Aboriginal leaders are talking the change and changing the talk

1-IMG_4522An ABC TV report on Sunday, April 17, estimated 1000 people attended the 200th anniversary memorial of the massacre of Aboriginal men, women and children at Appin, April 17, 1816. It was many more than had attended the memorial in any of the last 20 years and a pleasing reassurance to the organisers, led by the descendants of the Dharawal (also Tharawal) people who survived. Dharawal elder Uncle Ivan Wellington, left, explains to an ABC film crew early in the day how he has been working for 30 years to educate people about the consequences of white colonisation for Aboriginal people. He makes frequent school visits and is often amazed how little is known about the history of the conflict and the devastation of his people. He is committed to passing on cultural knowledge to young Aboriginal people, developing their confidence and pride in their ancestry. His work and that of his fellow descendants is clearly bearing fruit, which could be see in the program that followed.

The day began with a free sausage sizzle in the Cataract Dam Recreation Area, supported by Wollondilly, Camden and Campbelltown Councils, community organisations 1-IMG_4531and schools. Aboriginal families gathered – some of Dharawal descent – others more recently arrived from different Aboriginal lands. Yet others were non-Aboriginal like me – there to give support. Later, we all descended to a large site near the wall of the dam, overlooking the spillway into the gorge, where the crowd could be seated in a wide circle for the ceremony. Nor far above, in a rocky, sheltered niche, right, lay the memorial plaque –

The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal nation occurred near here on April 17, 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the real number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Wing Myamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Council.

A ceremonial program and smoking ceremony led by Uncle Ivan began, watched by special guests including – Dharawal and Gundungurra descendants, Aboriginal elders, the Governor of NSW, General The Honorable David Hurley,  state and federal MPs and the mayors of Wollondilly, Camden and Campbelltown. The Welcome to 1-IMG_4548Country was given by Dharawal descendants Frances Bodkin (in Dharawal language), Uncle Ivan, Glenda Chalker, and Gavin Andrews. Gavin told the story of the massacre from a Dharawal perspective and described Governor Macquarie’s instructions to ‘punish the hostile natives by clearing the country of them entirely’ as effectively giving vigilante groups permission to pursue this instruction to the military with a free hand, which he said they continued to do. Pictured above are Dharawal descendants and musicians Matthew and Ken Doyle accompanying Linda in an evocative dance.

For an illustrated background story to the day and to the massacre see the excellent account by professional historian Dr Stephen Gapps.

Wagana in Canberra for the meetup festival 0416Two other noteworthy events were taking place during the same weekend as remembering the Appin massacre. Young members of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers from Katoomba were participating in the meetup youth dance companies festival in Canberra, left, from April 15 to 17. The company has been evolving over a long period under the leadership of Wiradjuri dancer and choreographer Jo Clancy. She was raised and still lives on Gundungurra and Darug country in the Blue Mountains and the dancers’ consultation with elders is a vital part of their growth in cultural knowledge and confidence in their identity.

The other activity was mentioned in the last blog post. On April 14, Moogahlin Performing Arts, based at Carriageworks, posted on Facebook, “Today we kick off ‘NgAl-Lo-Wah Murrytula (Darug: together we share/enjoy)’ – a walk and cultural reclamation project that was initiated by two Western Sydney Elders, Uncle Wes Marne (93 years old) and Aunty Edna Watson (75 years old). Over the next three days they are taking 14 young people who were nominated by their community to participate along arterial roads/walking tracks of Western Sydney, laying down and recording their knowledge along the way.

Moogahlin Perf Arts - Darug elders 0416“Chookas to our Elders, young people, and the rest of our creative and production team! We hope you stay warm and have a wonderful time, and look forward to the stories you’ll share on your return!” Pictured: Aunty Edna Watson, Uncle Wes Marne, Uncle Allie Watson. Image by James Photographic Services.

There is little doubt that the title of the Fairfield exhibition earlier this year was absolutely timely. Talk the Change/Change the Talk. Although painfully slow, change is occurring in Australian race relations under the sustained leadership of Aboriginal people. On April 18, the Sydney Morning Herald carried an item by lawyer Tim Dick Reconciliation is still not on the horizon. Next day, his opinion was refuted by a letter writer Rivers of reconciliation running towards true healing. There is substance in both positions, but the scales of justice are tilting towards Aboriginal people and more Australians appear to be responding.




A time for reflection and optimism

Jeannie and Governor Marie BashirAs we now know, after 1909, you had only to be an Aboriginal girl to be taken from family and incarcerated  in the notorious Parramatta Girls Home. Jeannie Hayes was one of those girls, who also endured the vicious punishments of the former Hay Gaol, or Hay Institute. Here she is, left, at a much happier time years later, enjoying the moment as she wears the hat of then Governor of NSW, Marie Bashir, alongside her, at the Children’s Day, 2014. The event was organised by the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project. and the Governor was there to acknowledge the sufferings of the former girls and to plant a tree in the memorial garden. Thanks to Jeannie’s Facebook postings, we are being brought up to date and given time to reflect on developments about the site.

The first is her news of a Youtube video, Abandon All Hope – A History of Parramatta Girls Home compiled and presented by Parragirls founder Bonney Djuric, and made possible by a small grant from Parramatta City Council. It follows Bonney’s publication of her 2011 book of similar name in which she outlined the history of the girls home in the context of the development of child welfare legislation in New South Wales. They are both part of a broader project to ensure that the history of the home and its inmates will never be forgotten, while the buildings will be preserved and re-used to memorialise the girls’ experience within the colonial Parramatta Female Factory Precinct. The site is part of the North Parramatta Urban Transformation Project, currently under consideration by UrbanGrowth NSW. The transformation project is provoking strong community protest because of the speed at which the government is propelling planning.

Christina - ABCJeannie also posted a reminder of the life of Christina Green, also known as Christina Riley, who died last month. Chris was Bonney Djuric’s co-founder of Parragirls, which provides support and healing to former girls. Like Jeannie, Chris was of Aboriginal descent and a former inmate of the Parramatta Girls Home and Hay Institute. Christina was present when former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered his Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples in Federal Parliament, February 13, 2008. Her photo, above, accompanied an ABC news report by Eleanor Bell in 2009 – Forgotten woman finds peace from lost childhood.

A memorial to girls abused at the Parramatta Girls Home has just been announced by the State Government. Artists and designers will be invited to submit expressions of interest, with the successful applicant receiving $200,000 to develop the memorial in consultation with survivors.

Wagana - Honolulu FestivalMoving from gravity and reflection, Facebook has also carried plenty of good news from Wagana Aboriginal Dancers in the Blue Mountains. With the support of an ever growing number of families and friends they raised the funds to send four dancers to the 22nd annual Honolulu Festival earlier this month. It was clearly a very rewarding and exciting experience, right, sharing culture with other Pacific nations.

Wagana - BM Music FestivalShortly after their return, they took joyous part in last weekend’s Blue Mountains Music Festival. The importance of teaching and sharing culture with the children of their community is vividly illustrated here. It may be a mode of teaching that doesn’t attract government support, but Wagana is working with a natural and ancient tradition clearly enjoyed by the children.


Confront the racist crap and create real change

Becky Chatfield - Wagana DancersThree days after Australia Day, January 26,  Becky Chatfield, right, of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers in the Blue Mountains,  posted on Facebook – feeling cross . . . .  People who say things like ‘Aboriginal people should think themselves lucky, they could have been invaded by way worse people.’  Oh yeah ok thanks for pointing that out. Mass murder, rape and genocide sounds totally lucky. Chuck in a bit of dehumanising behavior, some decapitated babies and a nice big bunch of stolen children and I feel like we’ve won the lotto!

A friend responded, “People say these things!? I actually welled up from this post. I can’t handle the disrespect that is implied everyday to our mob.”

As reported on ABC Radio, a recent survey has found that the vast majority of people believe the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is important. But it also found that a third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had been racially abused in the six months before the survey.

Lena and Blak DouglasDiscussion at the recent artists’ talks at Fairfield City Museum and Gallery was impassioned and frequently angry. The anger was driven by decades of frustration among Aboriginal artists and their supporters that Aboriginal people and their knowledge are continually belittled or totally ignored.

Co-curator Lena Nahlous introduced the talks by explaining that her original brief for the exhibition which became Talk the Change/Change the Talk had been to respond to proposed constitutional change that would include specific reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Her initial local research revealed that the brief was seen by local Aboriginal people as simply a white bureaucratic imposition and of little interest. Instead, she became aware that there were extraordinary stories of resilient communities creating their own networks of mutual support and survival. Unlike the white and immigrant communities in the Fairfield area, their stories had never been recorded. If this were to change, she needed a strong, high profile Aboriginal artist to be her co-curator, who could pull in other leading indigenous artists.

Karla DickensMuch against his will, Blak Douglas (aka Adam Hill) finally agreed to take on the role. “I am not a trained curator,” he said, “and there is only one indigenous curator in Australia, who has the objectivity needed to see work clearly and with purpose.” Born in Blacktown, western Sydney, of an Aboriginal Australian father and white Australian mother, Blak trained in graphic arts and became a passionate advocate for social justice. In the upper photo, he listens while Lena speaks, standing below one of his preliminary works for Do or Die, a painting expressing his gamble in being an Aboriginal artist in the mainstream Australian art world. Blak describes himself as a political artist, who seeks to encourage Aboriginal youth art and culture. He is a past winner of the NSW Parliamentary Art Prize, which has brought him further recognition, but left him deeply sceptical about judges and sponsors of the prize.

He sees exposure like the Parliamentary prize as an opportunity to produce a willy willy of consciousness, but says the world hasn’t changed in 45 years of his experience. Among the works in the exhibition are Karla Dickens’ old mantel clocks, above, expressing the same desperation about the lack of change. Karla is a multi award winning artist and Wiradjuri Ngurambanggu woman, who lives in the Lismore/Casino area of New South Wales, which is also a base for the Ku Klux Klan in Australia. The KKK is an extremist American hate group preaching white supremacy – often with violence. The exhibition catalogue quotes Karla as saying:

There is power in asserting objection shoulder-to-shoulder – and disapproval of the obvious injustices, pains and truths of the unheard. It is an action that holds the hope that, once the story is told, a change in the unacceptable will be born and grow.

Leanne Tobin - BurbanganaAnother highly awarded artist exhibiting in the show, Leanne Tobin, a Darug descendant of the Boorooberongal and Wumali clans of the Greater Sydney region, agreed wholeheartedly with Blak’s sentiments. She says Burbagana (To Rise), her painting above, is rendered in Renaissance style using ochres to portray the clearing of fog around Darug ancestors. Leanne is a trained teacher and artist. In schools she teaches about creeks, plants and animals, giving children an entry into Aboriginal knowledge, respect for the land and for the old people. She assists Aboriginal women prisoners to research and recover their own identities. Leanne is endlessly frustrated by the constant dilemmas and conflicts engendered by government misunderstandings and creations. “Eora”, she says, simply means “from here” and is not the name of a clan or tribe. Land councils are white bureaucratic constructions that ignore the role of traditional custodians of the land.

1-IMG_4435Elaine Pelot Syron is a non indigenous artist, right, whose documentary photos are an important feature of Talk the Change/Change the Talk. She came to her role as photographer almost by accident. She arrived in Australia from the USA in 1971, already influenced by the Civil Rights movement and Dr Martin Luther King. She was shocked to find the endlessly negative reporting by the media about Aboriginal people and began taking photographs of her own to correct the record. She accumulated a precious archive of decades of photos, which include some of the leading names in Aboriginal activism – Joe Croft, Mum Shirl, Burnum-Burnum, Dr Roberta Sykes, Isabel Coe, NAISDA and Bangarra.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda gave a cautious welcome to Prime MInister Turnbull’s speech in parliament yesterday, which saw him repeatedly quote the message he had heard from Indigenous groups: “Do things with us, not to us”.

“We have heard these words before,” Mr Gooda said. “We take them with good heart but there’s got to be a carrying-out of that new relationship so I think we’re entitled to be a little bit cynical about it until it starts happening.”

Cape York leader Noel Pearson says, “We’d like to see the Prime Minister commit to treating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders like he promised he’d treat Australians more generally – as people with intelligence who can handle complex problems and issues.”

Have you ever found a feather – a Gaurii – and wondered whose it was?

Wagana - Gaurii - Boobook OwlsFrom a very early age, in their traditional upbringing, Aboriginal children learn to be very acute observers of the natural world around them. They learn to understand the seasonal variations in the behaviour of birds and animals and the plants on which they depend for food and shelter. They learn to imitate movement and sound and to enter into the meaning of each of these beings in their lore.

Wagana - Gaurii - Nest - 4All this came home to me as I watched the opening scenes of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers‘ latest production Have you ever found a feather and wondered whose it was . . . Gaurii. Choreographed by director Jo Clancy, assisted by Becky Chatfield, five dancers – Jo, Becky, Nadia Martich, Michaela Jeffries and Brad Smith were presenting a final version of a 35 to 40 minute show they plan to present at schools and festivals in 2016. They were performing at NAISDA Dance College, Kariong, near Gosford, on September 30, where Jo was completing a Birrang Creative Residency. With a few brief remarks that introduced the audience to their characters, they launched into a graceful and entertaining performance as a flock of crows. Humour was never far from the surface as the birds performed separately and in unison.

Wagana - Gaurii - Matilda, Maude & MurphyThe basic black of their costumes could quickly transform to other birds with the addition of feather trims around arms, waists, or as masks. In the photo top, the girls were rehearsing as boobook owls. A giant nest woven from sticks and vines provided their main versatile prop, see rehearsal photos above right and at bottom. We found ourselves listening to sounds and songs of the bush and laughed at the antics of emu chicks Matilda, Maude and Murphy, above left.

Wagana Aboriginal Dancers are based at Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains and many friends and family members had travelled a long way to see the production. Jo was keen to have feedback to ensure the production would appeal to children in particular. She was left in no doubt that audiences loved Gaurii. If children hadn’t been aware of birds and their behaviour before seeing the show, there is little doubt that their interest and observation would have been sharpened after seeing the performance. By October 14, shows at schools before Christmas were already almost booked out.

Gaurii Wagana - Gaurii - Nestpresents Aboriginal dance, puppetry, language and stories connected to Crow, Emu, Lyrebird, and Owl with music and sound that convey many more birds. School shows are on Thursday and Friday, December 10 and 11 and there will be many more next year. Phone 0409 651 290.

Ceaseless exploration on display at Penrith, Bankstown and throughout the region

Penrith R Gallery - David HainesBlue Mountains artists, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding are engaged in a ceaseless exploration which has no regard for boundaries between arts and sciences. In 2011, they won the Anne Landa award for video and new media arts at the Art Gallery of NSW. The outlands invited visitors to “take control and conduct their own voyage through an immersive digital world of forests, islands, and futuristic interior architecture.” Recently, under the title Energies: Haines & Hinterding, they exhibited at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Arts. There, a similar work invited viewers to explore a different mode of control of the spectacular giant images of Geology projected onto a wall. Other works connected with energies beyond the museum, like television signals or radio waves, while some explored the unseen energy of the occult.

Each artist has pursued their own independent research and experimentation, while collaborating on other projects. For almost a decade, David has been exploring aroma – “composing fragrances inspired by plants, the earth and the cosmos” – creating complex chemical formulas. Now he is one of four Sydney based artists including Tully Arnot, Salote Tawale and Genevieve Lown, who are participating in an exhibition Hot House at Penrith Regional Gallery. Inspired in part by the violets in the gallery’s heritage garden, David’s Violet Gas (Phantom Leaves), see photo above, permeates the atmosphere of the exhibition. It’s a playful exhibition with an audioguide giving insights into the artists’ work.

1-The Way_A4-page-001At Bankstown, another kind of exploration is having its third phase of presentation. First, it was Look the Other Way, then it was The Other Way and now it is The Way – the first two co-produced by Sydney Theatre Company and Bankstown Youth Development Service (BYDS). For more than 20 years BYDS’s mission statement and practice have been “To inspire local young artists and to deliver sustainable cultural programs that invigorate the local Bankstown community”. Through many of their projects, they work with local high school students and staff. BYDS director Tim Carroll says, “Produced by BYDS The Way explores the lives of families living in Bankstown. Over one day, follow people whose choices and decisions may have a far greater effect than they could ever have imagined…”

The Way is directed by Stefo Nantsou with the assistance of gifted professional performer and director Aanisa Vylet. Their previous work with local young people has produced rich insights, energetic and polished performances. The Way will be presented at Bankstown Arts Centre from October 1 to 10. For bookings and information click here.

Now in its second week of showings Urban Theatre Project’s new film One Day for Peace continues to be seen at sites around the region. Described as a film about faith and the everyday, One Day for Peace contains interviews with 27 different people who provide a microcosm of the immense diversity of cultures and religious faiths across western Sydney. Included are people of Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Christian, Baha’i, Buddhist faiths, Aboriginal spirituality and more. Each gives a description of their individual practice, sometimes with touches of humour, sometimes with poignancy and always with honesty.

UTP - One Day for Peace - ParraOutside Parramatta Town Hall last night, a panel led by ABC broadcaster Geraldine Doogue discussed their individual responses to the film and some of the issues raised. Maha Abdo, Dr. John Rees, Professor James Arvanitakis participated with the film’s director Rosie Dennis. Each agreed they felt a sense of quiet optimism and often a wish to know more about the individuals’ lives. Rosie’s primary intention has been to start a widespread conversation about faith, culture and diversity. She wants to encourage people to recognise the nuances of faith and culture within the community and avoid the constant simplistic “them and us” delivered by the media. She mentioned an audience member at Blacktown, who had assumed every man with a beard and headdress was Muslim and had little idea of other religions.

James described students who struggle to find the words needed to articulate thoughts, beliefs, ideas and questions. His academic area is management and he doesn’t consider himself a religious man, but he recognises the need across many fields. For Maha of the Muslim Women’s Association, she agrees and finds encouragement in the demonstration of diverse individual experience. Since 9/11, young Muslims in Australia have been subject to all sorts of abuses and exclusions and little effort to understand their experiences. They can be left with a sense of isolation and disconnection. Nonetheless, in response to a question from Geraldine, she sees glimpses of an Australian Muslim identity emerging, which will be distinct in the way that Indonesian Muslims distinguish themselves from Arabic Muslims.

All acknowledged the role of culture in the interpretation and experience of faith and John emphasised the importance of this understanding in Australia’s growing relationship with its south east Asian neighbours. Even though people can be very critical of the faith and culture in which they may have been brought up, Geraldine considers their impact in giving a sense of identity and being grounded is deeply significant. While the future of the film is not yet clear, there was general agreement that it should be shown widely and especially in schools. Despite the freezing wind, passers by were happy to sit down and watch. Two young men came and sat on either side of me, introducing themselves to me and each other as Faroz and Nabil. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, assisted by the provision of free hot drinks and snacks.

There’s still time to catch a full screening at:
Auburn Central, Wednesday 23 Sept, 6:30pm
Blacktown Train Station, Thursday 24 Sept, 6:30pm
Blacktown Train Station, Saturday 26 Sept, 6pm (additional screening)
Canley Vale Heights, Saturday 26 Sept, 6:30pm
Cabramatta Moon Festival, Sunday 27 Sept, 7pm
More info on locations can be found here.

Cross cultural music, writing and Aboriginal dance uplift and inspire

Syd Sacred Music Fest 15 - Sacred ExchangeLast Saturday’s opening night concert of Sydney Sacred Music Festival 2015, at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, was even more extraordinary than might have been anticipated. In the preceding week, two of the five featured musicians, Uyghur bard, Shohrat Tursun and Sudanese multi-instrumentalist Asim Gorachi were unable to return to Australia in time. Taking their places were Nicholas Ng on the Erhu/Chinese violin and Yolngu vocalist from Arnhem Land, Gambirra Illume. Gambirra is also an exponent of ceremony and could only confirm her presence 24 hours before the concert.

As a tribute to their skills and professionalism the resulting Sacred Exchange was seamless. Each of the musicians gave an individual demonstration of their instruments and explained their origins and roles in diverse religious or cultural ceremony. Australia’s Grand Master of the Japanese shakuhachi, Riley Lee; Mongolian throat singer and horse fiddle player Bukhu Ganburged; and Australia’s leading exponent of the Indian Tabla, Bobby Singh joined Gambirra and Nicholas in an atmosphere of meditation and transcendence. Humorous little insights were often given into the performers’ personal experience of their instruments. Bobby Singh drew laughter after the players combined in an improvised collaboration, when he reflected that this was a Sydney Saturday night. They could have been anywhere in the world, uplifted in harmony, while others were at the football, or drinking beer. On stage, above, are Gambirra, left, Nicholas, Bobby, Buku and Riley.

1-Syd Sacred Music Fest 15 - PAS - WritersThe festival continues to September 19 and includes Stories of the Sacred tomorrow night, Thursday, September 10, at Parramatta Artists Studios. Writers Walter Mason and Maryam Azam, left, will investigate the everyday revealing those sacred spaces we never usually notice. A concert at Campbelltown Arts Centre on Friday night explores Ancient Rhythms, Future Visions. It’s a collaborative performance featuring the “Godfather of Indian Electronica” DJ Coco Varma with some of Sydney’s finest South Asian performers melding sacred dance and music with Sufi poetry and electronica. At Bankstown Arts Centre on Saturday night Sacred Rituals of Sudan is a multimedia concert that features the sacred ritual and ceremonies of Sudan. The Sudanese Sufi community of Sydney comes together to showcase Sufi traditions in song, dance and video. The night will feature the Sufi Chant group Bashier and the visual art of Ghasan Saaid. Click here for festival details for the next 10 days.

Wagana - BarangarooAt the opening of the new Barangaroo reserve on Sydney Harbour, on September 6, Wagana Aboriginal Dancers, right, performed with Janawi Dance Clan, NAISDA, Matthew Doyle, Clarence & Tim Bishop, Excelsior, Thomas Kelly, Darren Compton and Koomurri.

For several weeks they have also been developing a new work Gaurii – Crow – using an area of burnt out bushland in the Blue Mountains as their inspiration. Gaurii is part one of Have you ever found a feather and wondered whose it was? The new work in progress is intended for schools and festivals later in the year and throughout 2016. Director Jo Clancy says, “I’ve been working with Jacinta Tobin and 4 dancers Becky Chatfield, David Newton, Nadia Martich and Glory Tuohy-Daniell. Now we hope to get some feed back.”

Wagana - GauriiYou are invited to join them for their first public presentation on Saturday, September 19, at 5.30pm, at Kindlehill Performance Space, Lake Street, Wentworth Falls, in the Blue Mountains. Tickets are available at the door for $10 and $5. Call 0409 651 290. The dancers would love to hear your responses and ideas. Photo above by Jamie Murray. This first development is being supported by the Blue Mountains Aboriginal Culture and Resource Centre and funded by the Blue Mountains City of the Arts Trust.

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.