Living in Isolation - Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre


Northern Territory Territory Tour

May 11 - 29, 1988

The Road to Lajamanu

A Northern Territory youth theatre competition held in 1988, (through Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre, a program area of Brown's Mart Community Arts,) brought together the creative skills of Tim Newth and Sarah Calver – a visual artist and a dance artist. Equipped with little more than a swag, a few basic props, and some very poor Warlpiri language skills, Tim, Sarah, and a small team of artists set out along the Tanami Track. The destination was to perform the Lajamanu school’s winning entry ‘Manangkarawardingki Malju’ in their remote desert community, 940 kilometres south-west of Darwin. Rather than being phased by the challenges of distance, lack of resources, a dousing in red dust, and a script written partially in Warlpiri, Tim and Sarah returned to Darwin inspired by the potential of the Northern Territory’s rich cultural landscape and the eagerness of Territorians, both ‘whitefella’ and ‘blackfella’ alike, to share their stories. Here lay the first ‘tracks’ of a unique journey.

Tim Newth and Sarah Calver, two of the founding Directors of Tracks Inc, worked on this Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre project. This was the first contact they had with the Warlpiri people of Lajamanu and it established the beginning of a long relationship between two of Tracks founding artists and the Lajamanu community.

Young playwrights competition

In 1987, a Territory wide competition sought to encourage young Territorian playwrights to provide one-act scripts for production.  The entries covered aspects of Isolation – geographical, cultural, spiritual and physical. Scripts from four aspiring playwrights were developed into one-act plays, produced for a 1988 tour to each of the playwrights’ hometowns.

One of a Kind by Carey Rohlach of Tennant Creek
A Tour With a Difference by Jabiru Area School
Walls Hill by Lee Frank of Alice Springs
Manangkarawardingki Malju (Desert Boy) by Lajamanu School

Tour Itinerary

Nhulunbuy, Yirrkala, Gove, Alyangula (Groote Eylandt) Jabiru, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, and Lajamanu.

The highlight of the tour was at Lajamanu where the company narrated versions of Tour With a Difference and Walls Hill and performed the Bilingual play Manangkarawardingki Malju. The people at Lajamanu appreciated the efforts of the cast to learn some Warlpiri language. Elders invited the cast to stay an extra day so the Lajamanu Yawulyu women could share traditional dances with them.

This contact was to play a major part in the connection to the people of Lajamanu.

Director's Notes

Living In Isolation a Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre Dance Theatre performance and workshop tour (including Desert Boy).

This tour presented short works by Northern Territory youths and conducted workshops in various communities. In preparation for Desert Boy, actors had to learn some Warlpiri. Members of the Lajamanu community living in Darwin were contacted. Mary Rockman Napurrula, a mature Warlpiri person living in Darwin, gave instruction in Warlpiri language. Some of the artists involved were Sarah Calver, Tim Newth and Janet Robertson. This contact was to play a major part in the connection to the Warlpiri people of Lajamanu. Sarah Calver and Tim were later given the skin names Nangala and Jampijinpa.

The white actors learning Warlpiri and presenting it in a play was exciting for the residents of Lajamanu. On tour, Elders were interested in the play’s style that represented the people and the place and that in their eyes was 'correct'. In return, the Elders danced and invited the team to return and share skills and techniques with their young people.

The Lajamanu School Council requested a residency of three artists to "work with the school community to develop traditional and modern material into contemporary dramatic performances". Sarah Calver, Tim Newth and Ken Conway traveled to Lajamanu to discuss the possibilities.

Creative Personnel

Director: Janet Robertson
Choreographer: Sarah Calver
Designer Sets and Costumes: Tim Newth
Lighting Design: Elena Eremin
Sound Design: Janet Robertson
Poster Design: Jo Boniface
Administration: Mailin Chan
Tour Manager/Sound operator: Bill Searl
Production Manager/Lighting operator: Elena Eremin

Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre was a programme of Brown’s Mart Community Arts Project
Brown’s Mart Staff:
Executive Officer: Ken Conway
Executive Assistant/Project Officer: Trish Latham
Choreographer: Sarah Calver


Sarah Calver, Jo Harrison, Tim Newth, Conrad Page, Anna Phillips, Scott Spencer


Desert Boy Script

A play in one act and four scenes.

Bob, a 9 year old white boy (later a fully grown man)
Russell, his father, a policeman
Katrina, his mother
Jampijinpa, a traditional aboriginal man (all Warlpiri)
Nangala, an older aboriginal woman
Four other aboriginal adults who observe Bob
Nakamarra, Bob’s wife
Jungarrayi, Bob’s son
Nungarrayi, Bob’s daughter

Scene One - Action takes place some time in the past.
A little white boy of 9 years old called Bob lives at Lajamanu, a remote place in the Northern Territory. His father works at the Police Station. Bob and his parents are the only Europeans living in this Aboriginal settlement. The family have gone out camping for the weekend.
Russell: Son, you go off and play. Me and mum want to have a sleep.
Katrina: Yes, but don’t go a long way because you might get bitten by a snake. Please don’t go further than that anthill over there.
Bob: Yes mum. I promise you I won’t go further than that anthill.
Bob wanders off with a can of coke. Katrina and Russell drink a can of beer in front of their car and then fall asleep next to their car.

Scene Two - It is dark. Bob is all alone and crying.
Bob: I’m lost. Someone please help me. I’ve got no water. I’m very thirsty. I’m going to die. Please help me God. Don’t let me die. Mum and Dad, Where are you Mum and Dad?
Far away Bob can hear the music and singing of Aboriginal people. Bob falls asleep.

Scene Three - The next morning a group of Aboriginal women and men holding boomerangs and spears are standing around Bob in a circle, Bob wakes up
Bob: I’m thirsty.
Jampijinpa: Yungkarla ngapa kardiyaku (Give the white boy water), [Bob drinks water. Man feels him and feels his hair. The Warlpiri people look frightened.]
Bob: Do you speak English?
Nangala: Nyarrpaa ka wankami? (What is he saying?)
Bob: [Crying] What are they saying?
Nangala: Nyyiyajanka kanpa yulami? (Why are you crying?) [She feeds him bush food.]
Bob: What is this? Yuk! [He eats] Yum!
Jampijinpa: Nganja ngulaju mangarri mgurrju! (Eat that good vegetable food.)
Bob: Mangarri? (Vegetable food?)
Jampijinpa: Yuwayi, nyampuju mangarri. (Yes, that is vegetable food.)

Scene Four - Twenty years later, bob’s parents never found him. Bob is now holding spears and boomerangs.
He is out in the desert looking strong and fit and healthy. He is carrying a red kangaroo.
Bob Japaljarri: [To his wife Nakamarra and his children Jungarrayi and Nungarrayi] Nyampakurla marluju. Mantalkulu nyampuju marluju. Matalkurna ngajuju. Wurlulkala manta nyampukuju marlukuju. (Here’s our kangaroo. Come and get this kangaroo. I’m tired. Get firewood for this kangaroo.)
The whole family make a fire, talking and laughing in Warlpiri.
The End - Ngalajuku


Dance Development Office: Sarah Calver

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


Explore Further

Lajamanu / Milpirri Home Page
Eras of Youth Dance

Media Response

“…simply brilliant. Students seeing this production will not fail to see how they can use theatre for their own productions.”  Tenant and District times

“…proved that talent and creativity abounds in the Territory. … bravo for a job well done.” Centralian Advocate

“Desert Boy … brought us a full circle to the true beginnings of Australian Theatre – the Aboriginal art of story telling. … highly satisfying theatre, thoroughly professional in execution, stylish and unpretentious.” New Theatre Australia.

Search for Work by Title or
by Person:

› Search for Work by year