A Kimberley story that speaks to everyone

So Long Suckers

Jandamarra at the Opera House

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In 2005 the Black Swan State Theatre Company commissioned Bunuba Films (Now BCE) to adapt the existing film script as a work for theatre. Writer Steve Hawke had been working with the Bunuba people on developing the story as a film script since 1994. We knew the shape and the themes of the story we wanted to tell, but shaping this as a work for the stage was a new challenge.

One of Bunuba Films' primary objectives was "to maximise the creative input and contribution of the Bunuba people in the development and production of the play." Black Swan embraced this philosophy fully. In 2007 the approach was formalised when the initial Licensing Agreement was upgraded to a formal Co-Production Agreement. Bunuba Films became a full partner in the premiere season of Jandamarra at the Perth International Arts Festival in February 2008.

Early in the development process the decision was made to stage those elements of the play that take place in the Bunuba world in the Bunuba language. This moment was fundamental to the shape the play would take. The writer then worked with four Bunuba women to rework the play, creating a Bunuba version with 'back translations' that the audience sees as surtitles.

English and Bunuba are completely different languages; not just in terms of structure, grammar and vocabulary, but more importantly, in terms of the world views and values that they have evolved to represent and depict.

The translation became much more profound than an exercise with words. The process of analysing the script and re-rendering in Bunuba freed the women to contribute and comment on the content in a way they could not easily do with the original English text. It became a critical and dramaturgical discussion of the content, which was about ensuring a genuine portrayal of the Bunuba world and characters, whilst also serving the purposes of the drama.

It was an exciting and rewarding exercise for all involved. We believe that it has enabled the play to take on a substance, a reality far greater than the original English version. We are proud that our language, in all its complexity and richness, stands as a major, indeed an integral part of a large scale dramatic play on the Australian main stage.

See Writer's Notes on the Translation Process

In March/April 2007 Bunuba Films and Black Swan organised a series of workshops over a two week period in Fitzroy Crossing. From these workshops a team of Bunuba people emerged as key participants in the production as animators, linguists, actors, singers, cultural advisers and language coaches.

A Language and Cultural Immersion program was organised that saw the cast gather in Fitzroy Crossing in September 2007 for two weeks. For the first week they studied under the guidance of Mona and June Oscar and Patsy Bedford. The second week was spent 'in the country', with senior Bunuba man Dillon Andrews, traveling in Jandamarra's footsteps. It was an exciting time of learning and bonding for all involved. June and Patsy stayed with the project, as part of the team from day one of rehearsals, continuing their work with the actors. And it worked. The Bunuba language came alive on stage.

"Jandamarra became a superb work of epic theatre, akin to Neil Armfield's Cheery Soul (1993) or Cloudstreet (1998)" -Jonathan Marshall, Realtime

"There's a moment in Jandamarra where a gun goes off and a flock of white cockatoos lifts and wheels into the air, streaming across the cliff face of a craggy Kimberley gorge. It's one of those split seconds in which a dramatic event finds perfect expression on stage. . As the ill-fated warrior Jandamarra, young Queensland actor Jimi Bani is hugely charismatic ." -Victoria Laurie, The Australian

The Perth premiere season was a sellout before opening night, demonstrating the public's hunger for this iconic Western Australian story.

For Bunuba people of Fitzroy Crossing, it was the culmination of a twenty five year dream. Bunuba Films' participation in the 2008 production was supported by:

  • Lotterywest
  • The Kimberley Development Commission
  • The Fitzroy Futures Fund
  • The WA Department of Culture and the Arts
  • The WA Office of Aboriginal Economic Development
  • The Indigenous Arts Board of the Australia Council

For highlights of an ABC's Artists At Work documentary on the development and production of Jandamarra for the Perth season see:
Extracts from Artists At Work: Jandamarra

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Mona is a senior Bunuba woman with a passion for her first language. She has worked extensively with the Kimberley Language Resource Centre and with younger members of her community on Bunuba interpreting, translation and dictionary projects. Mona was the main informant and authority in the translation of the Bunuba elements of the play.

Patsy was born and bred in Fitzroy Crossing, where she grew up speaking Bunuba as her first language. After a long career in the state public service, Patsy joined the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, working in Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek on a wide range of projects across a number of languages. But her major project, nearing completion, has been to compile a comprehensive Bunuba dictionary.

June is a prominent community leader in the Kimberley. Holder of a Business degree from Notre Dame University, she is a director of Bunuba Films, the CEO of Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre in Fitzroy Crossing, and the Chairperson of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, amongst other positions. She is also a leader in a long term social reconstruction plan for the people of the Fitzroy Valley that involves restrictions on alcohol sales in Fitzroy. June has been involved in the Jandamarra project since the 1980s, and despite her hectic schedule, has never wavered in her commitment and input.

Selina was born in Fitzroy Crossing, and has spoken Bunuba all her life. She has worked with Patsy and others on the dictionary project and other Bunuba language publications. She first worked on the Jandamarra project as a young woman in the 1980s, and has been a director of Bunuba Films since 2006. She worked as the Local Co-ordinator for Bunuba Films during the most critical phase of the play's development, including the translation and dialogue recordings.


Kaylene is a young single mother living in Fitzroy Crossing who emerged from nowhere to assume a crucial role in the play's design. She had previously contributed artwork to Thangani Bunuba, a collection of Bunuba stories. Her talent and intrinsic understanding of the animated image were spotted at an art workshop run by Black Swan and Bunuba Films in March 2007. She worked with designer Zoe Atkinson and animator Clancie Shorter to create the animations which are a core component of the play. Her father Harry Marr (dec.) was a founding member of Bunuba Productions Aboriginal Corporation.


George is a senior Bunuba man and community leader from Bungardi Community. He is a lawman, a singer and a dancer, and in his day, a great horseman and stockman. George's traditional singing is an integral part of the performance.


Danny is a musician, having led country rock band Fitzroy Xpress since its formation in the 1980s, touring widely, and releasing a number of albums. His classic ballad about the Bunuba people, Raining on the Rocks, was recorded as a duet with Paul Kelly in 1996. He is the chairman and a director of Bunuba Films, and is also on the board of Yaranggi Cattle Company which operates the Leopold and Fairfield pastoral leases on Bunuba country. His father Johnny Marr was a senior elder who played a key role in Bunuba Productions and Bunuba Films. Danny plays the role of Dibinarra.

Emmanuel got a taste for acting when he took part in a silent recreation for a documentary about Jandamarra in the ABC's Rewind series. He was one of the most enthusiastic participants in the acting workshop held in Fitzroy Crossing in 2007, and from there, was selected for an intensive ten day training program in Perth. He played the role of Ilaji in the premiere season, then went on to complete the Indigenous acting course at the WA Academy of Performing Arts.

Kevin came through the same workshop and training program as Emmanuel Brown. He appeared in a variety of roles in the premiere season, and also went on to complete the Indigenous acting course at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. In the 2011 season he will play the role of Darudi and other parts.