood was spent in Bidwill and inspires so much of her creative output. It was launched as an event of Sydney Festival in January 2014 and became an annualFunpark 2016 boy event as a result of popular demand. Professional development workshops began in January for FUNPARK 2016. Kaz and her team promise food, live theatre performances, games, and workshops in a whole range of activities, including filmmaking, hip hop, food making and mural creation.

There is a close link between FUNPARK, the Bidwill community and last weekend’s walk and camp in which Aboriginal elders from the Mt Druitt area passed stories, knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next: “Ngal lo wah murraytula”. CuriousWorks in partnership with Moogahlin Performing Arts will be working with the young people who attended this camp over a number of years, to help them tell their own First Nations stories of life in western Sydney. “Ngal lo wah murraytula – Culture is the foundation, learning flows from here. Biaime, Stars and Grandfather Sun. Always today and every day.” Mt Druitt and Bidwill are on Darug country.

The community engagement and skills sharing of FUNPARK has already transformed Bidwill by drawing attention to its previous loss of community facilities and achieving recent upgrades to the square itself, and to shopping and services available.

Funpark 2016
Now in its third year, FUNPARK is supported by a coalition of six companies – Bidwill Uniting, Blacktown Arts Centre, Powerhouse Youth Theatre, CuriousWorks, UNOH and Learning Ground. FUNPARK is now cemented as a long-term creative program for Mt Druitt. Come and see what it’s all about at FUNPARK 2016! APRIL 23rd.


Western Sydney arts advocacy packs a growing political and economic punch

SMH funding imbalance

Ian Milliss‘s Facebook posts this morning say it all. He is responding to the figures above as published in the Sydney Morning Herald, February 26, 2015, and an item today Western Sydney Arts Funding an ‘insult’– a quote from Andrew Taylor’s CAC future plansinterview with Christopher Brown, chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue. Christopher was speaking in support of Campbelltown Arts Centre’s $30 million proposal for redevelopment – see artist’s impression, right.

“There is a revolt brewing for sure, this is not just rhetoric,” says Ian. “I’ve been at meetings with local councils and politicians where growing anger is palpable. Some areas like the Blue Mountains which now has one of the largest concentrations of artists in Ian MllissNSW receive close to zero funding. Basically the AGNSW Bloat has to be cancelled and the money put into something between Parramatta and Penrith, an enormous area in itself. Remember, it is the people living out west who are paying for this but can’t get to it. I recommend Billy Gruner’s idea of buying up the Marcel Breuer factory at Penrith and all surrounding buildings and using it as a centrepiece for a complex called AGNSW West.”

Ian, left, says “The Deloitte’s report that spells out the extraordinary disparity in arts funding is shocking. Basically a majority of the Sydney population is funding a concentration of arts facilities in the city centre for tourists and the eastern suburbs’ wealthy. This is not a sustainable situation and the AGNSW Bloat project plus the cancellation of the Parramatta Kings School arts precinct are really bringing it to a head. This is not a storm in a teacup and it is not going away, it is barely beginning.”

More than 2000 submissions have been made to the Senate enquiry into arts funding, including many of high calibre from western Sydney – see Carl Sciberras, July 14. The enquiry was called by the Senate as a result of the dramatic changes to funding in the last federal budget, which took $27 million a year for four years from the Australia Council budget for allocation by the Ministry for the Arts to a National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). The impact in western Sydney will be disproportionately severe.

1-IMG_4031An example of successful arts advocacy at work is the now annual Funpark celebrations at Bidwill, near Mt Druitt. Held for the second time only last weekend, the achievements of the first Funpark, held as part of Sydney Festival 2014, were clear for everyone to see, right. The whole carpark had been resurfaced, the kebab shop was upgraded and a new FoodWorks supermarket had been operating for six months. This was the result after Funpark 2014, highlighted the lack of adequate shopping facilities for locals, poor public transport to access other shops, and limited recreational outlets for young people. Blacktown Council has been a great supporter of these initiatives and plans a new basketball court for Bidwill.

But the improvements are fragile. FoodWorks has been very cooperative, but to survive economically, it needs other businesses to join them to attract sufficient custom. It has trained about 20 local people to work there, but can currently employ only two. Therese Wilson, the local resident who willingly opened her home in Cuppa Tea with Therese, as part of Funpark, see below, offered insights and answered questions about life in Bidwill. She spoke of many people in public housing surviving on little more than $500 per fortnight, from which the Department of Housing takes 25% in rent.

1-1-IMG_4030-001“The half hour walk to other shops is alright, but the $20 taxi fare back home with a load of groceries is out of the question,” she said. “Careful budgeting is very important. You have to save for weeks if you need a new pair of shoes.” Therese, who is a deeply committed community volunteer, describes doing her own survey among local teenagers and finding many of them want theatre, music and dance opportunities. When offered an opportunity for young people to participate in an inner Sydney theatre company, she pointed out that they could afford neither the time nor the fares to get there. An offer from an outreach director of another company might prove more fruitful. Stay tuned.


Get Funparked on Sunday while you buy your groceries!

They did it! Kaz Therese and her creative team from Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Blacktown Arts Centre and the Mt Druitt community raised more than the $5000 they needed to stage FUNPARK in 2015. Their efforts through the crowd fundraiser Pozible were spurred by their anger at the negative publicity about the Mt Druitt neighbourhood generated by the SBS program Struggle Street in May.

Funpark 2015

The inaugural Funpark last year was a celebration of the Bidwill community’s stories and strengths and a feature of Sydney Festival. One of the best practical outcomes, apart from increased confidence and self-esteem, was the decision of Foodworks to set up a supermarket there. Funpark had highlighted the problem for the community of having none of the local shops they once had and the complexity of access to alternatives.

Funpark - Rev John DaceyKaz says, “My hot tips are, if you are a guest in Mt Druitt it would be great for you to attend these two works: The Occult of Bidwill presented by Minister John Dacey, left, and also Cuppa Tea with Therese presented by local resident Therese Wilson. These are both fascinating and inclusive live art works that provide direct engagement and an opportunity to get to understand some of the local issues and how you can further support the community on the day. Also make a t-shirt and dance like it’s the revolution in the carpark of your dreams – to DJ Tracksuitpants!

“Of course there are DJ’s, performances, workshops and social actions so check out the program and I’ll see you and your family and friends in Mt Druitt this Sunday from 3pm-7pm to get Funparked!  Foodworks (carpark),Carlise Ave, Bidwill. It will be cold so bring warm things and pillows and blankets to watch the videos. Do the locals a favour and do your shopping at Bidwill Foodworks!”

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.

Stop blaming locals for government dysfunction

Out West cover 1993 - Blog“The western suburbs still get a raw deal and the locals are blamed for the consequences.” This quotation from a local resident’s letter appeared on the cover of Diane Powell’s 1993 book Out West – Perceptions of Sydney’s western suburbs, Allen & Unwin. Little has apparently changed for in February 2014, NSW Minister Pru Goward’s suggested that “the solution to perceived problems of welfare dependency involved the threat to deprive people of their homes”, as reported by Virginia Baxter.

The careless injustice of such a suggestion stirred Virginia to write a recent story A community fights back, in the February/March 2014 issue of real time the free print and online publication described as a critical guide to the art of now.

“Bidwill was the location for FUNPARK, one of Sydney Festival’s projects in western Sydney. Creative director Karen Therese, herself a sometime local, brought together a team of city and western Sydney artists with indigenous and other elders to celebrate what is, contrary to reports, a vibrant local community,” she writes. Virginia describes some of the events created and performed by local people with the support of experienced artists – The Mt Druitt Press Conference presented by a group of “confident, socially engaged and talented” young people, Bunny Hoopster and her team of Hoopaholics, young Aboriginal dancers and choristers and the raucus “rock opera” Girls Light Up, mocking the grossly media sensationalised Bidwill “riot” of 1981.

Running in parallel wBidwell hoopsters 0114ere the Harley Davidson Wild Trike rides, a large tent in the centre of the car park, where Darug elders discussed the history of the area and their concerns about education opportunities for younger members, Cuppa Tea with Therese, a local Housing NSW resident who has been deeply involved in her community for many years, and the Occult of Bidwill tour, where local Uniting Church Minister John Dacey highlighted some of the “‘hidden’ instances of misguided bureaucracy”, which have led to a steady deterioration in facilities and services available.

Virginia ends her story by saying, “Understandably, many locals see the government as the architects of dysfunction when it comes to some of the recurring issues in this area. Projects like FUNPARK go some way to restoring the community’s faith in itself, giving it the strength to fight the easy stereotyping to imagine all manner of possibilities.”

In the same issue of real time, stories by Keith Gallasch discuss the vision and creative development work of Campbelltown Arts Centre and Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. At Campbelltown, director Michael Dagostino is seeing his long term investment in artists and their development of new work beginning to bear fruit. Campbelltown Arts Centre deals with dance, performance, live art and music, bringing artists together in collaborations, which are as much about exploring the differences in their art forms, as about their similarities.

A primary goal with each of these is to draw many more young people into the centre through engagement with their issues, their politics, and “what’s happening at the moment, to get them to ‘own’ Campbelltown Arts Centre”. Among the many recent projects aimed at connecting the centre with local communities was last year’s second phase of Temporary Democracies – “a live art event set in empty homes in a suburban street undergoing renewal and population change”. It was so successful in breaking down barriers and winning support from the local Men’s Shed, that the men are participating in another project this year – in partnership with the MCA and C3West. They are assisting in building a sculpture inspired by the retrieval of cars from the George’s River.

Robert Love - RiversideAt Riverside Theatres, director Robert Love discusses his plans for the future with Keith Gallasch. Since Robert’s appointment in 2000, Riverside has become a flourishing centre with multiple audiences for mainstream and emerging theatre, contemporary dance, physical theatre, film – both local and international, disability arts, and a wide range of music. He, too, is investing in artists for the long term development of productions, but is frustrated that high costs prevent him from doing more. . . “‘but this year we’re 100% producing Alana Valentine’s Parramatta Girls, which premiered at Belvoir in 2007′, but never played in the city of the story’s origins.”

Robert aims to have a resident performing arts company based at Riverside and servicing Parramatta, western Sydney and regional NSW. There are plans to rebuild the theatres, to add one or two storeys and to create a real community hub.

He shares the disgust of many others in the region at the inadequacy of the state government’s $3 million funding to the arts in western Sydney. The region is home to two million people – almost half of Sydney’s total population and yet the funding is estimated to be only 1% of the total allocated to Sydney central. James Packer’s $30 million to western Sydney over 10 years should be matched by a state government increase to $6 million annually, he argues. And then resurrect the University of Western Sydney’s performing arts courses “and you start up a healthy arts ecosystem.”

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Bidwill revolution to counter doomsayers

Young Aboriginal dancersThe revolution has begun declares theatre director and former Bidwill resident Kaz Therese.

Here, a recently formed group of young Aboriginal dancers performed at Bidwill’s Funpark, directed by Kaz, as part of January’s Sydney Festival. The local energy and enthusiasm released by the event run entirely counter to the suggestion by Minister for Family and Community Services that social dysfunction is a creation of the community itself. Government concerns for local public housing tenants are contradicted by evidence from residents that recent reductions in bus services have further limited access to services and that the shopping centre leaseholder may be under no obligation to provide the shops and services that existed more than a decade ago. Life is undoubtedly difficult, but locals are determined to change that.