Posts Tagged ‘Gubbi Gubbi


anywhere festival’s biodrama day10 – la andariega: ancient memories



(Mobile Active Recreation and Creative Community Art Space)

Preparing for La Andariega: Ancient Memories

from notes taken during #biodramadharma day10: The Viewpoints

by Xanthe Coward

Saturday May 14 2016


“theatre isn’t necessarily for everyone, in the same way that football isn’t necessarily for everyone. My attitude to the latter is pretty much the rest of my family’s attitude to the former: I’ll happily watch it on the odd occasion, but it isn’t really my cup of tea. And that’s fine. But theatre should be there for everyone: equally available and accessible to all who might – and might not – gain something from it. That means making theatre buildings as welcoming as possible; it means making theatre affordable and easy to access; it means letting people know that it’s happening and that they might be interested in it; it means avoiding lazy, offensive assumptions about different demographics and what they might want to see; it means opening up a dialogue with potential and existing audiences; it means talking about theatre in a way that makes it sound interesting and fun rather than elite and exclusive.

It’s that last point that I’m particularly (sometimes agonisingly) preoccupied with. There is of course work still to be done when it comes to theatre spaces, their accessibility, and who and what gets represented on their stages. But the surrounding discourse feeds into the same set of structures and ultimately influences, in however invisible a way, who gets admitted or shut out by those structures. How is theatre being discussed? Who is discussing it? What is being discussed and what is being ignored? What assumptions is that discussion – knowingly or unknowingly – founded on?”

– Catherine Love


“Theatre needs to be discussed in a way that makes it seem available, rather than shut away behind a barrier of big, reverent words.”

– Catherine Love

The Inaugural MARACCAS’ 17-Day Intensive continues…

Read Part 1 here

On the weekend the group had moved into the Black Box Theatre space at the Old Ambulance Station, Nambour. I pass a whiteboard on the way in; it’s the “Parking Lot”, for holding ideas. Questions and thoughts about enlightenment, catharthis, cleansing and rebirth; notes about the arrangement of chairs in the space; humour – relief – the inner child, and later, after the first Viewpoints exercise, Olga adds “stress or relief?” I say hi to Mary and then speak with Linda, an artist from Cooran, who explains her work – it’s amazing – and her initial intention of coming in for 5 days of the Intensive. After that she decided to “jump in” and join the performance ensemble.

When the session begins with a Sacred Circle I stay out of it, observing only. I feel the group is too far into the process for me to join them and my interest is in how the work develops from here. I love the ritual of the process itself, the connections, and the deeper understanding that comes from simply stopping, listening and acknowledging. Saturday’s Sacred Circle is for Olga – Lilly reminds us, “we each talk with Olga and let her know what we learn from her.”

Jonas begins. “You have amazing energy, you keep the fluidity, you’re very compassionate and pure, not only today but through the whole experience.” I miss something uttered in Spanish and there is laughter and – this from Olga – “Don’t mess up with Olga!” and, after more laughter about a conversation that took place last night, “We are here in a Big Brother house…”

Lilly says, “You have this incredible sense of groundedness; it’s joyous. I see you as the mama bear of the group. You see communication and you allow it and you create space for other people to experience freedom.” Dan says that what he’s learned from Olga is to speak his voice, to stand up for what he thinks is right, and “to keep pushing in the direction of your goals even if it’s uncomfortable.” Dan has worked with Olga at Playback Theatre.


And what has Olga learned? “When I give myself permission to create and I don’t hold back I have a great capacity to jump over anyone… My totem came out to be the snake. I have to explore my camouflage.

I’ve learned a different meaning for the word compassion, which is more human, which comes from small gestures…and I can see connections: the threads, how all the strings keep on pushing and pulling; the complexity of human relationships. and the great things that happen when you take away pre-judgment…

It’s really nice to be able to repeat things, make it better (in this process). And how good food tastes…”

Everyone says their Sacred Name in a confident, powerful voice and Deanna introduces the session: an introduction to The Viewpoints.

The group begins with the basic exercises, listening intently, following Deanna’s every word. It’s mostly new work – remember, in here not everyone is a trained actor. But the energy in the room has changed. Everyone is ready to do the work. The group forms a circle and the actors use peripheral vision to start walking, equidistant apart, tuning into impulses and stopping or changing direction or jumping when the impulse takes them, and following the lead of others. 

Deanna reminds everyone to continue correcting the balance of the circle, stay tuned in and maintain the same pace. Next is the exercise called Lanes (exploring limiting factors in order to work more closely as a group), and after so much circle work it must be refreshing to work in straight lines! The options – the gesture range – include stopping or jumping or sitting or to lie down upon impulse, breaking up the movement forwards and backwards. Everyone explores pace and kinaesthetic responses i.e. “Think about how other people in the line are affecting your movement” (let the movement of others affect you and make a choice about how to respond). Deanna prompts everyone to explore duration e.g. hold the sitting position or jump 10 times.

Through restriction comes the exploration of certain elements.

– Deanna

IMG_6526 IMG_6525 IMG_6524

And here, suddenly, is the shift in energies. It happens in every rehearsal room, hopefully at every rehearsal! The individual energies have all come into the same realm and the group energy is focused. I watch as everyone drops their insecurities and embraces real confidence, really trusting the impulses. Moments of slow, controlled movement are broken abruptly by the impulses to run forward or jump. At one point the group runs forward towards me, fast! It’s confronting and unnerving. The individual energies continue to shift and balance out, but the collective energy and the level of focus remain the same. The sound of feet pounding the timber, the shuffling and the silence and stillness are all very satisfying. At times the floorboards creak. Deanna instructs everyone to “find an ending.” Eventually there is stillness and silence and a straight line again.

It’s interesting to detach…to turn your brain off and become a vessel for movement.

– Lilly

Linda notes that during the exercise she was aware of silence followed by a sudden orchestration of sound. “A certain feeling could be created in the room, like suspense, so it was a really powerful evocation of…something.” Lilly muses, “There’s an element of leadership but being able to follow as well. The dynamic is of being able to lead and to receive.” Dan adds, “I found myself grabbing control, having control and then releasing again.”

Whether by chance or by listening, are we coordinated? There’s a very strong sense of responsibility. I can do whatever but it doesn’t fit in with the group. I can be a leader but that doesn’t fit in with the group.

– Olga


There is no break. Deanna goes on to introduce the 7 Energy Levels, which she takes us through one by one…

#4 Neutral (lying on the floor; no energy)

#1 The body is very heavy, breathing is slow, very deep. To make any movement is really difficult. To lift a limb it feel like the limb is full of lead.

#2 The body is still not easy to move, breathing is still slow, but you can pull yourself along the floor if you have to. You might try to get up but you fall back down before reaching your feet.

#3 The body feels lighter but it’s hard to take control of your movement, as if the wind has more control than you do over your movement; air comes into your joints. The body floats through space. You are off-balance, mostly slow. Big long exhalations.

#4 neutral (standing) The spine is straight, the head is straight, feet are shoulder width apart and arms hang loosely. Breathing is steady. You’re feeling relaxed and ready for what may come. You’re alert and aware, and relaxed. From here we can create any emotion.

#5 The breathing becomes more rapid and tension becomes apparent. Shallow breaths, a quicker pace; anticipating something: stress or anxiety. Add gestures (wring hands or shake out the tension). Whatever that feeling does to your body, let it inhabit you. Maybe other people start to agitate you in the space…

#6 The breathing is fast and shallow, fight or flight energy, fear, terror. N.B. Not a faster pace.


#7 feel the energy of Level 6 energy while frozen. This is dynamic stillness (if you unfreeze you can go back to Level 6 energy in an instant). Keep the moment of being alive, being “in action” in your head.

Deanna taps shoulders to allow performers to step out of their frozen position to take a look at what the dynamic stillness looks like in the others. She calls out, “Level 6” and “Level 7” – switching between Level 6 & Level 7 is exhilarating and exhausting…and I’m only watching! Deanna takes the group back through the energy levels until the bodies sink into the floor, relieved. Deanna prompts the debrief discussion – any discoveries?

Lilly says, “We can play with those higher energies for the city scene.” Dan agrees, suggesting the group consider using the essence of both exercises – the lanes and the energy levels – to build the city scene. Jonas notes, “The exercise is really valuable for seeing the energies still there when we detach and look. Your breath is what filters the energy and brings it up to the next energy.” Linda discusses the importance of the performer’s gaze. Deanna agrees: on the other hand, high energy levels require (breaking the gaze and) looking all around because the awareness comes up and out. Linda observes a major benefit of having an ensemble on the same page when it comes to energy levels. “It could be a shorthand to what’s required in a scene. Somebody might be feeling stressed and giving Level 7 energy when what’s required is Level 4.”

Is neutral energy not alive?

There is some discussion about Level 6 energy. Olga sees the potential for Level 6 energy to be used for someone in love and Deanna counters, “It’s orgasmic” (and not just enthusiastic). We understand that excited, high stress can be positive or negative energy.

The breath is the key. The body follows the breath.

Someone remembers that Zen Zen Zo’s Lynne Bradley talked about commitment. Commit to the gesture and the audience sees the 100% commitment in that moment. The audience doesn’t see how much or how little experience you have.

Next, Deanna takes the group through a laughter exercise:

Breathing in and taking arms out (outstretched), clap hands and vocalise, “HA!”

Walk across the circle, making eye contact, “HA HA” then “HA HA HA” then “HA HA HA HA”, clapping to match.

Make the “HAHAHAHAHA” sound like a motorcycle starting. Greet people with the motorcycle sound.

Deep breaths to come back to neutral.

Gesture becomes a cup of tea. Lighten the sound. Greet others between sips of tea.

Deep breaths to come back to neutral.

Gesture becomes both hands on the belly for a big Santa Claus, “HO HO HO HO” (or as a gorilla)

Deep breaths to come back to neutral.

Vocalise a siren (“orchestra”) of laughter, conducted by Deanna. This inspires whirling and twirling around the space, laughing in the upper register, and snorts and “strange” laughs.

Deep breaths to come back to neutral.

I wonder if there is anyone outside, on their way to Woolworths, hurrying by when they were in no hurry at all, and wondering what on earth is going on inside the Black Box Theatre…


There is full commitment from this group. Everyone is here to get out of it what they will, even if they’re still not sure what it will be. With the new addition to the daily routine – sharing what each individual has taught everyone – everyone might find out something new through what someone else reveals.

Jonas steps out to confer with the Indigenous elders and advisors. There are still some traditions and acknowledgements to get right. The rest of us move outside, roadside, onto a patch of grass in the sunshine, working on images created using bodies in space, and gesture and proximity. And perception…





What do we see in each picture? What do we “read”? What will the audience get from it?

We are here to give a message…at the end of the day the goal is to make that message to the others.


Back inside, there is some concern about the performance space. “Where are the spaces where the energies can leak out (and come in), and where is it possible for those messages to be weakened?” asks Linda. Lilly explains, “It’s the circle that creates the container for the work to take place…we’ll delineate the circle and the doorway where spirits and energies can come in and out of that space. Being aware of that circle as a sacred space and being a container, a vessel, for those energies. That’s the device… There’s a power in the gesture of making it a safe space.”

Lilly takes a call from Jonas and advises the group that David (Gubbi Gubbi) will not be coming in after all because his energy is not in it today. David and his brother, Mark, will come tomorrow to assist with choreography and talk with the group about the possibility of them being involved in the performance.

There is a discussion about the chairs. The chairs in the Black Box Theatre are rows of 5 square plastic chairs, which doesn’t allow for the curved audience the group wants. The performance space will continue to change so the discussion is added to the Parking Lot. The conversation turns to clarifying the meaning of the work. Having joined the core group later in the piece, Linda is still working out what it all means for her. She says, “The intention of BioDrama is to somehow connect the ancestral beings and we’re here on the Sunshine Coast. It’s like a timeless meeting of ancestral beings but how does that relate to the Coolum story? Is that the port through which we meet the ancestral beings?”

Lilly reminds the group that the show and the process of creating it has a lot to do with acknowledgement. Kerry (Gubbi Gubbi) spoke about acknowledgement. It’s about the reconnection with ancient wisdom – acknowledging and remembering – “and the story that we chose came up spontaneously in our communication with Kerry. For me it has a lot to do with the cleansing and reconnecting with nature that I feel needs to happen. In the world, we’ve reached a level of ‘grotesque’ and the cleansing is necessary,” explains Lilly.

It’s the story of the cycle, of the river – the river of life – the story of birth, reminding us that the river not only brings us life but a reason for fighting, that duality; not only the good thing or the bad thing but all things and you eventually find the cleansing, the rain…

– Olga

Lilly: “There’s the cleansing. Olga continues, “And the stories don’t finish here. It may find something that’s negative and it will rumble and it will become positive. It’s the cycle of life. We need stories that we can understand. They’re all metaphors for that cycle of the river; that cycle of life.” For Dan, the story is still evolving. He says, “I’ll wait and see how it unfolds.”

Lilly leads a discussion about the shape of the performance. There will be the initial acknowledgment and welcome, with mother earth in the centre and the umbilical cord of life. Each person has a line to speak, to connect and acknowledge, “and we have permission from the Indigenous people to work with these traditional stories, and it’s really important that we have an elder to do that welcome. Then we begin.” The story of Maroochy and Ninderrry and Coolum will be shared.

On Friday the group had sketched the units of performance to create a storyboard. There are 5 main story segments, which is a simplified version of events. Lilly is wary of the message becoming convoluted. Olga simplifies the message (the story) further, breaking the images up into just 3 narrative acts: the beginning, middle and end.


There is some discussion about aesthetic choices. For example, will the same grief motif be used a second time, rather than changing Maroochy’s grief and asking the audience to recognise different forms (different representations) of grief. The decision is to keep it simple and repeat the recognisable “grief” gesture and sound.

Lilly reiterates an important point learned from David in the original discussions about which story to tell. This is new to me. She explains that despite the need for some light comic relief, the Indigenous story of the two frogs cannot come into it because the one Dreaming story is already being told. Unlike our Anglo penchant for mash-ups of fairytales and the like, our Indigenous people prefer the traditional stories to stay unmixed. In fact, it would be disrespectful to try to combine them, undermining the entire cultural exchange.

Dan suggests skipping through the city scene to add some lightness and Olga talks about comic relief and awareness of the inner child, and what about the clowns? There is some confusion about the ‘clowns’. Lilly clarifies, “Definitely not the image of a (circus) clown, but bringing in that essence of childhood play. It could be leapfrog but we would avoid the frog story because David has expressed that.”

There must also be some sort of debrief with the audience because it’s always such an intense experience for them. “With a debrief you give them closure and you get closure as performers.” There might need to be a physical way of involving the audience in the rebirth/catharsis… Erica describes a performance in which she and Maddy were involved, culminating in a dance with the audience. Holding hands is always a good idea… A hand-holding tribal dance sounds like the upbeat version of the sort of ritual that might open the show. Lilly suggests that when children are added to the performance, dancing and playing, they can bring the performers back to life after the grotesque segment and bring the audience into their dance by holding hands…

Deanna wants to get up and try some things…

I remember some of the tangible things I’ve taken away from (mostly indie) shows over the last few years –

  • an unsealed envelope containing paper for letter writing
  • a paper crane
  • a cupcake
  • a boxing glove keyring
  • a seed

A seed. The seed of a native Australian plant seems to me the ideal gift to offer audience members. I think the council or a local nursery would be more than happy to sponsor…but it’s not my show. I continue to consider these elements of ritual and involving the audience and the “social theatricality” of Biodrama. And I remember reading Catherine Love’s discussions about “catering” for certain demographics, and who is included and excluded from certain forms of culture… 

Dan reminds the group that harmony is the answer to the disruption of the city. Linda tells the group that the thing that’s missing for her is the build up of suspense. “It needs this brooding sense of something awful…” Lilly thinks the the energy of the storm will be evident in the music.

Olga clarifies what the group will work on for the rest of the day – connecting to content, connecting with each other, clarifying the story and marking the movement. This is the ensemble at work, and as I tell Lilly later, during a different conversation, it’s working beautifully.

I promise to return the following day to check out the Grotowski Laboratory…



The Secret River


The Secret River

Queensland Theatre Company Presents A Sydney Theatre Company Production

QPAC Playhouse

February 25 – March 5 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


This place had been here long before him. It would go on sighing and breathing and being itself after he had gone, the land lapping on and on, watching, waiting, getting on with its own life.

– Kate Grenville


The Secret River is a difficult story to tell. For all the beauty, dignity and depth of this tale, it leads relentlessly into dark places… We want to sit respectfully and reflectively in mourning the genocide that has occurred across this land, but we also want to celebrate the survival of Aboriginal culture against all the forces of dispossession and denial.

And so we keep searching to make it right.

– Neil Armfield



William Thornhill arrives in New South Wales a convict from the slums of London. His family’s new home offers him something he hadn’t dare dream of: a place to call his own. On the banks of the Hawkesbury River, he plants a crop and lays claim to the soil in which it grows.

But the Hawkesbury is already home to another family. A family from the Dharug people, whose existence depends on that land. As Thornhill’s attachment to the land deepens, he is driven to a terrible decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

There is no shame in this story that we haven’t felt already.

I feel a sense of grief and a deep, deep sadness that’s difficult to put into words. This is our story. This is our story too. I write this as a privileged white woman in the country I was brought up to believe I belong in, a place I’ve always felt is mine too. Not mine exclusively, but mine to share, with those who are descended from the original inhabitants, and those who continue to arrive from other places. I don’t think I feel a greater entitlement to this land than anyone else (why would I?), but I feel strongly that this country is my home as much as it is anyone else’s and that it’s okay to feel that way.

It’s really hard to talk about, isn’t it? And it’s even harder to write about. Because now I’ve gone on record to say, aloud online, that I feel I’m at home in this country that’s not mine to claim. And I don’t like to be made to feel unwelcome here, or to feel as if I’m only visiting. 

The children get it, of course, all existing in the same space together without suspicion or judgement or blame. They play and bicker and sort out their differences and continue talking and playing and… I wish we could all be more like the children.

A multitude of feelings rendered me speechless after experiencing The Secret River. It’s the first time I’ve felt an audience shudder and breathe as one, through a long, still silence at the close of a show, before the thunderous applause and a well-deserved standing ovation. This is a deeply affecting, life affirming show set beneath the enormity of a single white eucalyptus representing the entire country. When Thornhill insists on scratching his fence into it, just as his wife has marked every day on a wall since they set foot there, I can’t help but cringe.

This is the sort of theatre we all strive to make and we all want to see. It’s theatre that scratches at your skin and makes you cringe and maybe cry, and think more deeply than you did before.

Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel makes The Secret River a seminal work, the newest most important story in the Australian theatrical canon, carefully, thoughtfully and authentically presented, telling both perspectives of a tale so often skewed by the storyteller. There are no sides here, no bias. The tragic events unfold over everyone, and we’re immersed in both worlds. We’re not brow beaten, we’re not defeated…no one is forsaken or forgotten. We’re informed, affected and by the end of the story (for now), despite the inevitable, lamentable tragedy, despite a song of grief that will echo in my heart for years yet, we can choose to feel hope. Each soul is indelibly marked by the end of this show, and we feel we must, in real life, keep searching for a way to make our future together work.


Ningali Lawford-Wolf (Dhirrumbin) “as if called by the song”, appears and shapes the story of the two families at home on the Hawkesbury River, telling it to stir hearts and minds, yes, but mostly so that it is finally told. She is omnipresent, bearing witness to the atrocities against her people instead of turning and running away because “someone had to see it”.

William Thornhill breaks our hearts and mends them with the same ambition, determined to make a home for his family in a land that is already home to so many. Nathaniel Dean nails this role, embodying every aspect of the complex character, from his love for his family and the land, to his pride, his sense of entitlement, his suspicion, compassion, fear, rage, revenge, violence and regret.

London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.

HORROR. BEYOND SADNESS. We’re so close we see Dean’s eyes glisten with the tears Thornhill refuses to shed. His is a measured and masterful performance. When he tosses an old jacket on the ground next to the broken, grieving Ngalamalum it might be the closest he’ll come to making an apology. It goes unnoticed. Ngalamalum doesn’t care. He needs nothing from Thornhill. We have nothing they need.


Trevor Jamieson (Ngalamalum) hands to us the heart wrenching end to the story in the form of a coda, which used to belong to the narrator, Dhirrumbin (in the premiere season in 2013). Jamieson’s rich, sorrowful singing voice adds gravitas as the lights fade to black. I didn’t see the original production but I feel that this must be the more memorable conclusion. Jamieson is, in this moment, the entire story, his people’s whole history. It’s an incredible moment, truly sensational theatre. No one moves, tears trickle freely down cheeks, mine included. No one cares if they are seen to be crying as the lights come up. It would be weird – monstrous – to remain unmoved.

Iain Grandage’s score is all encompassing and I hope he’ll record it, with the inclusion of some of the Indigenous language, perhaps with the ABC’s support, though STC would be wise to quickly and proudly claim such an album. Isaac Hayward plays a cello, percussion and an open piano on stage, coaxing voices from the keys and strings and hammers as if from the landscape itself. He’s truly gifted and what a gift he’s been given in Grandage’s evocative compositions. I also love hearing the musicality of the Dharug family language. There’s no need for surtitles.

Director, Neil Armfield has embraced this cast, this process, and most of all, Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s sweeping story. The result is a rich storytelling experience that leads us gently and firmly to a new foothold in Australian theatre. It’s a place where the Indigenous voice, though it be penned and directed in this case by non-Indigenous artists, rings out loud and clear. And you can say what you will about that, and what needs to happen next (what is already happening, if you’re paying attention, thanks to artists including Stephen Page, Wayne Blair, Wesley Enoch, Bangarra and many more like them), but I say it’s momentous; it’s where empathy and artistry meet.

Armfield has made minute detail epic, framed wretched ugliness within immense beauty, and we see it all through a perfectly clear lens. There’s nothing hidden here. Armfield’s finesse is visible everywhere, from the human connections on stage to the use of the actors as trees and rocks and dogs, to the addition of sound effects created live on stage as the men attempt to dig up the rocky ground. There is further detail in the integral elements of the set (fire, water, earth, flour, charcoal, rope), the smell of the campfire, eucalyptus, gunfire, the inspired costume design by Tess Schofield and lighting design by Mark Howett, and Grandage’s stunning score. The set design by Stephen Curtis cleverly reveals the secrets of the theatre, while retaining the mystery of the land.

The elements combine to create a harrowing, affecting, exquisitely crafted theatrical experience.


At the Opening Night party, after Sam Strong’s speech (warmly and generously offering insight into the journey the creative team had taken to get to this version of the production, and reminding us of the value of good long-term relationships), it was such a pleasure to speak with some of the cast members, incredible performers and beautiful human beings, all. Trevor Jamieson (Ngalamalum) agreed that it was a challenge to produce theatre to the scale of The Secret River and wishes there was a way to share this story under the stars with the wider community who can’t afford the ticket price. Colin Moody (Blackwood) shared with us some of the ways in which Indigenous culture had permeated the rehearsal process, with the company performing traditional smoking ceremonies to clear each sacred (theatrical) space of its negative energies. We talked about the beautiful, gentle ways that other countries embed their First Nations’ culture into curriculum, and community events. The way the Maori culture has become cool, with every kid learning the Haka and in doing so, learning that pride, not shame, comes with knowing and sharing the traditions of the land’s first inhabitants, whether they share their blood or not.

I saw Okareka Dance Company’s Mana Wahine on Friday, the final fitting offering to over 400 delegates from around the world, gathered in Brisbane for APAM2016. It was a fiercely powerful show, a similar spirit in it, a similar story involving courage, determination and fearlessness, but with a very different ending…

So who will see The Secret River? Who will have the honour and privilege of sharing this story? With such a short season in Brisbane and with such high ticket prices, who will it reach? Those who have seen it will agree it’s vital stuff; it needs to reach everyone, and yet it’s unaffordable for so many. I applaud the high production values but I lament the fact that thousands of people in whose hands the future lies, will miss the opportunity to see this show like this. I wonder if it could be filmed…


The Secret River is the ultimate theatrical experience, a complete production, perfectly combining all of the elements, down to the child actors, the musicians and the ash in the fire. Its ritual, rich symbolism, its sense of time and place, its gentle tides and powerful currents pulling us in and out of its story, and its light and unfathomable darkness impress upon our hearts, weighing heavily and making us ache long into the night. (There’s no better theatre than that which makes us ache and think and discuss and debate and dare to dream).

And yes, there is hope. It lies in the hearts and minds of the children, and the adults who will learn from them and choose to lead. Because with knowledge comes responsibility. 

We get home at 1am and I hear the sea’s fearless roar. I love its voice. In it is the vastness of this country, its potential, its desire for peace, and all the ancient magic of where we live, where others have lived before us. (We live in Gubbi Gubbi/Kabi Kabi country on the Sunshine Coast). We love it here too. How can we all live and love peacefully in this place? Maybe The Secret River has the answer. Maybe we already had the answer. Maybe we have always had the answer…


Cypress Trilogy

Wow. Let me just say that there is quite simply no one in the world like Ms Leah Barclay. Call me biased if you will (Leah was commissioned to write an original soundscape and score for La Ronde, which I think was incredible for several reasons, not least of all because she wrote it in India and sent it to us in MP3 files after discussing once over coffee in Noosa, the multi-faceted design concept for the show before she left the country ( I didn’t meet Leah in person until she flew home for our tech run). You can read more about Leah’s phenomenal creative achievements here

It should have come as no surprise then, that this evening’s installation at Noosa Regional Gallery would be something intriguing, involving multiple art forms to create something spiritual, peaceful and thought-provoking about our local natural environment…and our place in it. 

Let’s be honest here; I didn’t realise exactly what I was attending…nor did I appreciate exactly what it was that I was taking four children under the age of ten to see and experience! 

This is what I should have read before heading up to Tewantin on a cold Saturday (Eurovision) night with four kids (three of whom are probably more at home on the beach or on the footy field than in a theatre or in an art gallery) and a husband just back from a week’s work in Sydney, to experience Cypress Trilogy and Sonic Babylon

Cypress Trilogy 

An evocative site specific performance installation by award winning Australian artist Leah Barclay. The performance will provide a rich tapestry of local history and feature a selection of internationally acclaimed performers including pioneering Korean taegum artist Hyelim Kim and virtuoso guitarist Anthony Garcia. 

TreeLine Program available at 

TreeLine is a Sunshine Coast Council arts initiative. Supported by the Queensland and Australian Governments. 

Now what is not mentioned here, though it was well explained in the program, is the amazing work/play of Lyndon Davis and the Gubbi Gubbi Dancers, whom I have been privileged to see perform many times over the last ten years, at schools and at special events across the Sunshine Coast. Lyndon and his dancers opened the evening’s performance with a special performance of their own, outside, against a backdrop of cotton trees and the Noosa River, under an Aurora Borealis of changing lights (actually, there was substantially more pink in the local mix). 

Their stories were their own, those of the traditional land owners and how they lived and what they saw and the lessons they have always learned from their environment (simply from tuning in to their environment and reading the signs). We learned a lot from them in 20 minutes, through song and dance, accompanied by didgeridoo, about the local flora and fauna.

My four-year old daughter’s favourite piece was about the men collecting oysters, opening them and tipping their heads back to enjoy them fresh, while her cousins enjoyed the bird dances: the first about the brolgas seen in our local region and the second, about the eagles, soaring high above the sea, looking for their dinner, of which there was once an abundance because the people knew (through their observation and subsequent teachings) never to kill the leader fish (the “elders”) as they were the ones teachin’ the young fellas where to spawn! 

It remains to me a mystery, why these stories (shall we say, lessons) are not taught to our own kids from the outset. Now I love our Grimm and Disney tales as much as the next girl but the fact that our own traditional oral stories, those from the people of this land, which explain beautifully how this land came about and how we should be looking after it, are sorely lacking from the curriculum and from our households baffles me. YES, I KNOW THEY ARE THERE. I’VE TAUGHT THEM TOO. But they are far from integral. Except in some of the more remote regions of this country, where the lessons and languages of our indigenous people have become a preservation-of-culture educational and community priority and thus, supported by government…or they are supported by government and thus they have become a priority? Regardless, they should, in my opinion, become part of every term’s events and lessons, and not just included as a once-a-year-visiting-dance-troupe-to-tick-the-boxes gig. JUST LIKE THE ARTS. You can try to tell me otherwise but Exhibit A: I took a NINE YEAR OLD with us tonight who had never seen a live didgeridoo performance or a traditional corroboree. As further evidence of our continued dismal recognition of the traditional land owners, I present Exhibit B: Australian Spell Check did not recognise the word “corroboree”. It did not. I just clicked “Add to dictionary”. Thank the supernatural beings who rose from the Earth (and the Queensland Folk Federation and the Jinibara people) that the wonderful The Dreaming Festival is almost upon us!!!

After we had spoken to Lyndon and the dancers, we went for dinner with our good friends, Ben and Kay (Kay was The Girl in La Ronde and Ben was everything we needed him to be backstage. That’s right. Everything) before walking back with triple swirl rainbow paddlepops for desert and to see Cypress Trilogy. 

In three movements, “Dusk, Darkness and Dawn”, we experienced Leah’s superb soundscapes, recorded in the Noosa biosphere, Anthony Garcia‘s guitar and Hyelim Kim‘s taegum, accompanied by live visuals on a multi-layered screen (James Muller’s work). In yet another rich layer, performance artists, Mary Eggleston (The Wife in La Ronde) and Jeremy Neideck, painted by the amazing body artist, Kat Farrar, moved Butoh-like through the space and amongst the audience and the evocative, leaf inspired artworks by Elizabeth Poole and other local visual artists. 

This was truly an interactive* and collaborative work of art – a rich tapestry – each artist giving generously of themselves to contribute to the overall Treeline themes and local contexts of Leah’s Cypress Trilogy. I only wish I was in on what they were doing…I felt like I was looking in; coming across them in a clearing in the bush and crouching, hiding by a Rainbow Serpent stone arrangement so I would be privy to the performance without interrupting their concentration and trance-like delight! 

*interactive. Hmmm…yes, I wish I’d known to download the app via and become part of the installation (Sonic Babylon). Perhaps the kids would get a little more too, or something a little different again, from walking through the sound garden. I know Poppy would have loved to do that (she is of Generation i: i is for iPhone)! 

The performance inside was in fact, a little alienating and it made me consider, as performing artists and directors and teachers as audience members are wont to do, how else could it have felt more welcoming, to be there and feel a real part of it, rather than an admiring observer of fine art? It occurred to somebody, I think it was Kay, that the entire performance might have been better suited to the Cooroy amphitheatre, a sadly under utilised performance space at the edge of Lake McDonald. 

This is somebody else’s picture of it, during a rare operatic performance. I’m sure it has been used since. For example, my cousin was married there. I think she’s divorced now… 


I thought that perhaps the threat of wet weather was the reason for sending us inside after the Gubbi Gubbi dances but I was wrong and the whole thing was indeed intended to be experienced inside the gallery. This made it very easy to supervise four over-tired children, who were most intrigued by the leaf sculptures of all descriptions (one hanging arrangement not unlike the favourite GOMA String Room)! 

Hanging Leaves

N.B. “Hanging Leaves” definitely not the artist’s title 


Poppy and her daddy in The String Room @ GOMA

N.B. Poppy and her daddy’s feet in The String Room @ GOMA definitely the more apt title 

Not being a fine arts buff, and by that I mean that in terms of making a habit of attending these highfalutin’ high-end fine art evenings I don’t (I’m all good at opening nights for shows though), I enjoyed and admired the work and I was fascinated by the reactions of the kids (there were five other kids there, who all ran around outside on the cold, wet grass). What I needed was to feel much more a part of it, as I mentioned. Yes, alright, you got me; of course I would have liked to have been body painted again and performed too! But seriously, there has to be a way, or ways, just like in any other live theatrical performance, to bring the audience closer – much closer – to what you are doing as visual artists and musicians. Why should an installation be any less entertaining? Or any less theatrical? I think everybody involved believed that they were sharing a sacred part of themselves and their particular art form (I get that, I do) but I also think that those unaccustomed to theatre or art of any sort may feel it is a little self-indulgent. And maybe that sort were not there tonight. But I hope that sort feels welcome to attend and experience Cypress Trilogy and Sonic Babylon, the Sound Garden and the other Treeline projects that will continue to get off the ground across the Sunshine Coast. I dare say a lot of money has been put towards the overall event and I would love to see the non-subscribers there. 

And I would love to see the kids there, with their parents and teachers, talking about the way they feel and experience their beautiful local environment every day…and what they might do to help preserve it. 

Heartland - My Buderim Backyard

Treeline is a challenging, interdisciplinary and interactive art/science/community event that will highlight the impact of human lifestyle choices on our ability to sustain a healthy planet. Treeline incorporates visual and new media arts, theatre, dance, music, sculpture and storytelling, actively involving participants in the creative process in order to raise awareness of local and global issues through the arts and encourage environmental action.