Lajamanu Community Residency 1989
Lajamanu, North Tanami Desert, Northern Territory, Australia.
This community arts project took place in the remote Warlpiri community of Lajamanu, approximately 960 kilometres South-West of Darwin. Administered by Browns Mart Community Arts (the organization out of which Tracks Dance Company grew). Funded by the Australia Council (Touring and Access, and Aboriginal Performing Arts Board). The residency involved three arts workers and set out to develop theatrical and visual arts skills with the younger community members, culminating in a performance and tour of communities and schools in Alice Springs in June 1989. A further tour to Katherine schools, Darwin, and small communities occurred in October. In the interim period Tim Newth was invited to work with the community (Funded by Brown’s Mart Community Arts, Lajamanu School, and the Arts Council) to carry out mural and banner projects.
The Association between Lajamanu School and Brown’s Mart Community Arts began in 1988 when the Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre (an arm of Brown’s Mart) visited Lajamanu in May 1988 touring a performance of one-act plays written by young Territorians. Amongst the plays was Desert Boy, a group negotiated play created by mid to upper primary school children at Lajamanu School.
The production of Desert Boy was met with great success at Lajamanu. One of the requirements was the need for young non-aboriginal actors to learn some Warlpiri, in order to perform the Warlpiri speaking parts. There was an electric thrill that travelled through the Warlpiri audience, particularly the excited cries uttered by the older women with whom I was sitting, as the younger actors burst into Warlpiri. It was truly the shock of recognition and one was left with the feeling that something significant had taken place.
Following the success of Desert Boy in Lajamanu, the school council requested that three artists working with Brown’s Mart return to Lajamanu in 1989, to work within the school community to develop some traditional and modern material into contemporary dramatic performance.
In May 1989 Tim Newth (Designer) Janet Robertson (Director) and Sarah Calver (Choreographer) arrived in Lajamanu to begin their residency. Tim collaborated with some senior boys to create a spectacular giant flying ant puppet that was eventually used to lead the annual Darwin bougainvillea Festival Street Parade. Sarah worked with girls initially on the creation of contemporary dance routines that incorporated some traditional elements. Janet workshopped poetry and stories written by both children and adults, creating dramatic text that incorporated dance.
Tim, while not a dancer, assisted Sarah in the development of dance routines as a ‘model’ for the boys. This was crucial in order to achieve male input into the project.
The resulting performance involving 16 Lajamanu young people and was eventually toured twice. First to Centralian community schools and Alice Springs, and then several months later to the North, and including a greater number of predominantly non-aboriginal schools. On each occasion the show received a very positive reception.
Janet Robertson, Sarah Calver and Tim Newth
Roberto Jakamarra Dixon (dec), Amos Japangardi Poulson, Zac Jakamarra Patterson, Nathan Japangardi James, Joshua Jampijinpa Sampson, Solomon Japaljarri Johnson (dec), Dwayne Jungarrayi Gibson, Sophia Nakamarra Patterson, Kerry-Anne Nampijinpa Sampson, Sharon Nakamarra Rockman, Maureen Nampijinpa Burns (dec), Lillian Napanangka Johnson, Vanessa Nungarrayi Hector, Patricia Nakamarra Patterson, Stelia Nakamarra Dixon and Geraldine Nangala Rose
- The creation of the Flying Ant puppet: (Ensemble)
- Dramatisation of Warlpiri poem Marlu Kurlu (The Kangaroo) by Pansy Rose Napaljarri (Girls Sarah and Janet.)
- Rap style dance piece (Boys, Sarah, Tim)
- The story of three ducks by Shirley Gibson. (Girls, Sarah, Janet)
- Dramatisation of Warlpiri poem Ngapa Kurlu (The Water) by Irene James Napurrula (Boys, Girls, Sarah, Janet)
- African Dance Piece (Ensemble)
- Finale: The Puppet and Fire Torches (Ensemble)
- Sunday - Day One: Lajamanu to Yuendumu (10 hours)
- Monday - Day two: Yuendumu Performance morning show, travel to Willowra (17 hours including boggings.)
- Tuesday - Day three: Willowra to Ti Tree via barrow Creek, decision to cancel Ali Carung performance after bus blew a tyre and we were delayed. (Travel time including delays and repairs 8 hours.)
- Wednesday - Day four: Morning performance at Ti Tree. Depart afternoon for Alice Springs (3 hours travel)
- Thursday - Day five: Morning performance at Treager Park primary School. Afternoon performance at Yipirinya Community School
- Friday - Day six: Depart Alice for Tanami mines (12 hours travel)
- Saturday - Day seven: Tanami to Lajamanu (7 hours travel)
In October 1990 Tim Newth and Sarah Calver, returned to Lajamanu for 3 weeks. During this time we rehearsed the show and changed some things in order to do a Top End tour.
- Monday 16 October - Day One:: Depart for Kalkaringi (1.5 hours) Performance at Kalkaringi School Depart for Katherine (7 hours).
- Tuesday 17- Day Two: Depart for Pine Creek (1 hour). Perform at Pine Creek School travel to Darwin (3 hours). Performance at Kormilda College
- Wednesday 18 - Day Three: Travel to Batchelor (1.5 hours). Perform at Batchelor College
- Thursday 19 - Day Four: Return to Darwin. Performance at Casuarina Shopping Plaza Travel to Katherine (4 hours).
- Friday 20 - Day Five: Performance at Katherine South School.
- Saturday 21- Day Six: Return to Lajamanu (8 hours).
Directions for the future
"While in many respects the 1989 project was very successful, I believe that in 1990 it can be even more so, if some important principles are adhered to. It is admitted that sometimes it is difficult to adhere to these principles, but I believe that the benefits to be gained from doing so are potentially enormous.
- That a greater degree of control over the project be taken by Warlpiri participants, both adult and child.
- That the project shall be directed at group development over individual advancement. In practice this means as wide a group as possible should have input into the project, in order to feel ‘ownership’ of the project.
- That the project shall attempt to the greatest extent possible to recognise and incorporate activities that promote sociocultural maintenance as well as sociocultural change, and thereby will foster Warlpiri identity.
- That while it is acknowledged that the non-Aboriginal people involved will have important and even essential input into the project, they should encourage and promote the three previous principles as much as possible."
Ken Conway - Brown’s Mart Community Arts, Executive Officer
Under Brown’s Mart Community Arts.
Dance Development Office: Sarah Calver
Ken Conway: Executive Officer
Warning that this page contains photographs and names of deceased persons.
"Warlpiri adults have repeatedly stated the following important aspirations on behalf of their children: that they would like their children to have their fair share of power and resources in this, their native country. In order to achieve this the children will have to learn the language of negotiation, to find a voice, to try to influence, equally as well, if not better than their white equivalents. According to these older people a very important aspect in the realisation of this aspiration is what they describe as the ability to ‘speak up’. Drama is just one of many avenues through which this aim may be realised. However, I believe that it is of utmost importance all participants try to shape the project so that one outcome will be children who are increasingly confident about ‘speaking up’ including in the public arena." Christine Nichols, Lajamanu School Principal
"A number of people have commented on how much they enjoyed the evening and how valuable they felt the experience was for the children… Lajamanu continues to live up to its reputation as one of the best Aboriginal schools in the Northern Territory." David McClay - Batchelor College
"The performance by students of Lajamanu School that you brought to our school was fabulous. To see the giant puppets the students constructed, and to watch them dance and recite at such a high standard, was an inspiration to us all. Many of the aboriginal children at our school were very proud indeed to see fellow aboriginal students on centre stage." Jane Dowling - Clyde Fenton School Katherine
“I believe this project has set the groundwork of friendship, skills, and trust between three individual artists and the Lajamanu community. It has in a small way reinforced the importance and pride built from people performing and communicating through dance, drama, and visual art. This has been of particular importance for the young people, for although this project did not present people traditionally, it used the skills and style of performance through those who performed to reinforce a Warlpiri culture.
Personally, I feel a strong need to spend a much longer period (6 months) within this community, not working towards a set performance/tour, but working on the sharing of visual arts skills and developing an understanding of this Warlpiri Culture.” Tim Newth
“My time and work in Lajamanu was very special to me as the Warlpiri are amazing people. Our sharing within the community took time due to certain barriers that existed between Kartiya (white man) and Yapa (Aboriginals). The time Janet and I spent with the women during their preparation ceremonies and dancing was like no other ‘sharing’ I’ve been to. The women were open and inquisitive as we were unlike most Kartiya women - not many white women rolled on the ground or were as physical as we were in our work - hence our common interest in dance drew us closer together.” Sarah Calver
“I was quite happy to sit back and become the minor artist of the team and use my skills to be a support, work load reliever, troubleshooter etc. For me, the real learning experience was just living day to day in the community, sitting with the women and watching them dance, living with two other artists in a place where we really needed each other’s support, and many other things which seem too intangible to write about. As Tim said, to be allowed an opportunity to spend time with a group of people that have a culture that is so strongly developed and constantly under siege - what an experience of a lifetime.” Janet Robertson