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.


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.


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.

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.

Passion, purpose and meaning flourish despite unjust government decisions

Blog - PPM book coverPassion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney is the title of my book, which has spawned this blog. The book was inspired by 40 years of recording the creativity, enterprise and generosity of passionate individuals. These artists and advocates have generated critical change by creating opportunities for others in arts and cultural expression across the region. They have won the support of their local councils, which have then supported the development of local arts centres and programs. The most obvious, though subtle, change among the thousands who have experienced these programs is their growth in confidence, dignity, critical thinking and creative expression. Their numbers are growing all the time.

The recent Deloitte report discussed in an earlier post on this blog, highlighted the extreme arts funding imbalance, proportionate to population, which state and federal governments continue to maintain. The recent federal cuts to Australia Council funding are likely to impact particularly hard in western Sydney. We don’t have any of the flagship companies to be funded by Senator Brandis’s arts ministry. The full title of the Deloitte report is Building Western Sydney’s Cultural Arts Economy – a key to Sydney’s success (my underline). It looks like Sydney is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Now further fears have been realised with the decision by the NSW government to convert the Old King’s School at Parramatta into a primary school, instead of the long advocated arts and cultural precinct. Any enterprising business or government would willingly pay to have the commitment, resourcefulness and skills that continue to produce so much in the region with so little encouragement.

1-IMG_3352One brilliant example of these attributes is Wagana Aboriginal Dancers, which has been quietly developing in the Blue Mountains under Jo Clancy’s direction for almost 10 years. ‘Wagana’ in Jo’s Wiradjuri language means ‘dance’.  Following a recent residency at Bankstown Arts Centre Jo, left, introduces her five young company members and her assistant Becky Chatfield to local elders and guests. The five girls aged from 11 to 13, with Jo and Becky, are off Denmark at on June 30, where they have been invited to participate in Dance and the Child International. The work they created and were performing at Bankstown is Sum of My Ancestors. It was inspired in part by questions from the audience when older company members performed at the Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival in Scotland last year.

1-IMG_3354Audiences asked why they were light skinned, what did their dance stories mean, how did they know them. Wagana dancers found keener interest in their culture abroad than they find at home. Many of the girls have been learning their ancestral stories from early childhood and through participation in Wagana Aboriginal Dancers. Their soundtrack begins with their voices retelling the stories as they portray them in movement. Sum of My Ancestors is just what it says and Jo has encouraged the girls to feel confident in answering question about themselves and their dance in public. Left above, the dancers perform the story of how the waratah flower became red

While the company is grateful for a grant from Arts NSW, the major fundraising for the tour has been done by the company, families and friends. They have raised thousands of dollars from street stalls, trivia nights, raffles, online campaigns, morning teas and events conducted by other community organisations. Their spirit is strong and morale is high. Jo is acutely aware that a company ranging in age from preschooler to adult doesn’t correspond to government funding guidelines. More importantly, however, she knows it is the natural and traditional way for children to absorb their culture and to grow up confident and at ease with their identity.

Riz - pre-screening musicAnother outstanding example of commitment, resourcefulness and enterprise is the recent feature film Riz, given its world premiere at Sydney Film Festival. Developed under the auspice of CuriousWorks and writer-directors Guido Gonzales and S. Shakthidharan the characters of Riz and his friends were based on the real life experiences of Guido. At the age of 18, in 1981, just as Giudo was leaving his Cabramatta high school, he and his friends were confronted with a divisive situation of hope, ambition, expectation, disappointment, social class and cultural difference which tore the group apart.

Guido has always felt regret and imagined there could have been a different outcome. Riz was his opportunity and the culturally diverse cast delivered a nuanced story of authenticity and conviction. Making their first feature film followed CuriousWorks‘ unique model of community collaboration, pairing industry professionals with a cast and crew largely comprised of young people from Sydney’s west. Shakthi and his long-time CuriousWorks collaborator Aimee Falzon created an original soundtrack for the film. In the photo, above, they perform before the screening of Riz at Casula Powerhouse, on Sunday, June 7, as part of the film festival.

Riz - Q&A with cast and crewTo be selected for the Sydney Film Festival was a tremendous achievement for a film shot in Cabramatta and Casula over nine days and at a cost of only $85,000. Garry Maddox wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Festival director Nashen Moodley says Riz depicts a multicultural Sydney he has not seen before on screen. ‘The film looks at the city and class divisions and a character who’s trying to exist in two worlds,’ he says. ‘They did a really good job and there’s a lot of talent there.”

In the photo above, cast and crew answer questions from their large and enthusiastic audience at Casula Powerhouse. They were still dazed with the excitement of their world premiere at a booked out screening at Dendy Opera Quays, the night before, and the Q&A that followed. The film was then to be shown at Dendy Newtown on Monday. Shakti says, “It’s a story about how different parts of Sydney have to find a way to reconcile and get on together.” Imagine the mutual benefit when that finally happens!

Footnote: By the time you read this, I will be in the Andes and then New York. Not sure yet, whether I’ll post again from there, but back July 8.