A Culturally Diverse Voice

A Culturally Diverse Voice

Finding Connection to our Region Through Understanding People and Place

The Northern Territory is one of Australia’s most culturally diverse places, with over 100 nationalities and around 50 social, cultural and religious organisations. This diversity contributes enormously to the NT’s culture. The capital city of Darwin is distinguished by its high proportion of residents who have originated from other countries (over 30% have a language background other than English), a significant percentage from South East Asia. 

With proximity and a similar climate, locals tend to adopt a lifestyle more in tune with South East Asia than with Australia’s south. Our local culture has developed taking all that this has to offer. The Rapid Creek Markets are one of the richest cultural hubs in the Territory, a place where food and culture deeply connect.

Max Stretton and Putu Desak Wati - In Your Blood. Photo David Hancock

Tracks artists are committed to understanding the people and the place where they live. We build strong and respectful relationships with our diverse population, cultural groups and individual artists. We recognise that our community comprises people who celebrate this as a simple fact of life. Time spent in Sri Lanka, Bali, and the Philippines have been just as important as living and working in remote Aboriginal communities, giving us tangible knowledge about what it means to be an Australian today.

When creating artistic works that reflect who we are, it important to ensure that diversity is reflected right through our company - from showcase platforms, opportunities to participate, ways to further develop, and through having a presence in our mainstream performances.

Papua New Guinea and Pacific Island Communities

Darwin has had a close relationship with our near neighbours, especially the Papua New Guinea and Pacific Island communities. With over 800 languages and 3000 dialects Papua New Guinea is one of the most diverse countries in the world.

In the 1990's it was not unusual to take a walk around Darwin streets and hear the sounds of log drumming. The PNG were regular performers at Darwin dance and music events. Drum Drum was formed featuring musicians and dancers from PNG, Fiji and Australia, the accompanying dancers at the time were known as the Sanguma dancers. Many of the musicians and dancers had a foot in two worlds, traditional song and dance, and contemporary and classical western music.

'Drum Drum' is an English translation of Gaba Gaba, a village on the South Coast of PNG and the birthplace of Drum Drum's lead singer, Tau Ingram, and heritage of its Musical Director Airileke Ingram. Airi’s mother, Pia Ingram, was a phenomenal artist and activist, renowned for her storytelling and weaving. A visit to the Ingram backyard often felt like the cultural centre of Darwin.

4WD, Sweat Dust and Romance was a ground-breaking project for Tracks, garnering national recognition. Tracks collaborated with Drum Drum, alongside the Siale PNG dancers, Arafura Ensemble, and many community groups. When we asked Drum Drum’s Director, Airi, what we could do in exchange for them working on this show, he said they wanted a master dancer, drummer, and singer, Markham Galut, to come over from PNG and provide development for them. Markham was a choreographer and a lead dancer in the show. (He rejoined the team for the Arafura Games Opening Ceremony)

Justine Maxwell, Julia Gray and Paia Ingram - Snakes Gods and Deities. Photo Rodney Laredo

Another key artist to work with Tracks has been Julia Gray. With strong PNG and Pacific Island heritage, she also had western contemporary dance training. Julia formed the group Sunameke and continued her research into Pacific dance forms. As well as Sunameke performing in several Tracks shows, Julia brought her amazing skills set to shows such as Snake Gods and Deities, Allure of Paradise, and Without Sea. She worked as cultural adviser on the Arafura Games Opening Ceremony for Tracks and was a cultural researcher on or Philippines Cultural trip.

Sri Lankan Connections

by Tim Newth

In the mid-90s I decided to stop freelancing nationally and to focus on Tracks and only take work in the Northern Territory. I was needing to feel more centred in one place. I started going to the local Uniting Church (which had a strong social justice base) and the local Buddhist Temple. (I learned to meditate from a cassette tape but was keen to join a community to learn more.)

Bhante Sumedha led the Buddhist temple where he had been able to give a home to the many diverse chapters of Buddhism that existed within multiculturally diverse Darwin. He had become a Theravada monk as a child in Sri Lanka. We established a rich friendship, and members of the temple became involved in many Tracks projects. The Land, the Cross and the Lotus, was a major dance work drawing on spiritual stories of the Tiwi, Christian and Buddhist beliefs. Sticks ‘n’ Stones, working with refugee youth, saw the temple creating a banner and hosting a performance with their members and local indigenous artists.

Matotage Hemachandra, Yoris Wilson, Dinesh Alwis - Snakes Gods and Deities. Photo Rodney Laredo

With an invitation from Bhante to take a Buddhist pilgrimage through Sri Lanka and India, I followed this up with an Asian Link Residency in the temple in which he had grown up. My draw to Sri Lanka had a similarity with Darwin; similar plant life and seasons of wet and dry, and performance and cultural activity building this. The monks in the temple were very active in their local community creating projects with strong community and cultural development values. The work Snakes Gods and Deities grew from this time bringing artists from the Sri Lankan company Sama Ballet to collaborate with local Darwin artists including those with Sri Lankan, Indonesian, Filipino, Papua New Guinea, and Maori heritage.

Chandrika Munasinghe and Rukshana Ramachandra (one Sinhalese and the other Tamil) are two strong women from Sri Lanakin who have richly informed the life of the company. Rukshana featured as a dancer in seven Tracks works including Rivers of the Underground and The Land The Cross and The Lotus. Chandrika, a dancer and teacher, runs a Sri Lankan based Multicultural  dance academy open to any cultural background. She activated her community to be involved in the Arafura Games Opening Ceremony (featuring Sama Ballet)  and Without Sea featuring Darwin backyards of cultural activity. She has participated in the Choreographic Program - Double Exposure and 8 to 80 - The Architecture of Age. Alongside her son, she featured and was a key collaborator in In Your Blood, a major work about living in Australia and passing on your cultural heritage.

The Filipino Community

This community has been in the Northern Territory for over 100 years. A second wave of migration occurred in the 1970’s as martial law was declared in the Philippines. The third wave of Filipino migrants came to the NT in the 1980s through the Australian Government’s Family Reunion and Marriage Visa Scheme. As a key community in Darwin, Brown’s Mart Community Arts had many activities that these singing and dancing enthusiasts were able to participate in.

One core artist was Gloribeth Mondragon (Betchay). This cultural activist formed several Filipino performance groups and had a great influence on the work of Tracks. It was particularly through her performance groups that Tracks initially engaged with Betchay.

In 1992, Betchay and David McMicken were both working at Brown’s Mart Community Arts. Thus began a long relationship between Tracks, Betchay, and the Filipino community. Betchay also made guest tutoring appearances with the Grey Panthers teaching them Filipino dancers suitable for the older adult. One of Betchay’s dancers, Eunice Da Ramos, was also Tracks' Stage Manager during this time.

Vera Tabuzo - Landed. Photo David Hancock

In 2000 Betchay was a core artist in the Sticks ‘n’ Stones project that worked predominantly with youth from refugee and migrant backgrounds. This also led into the Two Fold Journey performance conceived by a young Sri Lankan woman and dancer Rukshana Ramachandaran.

In 2001 and 2002, through an Arts NT grant, Betchay was Multicultural Artist in Residence with Tracks. During this time, we worked together to bring cultural activity into the mainstream performances of Tracks.  This passion of Betchay’s led to shows such as Mother Daughter performed on the main stage of the Darwin Entertainment Centre, Ignite where our youth dance leaders program began with a core of 8 diverse youth, and a strong cultural presence in Rivers of the Underground.

We continued  a strong relationship with this community with Julia Quinn as our Dance Animateur, two youth Dance Animateurs, (Marko Taopo and Erwin Fennis), a large component of the Arafura Games Opening Ceremonies, and Without Sea

In 2007 the company, led by Betchay, had a research trip to the Philippines, to engage and interact with the culture in situ. This was important for the Artistic Direction of the company as the Filipinos were such a key part of our work, and to more fully understand some of the roots of their love of singing, dancing, and culture in general. We were able to take a group of Filipino youth (Erwin, Marko, Estelle Esperanza Quindara, Vera Tabuzo), along with Kelly Beneforti (Anglo-Italian), Imanuel Dado (Chinese Indonesian), Julia Quinn (Filipino Irish), and Julia Gray (PNG).

Dancer Julia Quinn, of Filipino descent, worked with the company over the years. She danced in Gathering Ground in 1993 and shared several programs with Tracks as co-Director of Juniper Tree Dance Company. In 2003 Julia became our Dance Animatuer after being a core choreographer for Ignite in 2002. Julia oversaw our Youth Dance leaders program, and the was choreographer of our major youth shows Fast, Struck, Mr Big and the Arafura Games Opening Ceremony. As Animateur Julia also worked with and choreographed for the Grey Panthers. Julia continued to perform and had lead roles in A Bowls Club Wedding, and Crocodile Man Pineapple Woman.

Explore Further

View a video that shares some of our Multicultural voices.

Strong Women

A dual sense of home, of belonging to more than one place, is something that sits within many Australians. This is especially true of people who have arrived from overseas, bringing with them a strong sense of one home, and then making a new home. In many cases for Tracks it has been the leadership of strong women who have led the way in marrying culture and linking people to place. This has enabled the richness of this duality to be expressed in contemporary Australian life. 

This list is not complete but the following people have shown and carried that leadership for Tracks; Pia Ingram, Maria Alice Casimiro Branco, Betchay Mondragon, Putu Desak Wati, and Lailah Masiga.

This generation of women created a strong platform for the next wave, such as Rukshana Ramachandran, Julia Grey, Julia Quinn, Yola George,  Ruttiya (Suansri) McElroy, Venaska Cheliah.

Betchay Mondragon

Gloribeth Mondragon (Betchay). Trained as an artist-teacher-organizer-researcher with the Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA),  Betchay became Executive Director of a Region-wide Centre for People’s Culture in 1983 and eventually became the Program Director of PETA-Broadcast and Film in 1989. 

Betchay Mondragon - Sticks 'n' Stones. Photo Elka Kerkhofs

Since coming to Australia in 1990, Betchay designed and implemented empowerment workshops using the integrated arts approach for community and cultural groups, special interest groups, school groups and educators. She has produced and/or directed theatrical events that reflect and represent the Territory’s multicultural community with presentations such as “Diablos, An Ancient Story for Our Time” under the Darwin Theatre Company in 1992. Betchay was founder and Artistic Director of Kulay Lupa – a traditional Filipino performing ensemble from 1990-96 then formed Kilos Kultura – a Filipino youth group whose work revolved around the fusion of traditional Filipino and contemporary movement forms. It was particularly through her performance groups that Tracks engaged with Betchay. In 2000 and 2001 Betchay was Tracks'  Multicultural Artist in Residence, and created and directed Ignite and Mother Daughter.

Putu Desak Wati

Putu Desak Wati was born into an extended artistic family in Pengosekan Village, Ubud, Bali. She has kept contact with Tracks since she arrived in Darwin in 1991. She has been seminal in our understanding of Balinese dance. 

Putu Desak Wati - Allure of Paradise. Photo Peter Eve

For many years Putu, and her dance school and performance troupe Tunas Mekar (established in 1993), were regular performers on the Darwin dance calendar, including at Tracks' events. In 2009 Putu approached Tracks with a request to work with a contemporary choreographer, in order to increase her artistic repertoire. We connected her with choreographer Joanna Noonan to create a work for our season of Allure of Paradise. This worked explored Putu's  Balinese style against a contemporary dance style. Putu led Tracks' Co-Artistic Directors Tim and David through a research trip in her home town of Ubud and other parts of Bali, informing the Festival show Zombies in the Banyan Tree, a fusion of Balinese and western dance practices, including a Kecak choir juxtaposed with beatboxing. She has added to our performances such as Hidden Meaning and was a key leader in the Cultural Mapping Project. Tracks' Darwin Festival work In Your Blood drew from Putu's real-life experience of having a strong Balinese Culture with a son fully immersed in Australian Rules Football.

Chandrika Mumasinghe

Sri Lankan born, Chandrika comes from a background of music, dancing and singing. She received her dance tutelage from Rajini Selvanayagam in her home country. A mainstay of the Darwin Sri Lankan and wider cultural community Chandrika has choreographed and taught in Darwin since 1989. Her work has been displayed at Sri Lankan community events, such as New Year celebrations, India at Mindil, Harmony, and Temple events.

Chandrika and Eranda Munasinghe - In Your Blood. Photo David Hancock

Besides directing her own dance troupe – The Multicultural Academy, she has also been an active Tracks dance participant for over a decade. She has performed, choreographed, completed the Choreographic Development Course, and as a community leader she participated in our Cultural Mapping Project, and Hidden Meaning performance and forum.

In 2018, Tracks major work, In Your Blood, drew on Chandrika's real-life story of having strong Sri Lankan culture with a son obsessed with cricket. By joining this story to a similar one of Putu Desak Wati - Balinese with an Australian rules football obsessed son, we were able to see how our culture is both in our blood handed down by our parents, as well as developed in the place we find ourselves.

Theeradet (Teddy) Suphannabutt, Saranga Alwis Nirudya - 8-80 The Architecture of Age. Photo Jess Devereux

Co-Productions featuring Multicultural Artists

2007 Arafura Game Opening Ceremony

2005 Arafura Games Opening Ceremony

Sticks 'n' Stones - Torture and Trauma Survivors Centre

Interactions - Ethnic Communities Council

Kikidi Cultural Camp - Lafaek East Timorese Cultural Association

Markham Galut - Arafura Games Opening Ceremony. Photo Palm Photographics
Rukshana Ramachandran - The Land The Cross and The Lotus. Photo Elka Kerkhofs
Imanuel Dado, Estelle Quindara, Erwin Fenis - Philippines Cultural Trip. Photo Tim Newth

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Company Partners

Tracks Inc is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body; and is proudly sponsored by the Northern Territory Government.

Tracks Dance Company Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.

Tracks Inc is proudly sponsored by the Northern Territory Government.

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