Lajamanu Community Residency 1989



This community arts project took place in Lajamanu, a Warlpiri community. Administered by Browns Mart Community Arts. 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.

Creative Personal

Janet Robertson, Sarah Calver and Tim Newth

Some of the tour performers:
Roberto Jakamarra Dixon, Amos Japangardi Poulson, Sophia Nakamarra Patterson, Kerry-Anne Nampijinpa Sampson, Sharon Nakamarra Rockman, Zac Jakamarra Patterson, Nathan Japangardi James


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. Instruction in Warlpiri was given by a mature Warlpiri woman resident in Darwin, Mary Rockman Napurrula. The involvement of Warlpiri people from the start of the project was of utmost importance, as the principle of mutual education and cooperation was established. In artistic terms this approach was also extremely successful. I can vividly recall the electric thrill which 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, and its great popularity amongst the children, 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 show 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.

Report - Tim Newth

  • WEEK ONE: Set up workshop space. Decision not to work within school timetable. Construction of puppet. Taking part in dance workshops. Puppet becomes a flying ant.
  • WEEK TWO: “Just do it, don’t think about it”. Construction of puppet. Painting of puppet. Taking part in dance workshops
  • WEEK THREE: Painting puppet. Taking part in dance workshops - boys only. Making of “inflatable” costumes - senior girls. Torch light puppet performance through Lajamanu. “When the time is right you will be told.”
  • WEEK FOUR: Development of puppet performance into story. Kite making year 3/4. Design for poster year 1/2. Taking part in dance workshops - boys only
  • WEEK FIVE: Paper work for Darwin Barunga tour. Darwin Barunga Tour. Performance Darwin (FIRE ON THE WATER)
  • WEEK SIX: Making of props and costumes. Design lighting and poster for Lajamanu Show. Taking part in dance workshops. Lajamanu Show
  • WEEK SEVEN: Tour (See itinerary)
  • WEEK EIGHT: Preparation and planning with community for visual arts project. Report and documentation

CONCLUSION: 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.

RECOMMENDATIONS: I recommend a further development and building on the project by Sarah and myself returning to the community to put together another tour based strongly around movement skills. The addition of a musician to this team would be of great benefit. This would again be put together over 8 weeks.

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.

Not often is an artist given the opportunity to work within the moment and allowed to be totally true to one’s self. This community and its people are giving me that opportunity. What product comes out of it I am not sure but my heart says go for it.

Report - Sarah Calver

Workshops and selected groups.

Prior to the Tour Tim, myself, and Ken Conway visited Lajamanu for a few days to gather ideas from the community with respect to the direction of the project-to-be. The input was mainly received from members of the school council as well as Yapa and white teachers. Our time spent there researching material for the performance could have spread over many days but unfortunately none of us had that much time available due to current projects.

On returning to Lajamanu, my main aim was to see what contemporary dance the people enjoyed and to extend my own knowledge of traditional dance so as to combine the two.

Finding a starting point for my work had not been easy but with the help and inspiration I received from the school it all fell into place. Every class in the school amazed me and within a week of being there the children and I knew what moves we liked better than others. Standing in the school ground and being surrounded by children still practicing certain moves or imitating me and my gestures inspired me and gave me faith in what I had to offer these people. The material I used in workshops was technically difficult, energetic, rhythmical and generally contained more material than I would normally teach - but then the quickness and ease these children displayed for picking up new steps made it easy for me to explore their limits and give us both new challenges.

The two main groups I chose to work with were the two senior groups of the school, not because the others weren’t as talented, but because I felt that on tour these children would not only be more responsible, but be able to participate directly in the sharing that would happen at the places we would tour. They were also the groups that understood what was going to be expected of them the most.

The senior girls’ class consisted of 20, but only 10-12 girls participated in the first workshop as the others were ‘too shame’. This resulted in a natural selection process and those who wanted to participate in workshops were given the option of continuing towards the performance. Hence, the final group of girls consisted of those who had decided to be part of the tour.

As workshops progressed we as a group chose movements we enjoyed from class, and started to put them into a formation to a song by Tracey Chapman, an artist who became very popular in Lajamanu, as only a few had heard of her prior to my workshops. The dance piece consisted of mainly modern dance involving partner work, group work, floor work, and movements the girls created. The other dance piece was the ‘African’ which consisted of African dance, modern dance, and some of their own traditional dance - it was a favourite amongst the community in general.

Besides working on the two dance pieces we also explored creative dance and choreographic skills during workshops which helped in the formation of the two poems Janet and I worked on.

The boys/young men of Lajamanu are not only proud and powerful but also extremely athletic. For this reason, all of my workshops consisted of high-energy routines and jumps. Like most boys, rap dancing was their main forte and they would not hesitate in showing you the various tricks they had taught themselves. I must admit that ‘Michael Jackson’ and others would have been put to shame by some of these talented youngsters. Not really being a rap dancer, I simply abstracted some of my own movements to suit the style of the dance and to the sounds of ‘Beastie Boys’, whom the boys thought were great. We developed a piece comprised of everyone’s movement - including older boys’ movements who wanted to dance but not perform. The piece was quite exceptional but not as much so as the boys from Grade 5 who learnt it within two weeks, as my original group of young men decided they didn’t want to perform.

Like the senior girls the boys loved the African movements we did and due to this I created a piece for them comprising African, traditional and modern. It was only a short piece but one enjoyed by many and it showed off their strength not to mention their wonderful rhythm.

Tim and myself worked with the Senior boys and although I was in charge of the workshop it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a male who showed enthusiasm towards my dance. Tim’s involvement in this workshop was excellent and much appreciated.

What both groups managed to achieve was not only a credit to themselves but to the community as a whole. The main driving force behind our sometimes monotonous and tiring rehearsals was that we wanted to share something with other Warlpiri communities and the kids wanted to make Lajamanu proud. I think they more than achieved their goal. The concentration, discipline, creativity and commitment this touring group showed me was more than inspiring.

The quickness with which they developed their performance skills and identified with one another created a strong bond between all the performers, which resulted in a show where everyone was not only equal but needed. As the main artist who worked with them, I feel that the relationship between us was one of trust, understanding, acceptance and fun.

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 women, who have not totally lost their ‘role’ appear to be the main strength in the community, especially in their own culture, but then I only did ‘women’s’ things so I can’t honestly speak for the men. 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. However, many of the old women only spoke Warlpiri and our knowledge wasn’t wonderful so communication at times mainly consisted of sign language or guessing. For this reason, I feel the importance of stressing future projects cater for the language difference and hopefully include an Aboriginal person to work alongside the artists.

Janet and I seemed to do things that were correct for our ‘skin’ relationship without realising. For example, we danced together without knowing that Nampijinpa (Janet) and Nangala (myself) always danced together. Through watching and understanding the women’s dances and stories we saw how our own dance based on our reflections of the desert resembled theirs. Our learning was aided, but a lot came from just being amidst it all - our desert dance for that reason is very sacred and special to us as it holds so much that we shared with these women.

At times I felt the workload on myself was a bit full on, but both Tim and Janet felt that movement/dance was the main way of initiating things. I must agree to some extent, but felt that it would have been good to see Janet take more of the workshops so that I could have seen at an earlier stage what and how the kids reacted to things. However, as the project progressed, we all shared the workload and I felt the pressure of drawing up with material lifted as Janet and Tim put more input into the final product. We all worked differently down there even though we were a team and I think we achieved more this way and were recognised by the community for our work. This was very much apparent the night we did the impromptu performance at the recreation hall at the request of the council. People, especially parents of the children, came up and thanked us for our work and laughed with pride at their child’s achievements - if only they knew how proud all of us were to have been given the chance to work with them.

I see many possible directions for future projects at Lajamanu but I strongly feel that they have to be linked directly with the Warlpiri culture, as this is what concerns the community. Our project only touched on the crossover between cultures and I can honestly say that the next step would be to increase that integration and have even more Warlpiri input.

Possibilities are:

  • Create a story revealing
    • How the Warlpiri came to Lajamanu
    • The difference between life-style eg. Community to high-school or vice versa, community to town (Alice Springs, Darwin)
    • Differences in age groups - to do with family backgrounds and importance of skin relationships to Aboriginals
    • Time - the modern concept versus the traditional
    • Health issues - as a message to fellow Aboriginals eg. Drink, petrol etc,
    • Out of sight, out of mind
  • Develop stories already written by students or members of the community
  • Integrate traditional dance with modern in a more direct way - either through story or to music by one of the local bands.

Report - Janet Robertson

This report concerns a community arts project at Lajamanu, A Warlpiri community, which commenced in April and finished June 29th. The project was administered by Brown’s Mart Community Arts and funded by the Australia Council (Touring and Access, and the Aboriginal and Performing Arts Boards) and the NT Government Arts Branch. The Lajamanu Residency involved three arts workers and set ut to develop theatrical and visual skills with younger members of Lajamanu, culminating in a performance and tour of other communities and Alice Springs.

This report contains:

  • Background Information
  • Individual Artists’ reports
  • Reports on Company Meetings
  • Tour Itinerary
  • Tour report
  • Recommendations
  • Summary - Including comments from Ken Conway, administrator of the project.
  • Part two of report - Tim Newth’s further residency.

BACKGROUND: In 1987, Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre invited schools around the Territory to submit plays on the theme “LIVING IN ISOLATION”. Four of these plays were eventually selected to tour throughout the Territory in 1988. This tour was funded by the CCDU’s touring and access fund.

One of these plays was written by students at Lajamanu School, an isolated Warlpiri community 1000 km from Darwin. Desert Boy was a bi-lingual production and the cast all learnt some Warlpiri for the play.  Lajamanu was the final stop on tour. The response in the community was very positive as this was the first time that Kartiya (white people) had returned something of theirs.

Out of this performance an invitation was issued by the school council made up of Warlpiri people for some of the artists to return and spend sometime in the community developing theatre with young people.

The NT Government Arts Branch agreed to fund the operational aspect of the project and money was sought from the Australia Council’s Aboriginal Arts Board for wages for the three artists. This grant was knocked back as the three artists were white.

Thanks are due to Peter Lucus, a project officer with the Australia Council, who recognised the potential of such a project. Funding was again sought, this time from the Access and Touring Fund as it is now known. Further Funding was sought from the Aboriginal Arts Board on a lesser scale. Both grants were successful and it was decided that the project would run from May through July 1989.

The artists were three who had been involved in the previous tour:

  • Sarah Calver: Dance Project Officer at Brown’s Mart Community Arts. Sarah had worked as choreographer and actress on the Living in Isolation Tour.
  • Tim Newth: Designer/Visual Artist. Tim had designed the tour and also worked as an actor.
  • Janet Robertson: who had been Director of Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre and had initiated the tour. Janet and Tim now work as freelance artists.

The project was administered by Brown’s Mart with Ken Conway, the Executive Officer, providing a strong support base for the artists, both in the lead-up and during the project itself.

The Lajamanu School Council also arranged assistance-in-kind providing the artists with an Education Department house, and Christine Nicholls, the Principal of the school, provided support both administratively and artistically.

LEAD UP: Prior to the start of the residency, Ken, Tim and Sarah visited the community for several days seeking advice from the elders and teachers as to the nature of the project. Christine had recommended in prior discussions with Janet that the school should be a focus as it was a good way of reaching into the community. Christine also expressed a desire that there should be some end product that could be toured to other Warlpiri communities and that there should be some kind of selection process so that the people who toured would feel committed to the project.

The project was then divided into two parts: Workshops and Production.

Tim had become involved in Fire on the Water, a Darwin project held on Mindil Beach at Bougainvillea Festival time. This year’s event had a strong Aboriginal content, and it was suggested that Tim create some kind of large structure/puppet that would be brought up from Lajamanu and manipulated by people from the community. The puppet was eventually a major focus for the tour also.

Whilst in the community, the artists spoke to many people and received ideas for images and stories. Out of these ideas came the image of the puppet (a large flying ant) and the local poetry and stories used in the tour performance. Sarah and Tim moved from Darwin to Lajamanu on the 5th of May and Janet joined the team on the 13th May from Sydney.

As I arrived a week after Sarah and Tim it was suggested that I did what they had done in the first week, that is, sit back and watch and take time to settle in. I had an advantage in that Sarah was already taking workshops so I participated in those.

I had made a personal decision on this project prior to my arrival that I would not act as Director in the traditional sense, but would work in with the other artists and together we would create a performance.  Also, although I understand the logic in developing some sort of final product, especially in regards to touring, personally I wanted an open-ended sense that this was just the beginning of an ongoing communication between artists and community.

After a week of nervousness, and getting use to my new name of Nampijinpa (my skin or family name) I started adding some drama skills to the workshop that Sarah was taking. I don’t know if it would have been different if I had introduced acting at the same time that Sarah introduced dance but the interest in drama work wasn’t that strong. We had fun and the groups were very good. Much has been said, both patronisingly and admiringly about aboriginal people’s ability to mimic. In many ways it is true. As actors anything I could suggest they could do identically to me. Some of them would make great mime artists! The trouble was that it wasn’t the sort of theatre I was interested in developing.

I have always been interested in developing movement through words, and had worked with Sarah in the past on this sort of work. I wanted to find some stories that the girls (I mainly worked with the girls) could find their own movements to - ideally these stories would be Warlpiri. Lee Cataldi, a linguist at Lajamanu, had suggested some poetry to us that had been recently published in an anthology of Aboriginal poetry. I found two that were fairly descriptive about water and rocks and wind and animals. The movements that the girls found were really exciting.

There seems to be a reticence now about traditional dancing when a girl hits puberty. Most of the dancing is performed by older women, and for the young after their bodies start to develop it becomes a shame job. Yet I found that when the girls were asked to come up with movements, they used very specific actions that had resonances of the traditional dance movements. All I really had to do was find a rhythm for the pieces.

Another story we developed was written by a senior girl, Shirley Gibson, about three ducks. This story was really directed more, although the group were still encouraged to find their own movements.

Ultimately, I had wanted the stories to be narrated in Warlpiri when we came to performance.  Again, shame job reared its ugly head and the other problem was that the literacy skills in Warlpiri are not very strong. Some of the Yapa (Aboriginal) teachers had expressed an interest but unfortunately as the school is terribly understaffed none of these people could come on tour.  In retrospect, I didn’t work as hard as I could to solve this problem, but I was fairly reticent about pushing my ideas onto people so the stories continue to be narrated in English by me. It wasn’t too bad as some places we visited had not much Warlpiri language anyway (and I enjoyed the story-telling).

The principal of the school, Christine Nicholls, had discussed the need with us for some kind of selection process to occur fairly early in the project whereby we would know who was best suited to going on tour. We made this process self-selective in that anyone who wanted to could come to workshops to learn what was offered. After about two weeks we talked to the groups and said that if they wanted to go on tour they had to think about whether they did want to perform, work very hard for the next four weeks. We found that people were remarkably honest and decided for themselves. As a consequence, after about three weeks we had a core group of performers although this still changed with some of the senior boys dropping out and some of the younger boys committing themselves. Even in the last week one of the girls decided that she didn’t want to perform. No one was given a hard time for their decision, but rather respected for their honesty. I feel that this was possibly the best selection process we could offer as it made the group realise that we respected their feelings and would not force anyone to do anything they did not like.

The other aspect of the project for me was what we artists could learn from each other. Sarah and I have a strong dance theatre relationship, and we decided to develop some pieces that would be about things we were interested in. I had a strong desire to develop something about Kardiya (White people) in the alien space of the desert, and Sarah was interested in developing a piece about domestic violence. Tim worked with us on the dance theatre pieces as a director and we ended up using the desert piece in the final performance. The domestic violence piece we hope to develop further.

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, trouble shooter 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. If I ever returned (and I have chosen not to go back next year as I wish to work in other areas) I would like to work with the story tellers, mainly the older women but to what end I am still not sure.

A regular event of the residency were company meetings which occurred on a weekly basis. These meetings enabled the artists to review the week, discuss schedules, workloads and individual needs.

For example - Sarah had the major workload of workshops, and felt it was important that Tim assist with the boy’s groups - so through regular meetings Tim and Sarah could organise compatible timetables. The meetings were important as quite often in Lajamanu decisions made could be altered in two days - eg. Our selection process had to take into account movements of the community, and people not attending rehearsals due to other commitments. Out of these meetings came decisions regarding the final project, and a greater understanding of the personal needs of the artists.

Meetings were held as regularly as the workload of the school permitted with Christine Nicholls and staff members. These meetings also dealt with tour details and definitions of the performance.

Meetings were also held with community members to discuss details of the tour, seek permission for students to come on tour, and whilst on tour regular meetings were held and everyone was allowed to participate in decisions. These decisions meant that elders and performers knew in advance and approved any changes to the itinerary.

I would like to say that any isolated project needs to structure meetings into their program as they can provide a secure structure for the artists to reveal concerns and needs; and that the community feels that they do have a say in the process.


  • I believe that to successfully develop a healthy arts profile within the community this project must be built on rather than altered. There is always temptation for arts projects to become varied “oh that was good, now what can we have?” I feel the community has more say, and knowledge is developed, if skills are built on - rather than skills being offered constantly changing.
  • That Tim and Sarah return to Lajamanu next year, to build on work already developed, this time with a musician, potentially one who has had experience working in isolated communities.
  • That although the school should be utilised as a strong focus, drawing on the artists’ experience, that they work more in the community as a whole.
  • That the artists have a contract with the community as well as with Brown’s Mart so everyone is clear as to the intention of the project.
  • That a Warlpiri person works with the artists.


Q:            Why wasn’t the project more community orientated?

A:            We concentrated on the school age people for two reasons.

1. We were given access to these people and time and space to work in.

2. It was extremely difficult to set up contracts in the non-school community through lack of Warlpiri language skills and through our inexperience. I believe though that this issue was in some ways redressed by Tim extending the project into a visual arts project for a further 9 weeks and by Tim also working with older men on the making of the puppet. I also believe that if we had more time the artists would have been able to work with people outside the school but these things do take time…


Artists participating: Janet, Tim, Sarah and fifteen students of the school, ages ranging from 8 - 15, with two students assisting the production.


  • The creation of the 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)

Tour Itinerary One

  • 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 which CAAMA filmed. 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)

TOUR REPORT (June 1989)
VENUES: All the shows were performed at the community school with the exception of Yuendumu where we found an open covered space opposite the school beside the shop. At both Yuendumu and Willowra, members of the community watched the show as well. We either performed on concrete or grass outdoors, or in some covered area open both sides. Ti-Tree had a large gym that was fantastic on our feet for once!

With prior experience performing in the Territory and not wanting a complicated technical aspect our needs were simple. Floor or ground that wouldn’t shred our feet too badly and access to power for our ghetto blaster. No lights, no amps. This was fortuitous as sometimes power in communities could be pretty dodgy. At Willowra, just as we started the power failed. Luckily we had on hand a cassette player with batteries.

SET: Equally simple with the puppet used as the backdrop and as a border. The only other props were two sheets of fabric and three masks used in the duck story. Tim had also made a beautiful moon and stars but unfortunately they were only seen at Lajamanu.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE: Unanimously good. We performed in predominantly aboriginal schools, with the exception of a white/black mix about equal at Treager Park. The children (primary) stayed hushed throughout the show, watching intently. The response from teachers and adults community members was one of excitement and immediately after the performance we would be besieged by people wanting to know how they could set up a project like this. It was not just the performance that caused this response, but the fact that a group of Warlpiri children could perform without the usual “shame job” response.

We did keep pointing out that the Warlpiri are pretty courageous people anyway, but most Aboriginal communities have a problem with the students getting up and doing something. I think that the collection of skills that the performers had acquired  had assisted their courage, and their consequent discipline; which is the same in any youth theatre company, black or white.

EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES: Although the tour was frenetic in terms of distance that we had to cover, the group still managed to:

  • Participate in sporting activities at Ti-Tree
  • See an art exhibition that contained some Warlpiri artists and see Splatto Family Circus at Araluen Arts centre, Alice Springs.
  • Do a quick acrobatic workshop with Splatto Circus
  • Go shopping and go to the Treager Park School disco that evening.

SUMMING UP: Although the tour was hard for everyone in terms of distance, the cold weather, a lack of really healthy food and sleep, the company was very professional, working hard all the time and gradually you saw the pride in their product increase as the performance grew stronger every day.

Swags for sleeping - school room floors etc

School showers and toilets, hospitality, BBQ fires etc from communities, and take away food from community stores; canteen meals at Yirara College in Alice Springs.


  • 1            at Darwin - Fire on the Water - puppet and handlers only
  • 2            at Lajamanu, including special concert at recreation hall whilst Northern Lands Council holding general meeting
  • 5            on tour


Were generally between 60 - 100 people on tour; over 100 at Lajamanu; several thousand in Darwin.

Several were taken privately (schools etc)
The Warlpiri media Association at Yuendumu was contracted to take ‘wild’ shots as possible
The Aboriginal media course at Batchelor College took the making of a short program as student exercise.
The Aboriginal communications unit of the NT Chief Minister’s Department contracted a CAAMA crew from Alice Springs to shoot for a 5-10 minute “news” item for circulation as part of the Territory-wide “Aboriginal Video Magazine”.

Following the team project, and at the request of the community, funds were found by Brown’s Mart, the Arts Council, and the school, for Tim to return for 6 weeks for visual arts projects (including banners, mural and photography) with older people. The community and Brown’s Mart are seeking ways for Tim to return for a much longer period in 1990.

The Education Department requested a remounting of the tour show for presentation in August at several schools in Katherine (600 kms away) throughout education week with Brown’s Mart and Education Department subsidies. In the event, this did not occur, but plans proceed in the hope that a second tour will take place late October. Attempts are being made to generate funding for another residency project / performance tour for 1990.

Tour Two 1989

In October  1990, Tim Newth and myself, 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 during the second week with the students.

The weather was intense whilst we rehearsed during the first week but all those involved were anxious to do another tour, so once again we all surprised those around us by working hard. I would like to add here, that standing under the hose in the schoolyard gave us all new bursts of energy when things got a bit sticky!

The changes to the performance were:

  • Extending the rap piece - including more material from the boys.
  • Redoing the poem “The Water” by Irene James Napurrula to include all the performers (as opposed to just the girls).
  • Extend the "girls" dance and put in another dancer so that I could step out.
  • Form abstract images of landscape with everybody whilst various people travelled along, through, under this image also reflecting in canon some of the movements I do in the Desert Dance (which I choreographed for myself - to reflect upon my feelings about the desert and its people)

Basically the changes gave the performers new challenges and a sense that they could do it by themselves - that is, without myself or Tim in the actual pieces. The week was a busy one but at least we felt ready for the tour by the end of it.

Details of our itinerary are attached and although the tour was successful the workload was quite overpowering as we had more people on tour but less to help organise etc. On returning from tour I had planned to take a week of movement workshops with all the various classes. Unfortunately, due to sickness most of my third week in Lajamanu was spent in bed.

The general feel, From the community, especially those who saw the Aboriginal Video Magazine No 18, which showed the performance at Ti-Tree in June, was one of warmth and acceptance. I can honestly say that although this project only touched on things in a “bi-lingual” way I feel strongly that next year’s project will have much more input from the community - as we now know each other, and trust is a very important thing.

Additional Coments - Ken Conway (Executive Director of Browns Mart Community Arts)

Attempts were made to have the process documented through Aboriginal Media Unit (at Elliott) and Warlpiri Media (at Yuendumu) - without success. However, some video was shot (though not released to us 6 months later) as a training exercise for Aboriginal students of the Media Studies course at Bachelor College.We liaised with the Office of Aboriginal Communications in the Chief Minister’s Department and thus CAAMA was commissioned to shoot a 5-minute news item for inclusion in the video magazine sent regularly to all Aboriginal communities. Whilst a useful “news item” of information to communities, this item unfortunately depicts an untypical (indoors) performance and cannot convey the value of the process and the part such projects can play in community and cultural development. It is thus unfortunate that the early and positive contacts with community and College media services did not lead to an appropriate and accessible video documentation. (Some joy may yet come from the Batchelor College team’s footage.)

Whilst the Office of the Arts (NT) concurred with our view that further development in 1990 was warranted, the minister for the Arts expressed concerns that:

  1. The community might be locking into an “expectation of grants” or “grants dependence” for such projects, and
  2. Funding to Lajamanu might be at the expense of other communities.

After discussion, he agreed NT funds contributing to the touring to other communities of the performances arising from the artists’ team’s work in the Lajamanu area.

Over and above the value of the project in Lajamanu itself, and the value of the performances per se in other communities, there was a yet unrealised potential for community development in the focus that the performance visit can give to broader community events (rather than just being the event itself).

A lengthening of each stay will help realise this; but our previous CONVOY [Kids Convoy community touring program] indicates that more can be achieved even with relatively short (even 1 day) stopovers - and this is inherent in comments such as that made to me by an older Aboriginal man at Yipirinya - “if only we’d known a bit more, we could have really made something of this!”

It is suggested that planning, and pre-promotion of the “event” in other communities (and some possible lead up work) address this aspect in the 1990 project.

The major shortcoming perceived by those working on the project (artists and community) appears to be that involvement of adults and the wider community did not occur to the extent anticipated (or as quickly as anticipated).

There may in fact have been some unrealistic expectations on the part of the visiting artists. In any event, a number of factors have been discussed by the team and with community members (eg. Clarification of roles and expectations, aspects of cross cultural contacts…) and already addressed in the pre-consultations for the 1990 project. In hindsight, the lack of opportunity for (other than fleeting) pre-consultation, explanation & clarifying of the direction of the project, was a real disadvantage.

It is a truism that the processes are greatly enhanced by time (if this can be afforded) and the greater maturity and experience of the artists concerned. The benefits arising from the return visit by Tim (for art/craft related projects) and Sarah and Tim (for the second touring period) were many and obvious.

The ’90 project can not but build on some very real strengths. Ken Conway March 1990



MONDAY 16TH OCTOBER: Depart for Kalkaringi School 8.30 am. Performance at Kalkaringi School 11.45-12.30. Depart for Katherine at 1.30 pm. Stay overnight at Morrow’s farm

TUESDAY 17TH OCTOBER: Proceed to Pine Creek. Perform at Pine Creek School 2.00 pm, proceed to Darwin. Performance at Kormilda College 8.00 pm. Stay over night at Kormilda College

WEDNESDAY 18TH OCTOBER: Visit Crocodile Farm and Zoo at Berry Springs. Proceed to Batchelor College (arrive at Batchelor College by 5 o’clock for dinner). Perform at Batchelor College 8.00 pm. Sleep overnight at Batchelor College

THURSDAY 19TH OCTOBER: Visit Chinese Temple in Darwin. Performance at Casuarina Shopping Plaza: time to be advised. Proceed to Katherine and stay overnight at Morrow’s Farm.

FRIDAY 20TH OCTOBER: 10.30 am performance at Katherine South School. 1.45 Performance at Clyde Fenton School. 4.00 2 hour cruise Katherine Gorge or visit Cutta Cutta Caves. Stay overnight at Morrow’s Farm.

SATURDAY 21ST OCTOBER: Drive back to Lajamanu, return home before dark


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. This process has already begun by negotiating with the child participants themselves over major themes of the 1990 project. (The children came to the consensus that it should be a circus project. Thus appropriate personnel have been engaged to work on the 1990 project.) This includes control over not only content but broadly administrative aspects of the project, eg. Planning the itinerary of the tour, writing away to order food, participating in regular project meetings etc.
  • 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. Some ways of achieving this are: Senior class publishing a regular ‘arts’ newsletter, A school produced magazine or newspaper at the conclusion of the project, A greater degree of integration of the project with the children’s daily school curriculum, requiring regular structured meetings with the artists and the children’s teachers (eg. At the weekly staff meeting.)
  • 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. The provision of one or more Warlpiri cultural liaison officers is crucial for the successful outcome of this. It is essential that the Warlpiri language be given high status within the project.
  • That while it is acknowledged that the non-Aborignal 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.


Dance Development Office: Sarah Calver

[Under Brown’s Mart Community Arts – Executive Officer Ken Conway]


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following pages, photographs and videos may contain images, voices, and names of deceased persons.

Further Reading

A short history of the long-term relationship between Lajamanu and Tracks Dance Company

Audience Response

"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

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