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So Long Suckers

Jandamarra at the Opera House

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*Scenes from the play at Windjana gorge, set to Paul Kelly performing his Jandamarra song

The Jandamarra Returns tour in July - August 2011 comprised 13 performances at 4 Kimberley venues:

Broome (St. Mary's School oval) 4 shows
Windjana Gorge 5 shows
Lundja Community, Halls Creek 1 show (free community performance)
Kununurra (School oval) 3 shows

Total audience numbers were 5,097, averaging 392 per show.

The community and audience response was overwhelmingly positive, with many of the performances receiving standing ovations.

Final results show that the tour achieved a small surplus, with a slight shortfall in box office offset by savings across the budget achieved by tight budgetary control.

All key objectives were achieved and benchmarks met.

The Bunuba Community were absolutely thrilled with the outcome, and immensely proud of their achievement.

The production phase of the project began with a three day Induction to Country which saw the cast and key crew spend three days in Bunuba Country, based at Fairfield Station, with Bunuba elders introducing them to the country, and educating them on a range of cultural, historical and community issues. It was a profound experience for those who were newcomers to the Kimberley, and was an ideal way to bond the group, and set the tone for the production as a community led, community inspired project.

This was followed by an intensive three and a half week rehearsal period in Broome, supported by the University of Notre Dame, which provided our rehearsal room and accommodation. It was an intense and productive time, led by our Director Phil Thomson. Unlike the original season in Perth in 2008, we were ready to go on opening night!

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The physical aspects of the production fell into place beautifully; a triumph of planning and logistics saw the massive set arrive and assembled on time, with a crew of A Grade Perth professionals led by Production Manager Andrew Portwine. Linfox, who provided free freight to and from the Kimberley, and two trailers for the duration of the tour, even got the gear to Broome two days ahead of schedule.

The Broome season was successful. Numbers were slightly down on what we had hoped, averaging 344 a night. But the tone for the tour was set with incredibly warm responses from those attending.

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And then we hit the road! It was a three trailer road train, with the two from Linfox, and a third one carrying the dozen portaloos we took on tour. Our core travelling party of cast and crew totalled 31 people.

The Windjana season was like a dream. With logistical support from Kimberley Diamonds the daunting bump in went smoothly. From the first night out there, with the stage lights setting off the cliffs behind, we all knew that something special was unfolding. The West Kimberley staff of the Department of Environment and Conservation went above and beyond the call of duty in making us and the public welcome, and ensuring that everything operated smoothly. The inimitable Colin and Maria Morgan and their team from Wundargoodie Aboriginal Safaris ran a campsite for our team and our numerous visitors and helpers that gave the ten days the feel of a magical holiday rather than a worksite.

The shows were strong and spectacular. Each evening before the show commenced Bunuba elders June Oscar and Dillon Andrews welcomed the audience and invoked the spirits of the country. There was undoubtedly a vibe, a spiritual feeling, that this was more than just a theatre show.

On the final night at Windjana Patsy Bedford called all the Bunuba people up on stage to share the applause and the final, show-closing dance. It was a moment of community joy and pride that would be difficult to surpass.

Under the community participation program supported by Fitzroy Futures, pre-show dance performances were presented by the Bunuba Yilimbirri dancers, the Ngarinyin dancers from Mowanjum, a Bunuba women's group, and the Wangkatjunka dancers. Fine arts, arts and crafts and food stalls from the Fitzroy Valley community helped lend a festival atmosphere to the event. And on the last night Paul Kelly gave an unforgettable performance, supported by Danny Marr, and other local performers.

Audience numbers averaged 463 over the 5 nights. Another 184 lucky campers got cheap tickets for the dress rehearsal night.

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The Halls Creek show was the crew killer, with less than 72 hours to bump out of Windjana, travel, and bump in at our site at the foot of Red Hill at Lundja Community. But they did it in style. It was a freezing desert night, and we were not able to have fires backstage. It was tough going for the cast; especially the Indigenous actors wearing only loincloths. Nevertheless they put on an incredibly strong performance.

Numbers were not quite what we hoped for at this free community performance supported by Lotterywest and Landcorp, with a crowd estimated at 325. Transport issues, the cold weather and the start time were contributing factors. But we had also insisted on a limited number of tickets being distributed due to health and safety concerns, and not all those who wanted tickets were able to get them.

With the benefit of hindsight, the venue and infrastructure could have coped with more than we had initially allowed, and there is no doubt the crowd would have been better if we had been able to throw the venue open and emphasise it as a community celebration rather than a 'limited availability' situation.

The audience response was hugely positive. Afterwards there was more than one comment along the lines of "it was the best thing to ever happen in Halls Creek."

Our thanks to Siobhan Casson and Trevor Bedford for their assistance in making this unique performance possible.

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Prior to leaving Broome we had to make the hard call to change the Kununurra venue from Mirima National Park to the grounds of Kununurra District High School. At our final reconnaissance the swarms of insects on dusk at the Mirima location, from midgies and mossies to big black monsters, (without any lights to emphasise the problem) forced us to conclude that it was unlikely the cast would be able to perform properly under lights. The change did attract some negative feedback.

KDHS were magnificent in stepping into the breach and making their grounds available. We were able to organise a number of in-school activities with the cast; and students from the school's Follow the Dream program assisted on show nights as ushers and front of house assistants.

The three shows were all successful, with an average attendance of 299. On opening night the Miriwoong dancers "opened the country" for us with a beautiful pre-show performance. A standing ovation on the last night provided a fitting finale to the Jandamarra Returns tour.

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At all three "non Bunuba" venues traditional owners of country formally welcomed the cast and crew: Pat Dodson and Di Appleby for the Yawuru in Broome; a group of Kija and Jaru women in Halls Creek; and Miriwoong man Teddy Carlton in Kununurra. We thank them all. June Oscar and Dillon Andrews travelled with the show throughout as Bunuba representatives and ambassadors. There was a strong spirit of mutual goodwill, and reciprocal pride between the Bunuba and their hosts as we travelled through the Kimberley.

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It was in every sense a demanding tour, but all the cast and crew performed magnificently. As major tours go, especially given the remoteness and the logistical challenges, it was remarkably trouble free. There were of course one or two hiccups; it would be impossible to have everything run perfectly smoothly amongst 31 people over 8 weeks. But the spirit remained strong throughout, professional attitudes were maintained, and the show always went on. Many of the crew, seasoned professionals all, remarked that it was the best gig they had ever done.

Without exception, the cast provided strong performances throughout the tour. From the company's perspective the highlight was the emergence of the local performers: the triumphant debut of Patsy Bedford as Jini; Emmanuel Brown stepping up to the leading role of Yilimarra with absolute distinction, not to mention his cameo role as Jacky that had the audience - especially the Indigeneous members - in fits of laughter every night; and Kevy Spratt also stepping up to the more senior role of Ilaji.

Special mention must go to our singer Kristin Gumbayi Andrews, who stepped up to the role on short notice when a family bereavement meant that George Brooking was no longer available. Kristin performed magnificently, also working on stage as a member of the Bunuba ensemble.

And we must acknowledge the wonderful performance of Damion Hunter in the lead role. Damion was not cast until very late in the piece. He embraced it whole heartedly. He did an outstanding job of learning the Bunuba language and delivering it fluently, to the delight of his Bunuba mentors. He provided a powerful and sensitive performance in an incredibly demanding role.

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One of the most gratifying aspects of the tour was the way the show seemed to work for and appeal to all demographics. We had powerful and emotional feedback from all sorts. From the professionals and theatre buffs from Perth and the eastern states, to the surprised campers who came to a dress rehearsal at Windjana; from professional critics to remote community members who had no prior concept of theatre before seeing the show. Old women in Halls Creek were in tears. A 10 year old from Sydney was role playing as Jandamarra, hand held high a la Damion's iconic gesture, the morning after he saw the show in Broome.

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"A triumph of logistics, persistence and passion . Jandamarra has many of the qualities of an ancient Greek myth-based drama, with its themes of hubris, betrayal, violence, magic and a hero tragically conflicted in his loyalties while tormented by an angry god . its best moments come with its representation of Bunuba culture and insights into clan affairs."

Steve Bevis, The West Australian

Jandamarra, a play honouring the life of the Bunuba lawman and warrior who led a battle of resistance, is performed in situ and in language . The theatrical production tracks Jandamarra's return to his people, and endorses his gradual achievement of mythic status. From time to time the backdrop - the rockface of Windjana Gorge - is brilliantly illuminated, stunning its audience with altered scale and otherworldly dimensions. My brother says it makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and I understand what he means . When the actor shouts "Here!" we feel the weird profundity of return, the privilege of seeing a story knitted so utterly to its originating place ... We can't really speak when the production finishes. There is the shyness, the reserve, that true artworks inspire.

Gail Jones, The Monthly

"The ghost of Jandamarra has returned to the warrior's Kimberley heartland in a spectacular production . Not many theatrical shows can claim to create history, but Jandamarra can make that claim . This fine retelling of the Jandamarra story has many strengths . The spiritual aspects of the story are given prominence, aided by beautiful abstracted imagery by Bunuba artist Kaylene Marr (and) composer David Pye's atmospheric soundscape.

"There are magical moments which hint at other ways of conveying meaning - like Trevor Ryan, as tracker Mingo Mick, conjuring up magical power to track down Jandamarra and blowing it to the four winds in a dramatic gesture of hands. Or Emmanuel Brown's brilliantly funny cameo role as Jacky, a fawning, limping comic figure with a style of humour Aboriginal people in the audience immediately recognized and applauded."

Victoria Laurie, ABC 720 online

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"I was wondering whether there was any possibility of getting a copy of, or part of, the script for Jandamarra the play. A class from our school attended the play at Windjana Gorge this week and were deeply captured by it. Some expressed that they would like to try to act out the play."

Email from the Principal, Kulkarriya Community School, Noonkanbah

"Our class really loved the play. We wrote stories about Jandamarra, made up and acted out a play based on the play performed at Red Hill and created posters advertising our play."

Teacher, Warlawurru Catholic School, Halls Creek

"The Jandamarra play was "Outstanding".  The actors were great.  As the kids put it  "too deadly".  The kids were mesmerised by the whole event.  Seeing live actors on stage was something very different for the kids as well as the older people. " 

Millie Hills, Halls Creek

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All this is this is a very new thing to all our Kimberley people. They have never, ever experienced a live play. They all went into the audience, they came in, they said, "Oh what time the picture going to start?" So this is an eye opener, they've never experienced the theatre play, from the little kids, right up to the adults, and when they did, at the end of the night they just said, "Wow." They've never, ever seen anything like this . The Elders just really said well, the comment is, "We got to start telling it out there."

Patsy Bedford

All the reports we've been hearing from people through where we've travelled, you know from Broome, and the welcome we received from Yawuru People, and what this story meant to them, and how they've heard it, and the feedback started from there. It was just really positive. People felt really moved. They felt connected. People were brought to tears with this ...

I can't think of any performances that we've had across the Kimberley where people have said anything negative about it. It's all been very positive, and it's all been fantastic encouragement, and admiration, and pride for all the cast members, and everyone, and it's just been something that I've been very, very proud to be a part of.

June Oscar

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An online survey was conducted amongst all those for whom we had contact details: primarily on line purchasers from our website, and those who purchased from the Broome and Kununurra Visitor Centres and provided contact details. As such this was representative to a large degree of the non Indigenous audience. The responses were overwhelmingly positive:

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Our most important audience was the Bunuba community. June Oscar and Patsy Bedford reflected on this at the end of the tour.

Well it had a lot of positive effects on the community. The children were really engaged, and even at every performance the children were focussed, they were listening, watching, taking everything in, and I think we've found a key to how we can engage young people of all ages, and people, older people too ... They were able to see some brilliant performance, fantastic acting from people they knew, and people that they have come to know, and they were hearing their language, and they were proud, because they were Bunuba kids, and they were then using that language ... So that was one of the big highlights for me is that we've found something here that the children can relate to, that they find interesting, and they are engaging with it, and so Jandamarra performance was fantastic in that way, and many, many other ways ...

It has enabled people in our community to feel proud about themselves. Have a real strong sense of pride in who they are, and what country means, and that these young people especially, young adults with their young families, they are able to connect with all those places that were mentioned in the play, and they are starting to think about their lives, and their futures, and how they look after this country, Bunuba country, the country that Jandamarra fought for ...

It made old people really proud to hear Bunuba, and especially Mum, who is one of the last real workers, working on language coaching, and training us, Patsy and me, in this, and she's always there giving her support to all different things in the community, but this was something that was really precious to her, and she saw her role very serious, and important in getting the language right, and it made her proud to see at the end of the day, all her work with the actors, who were Bunuba, and non-Bunuba, using Bunuba in this story telling way ... And having it at Windjana Gorge was a really special thing. That's where the battle happened. That's where the story was able to come alive, and to liven up that country again, and to be able to work with DEC, who were fantastic, and how nothing was difficult, or impossible with them, they worked with us, Bunuba Films, and Bunuba community, and I think it was really a win, win, win, for everybody. And it certainly has planted a lot of ideas. Not just one seed, but a lot of seeds in our heads to think about how we work together to look after that country, that's at the heart of this story.

It was really spiritual for us. You know, it just got touched in there. It was sad leaving the place, but we knew the place had come alive. We had brought the place alive, although Jandamarra is gone, but we think Jandamarra is still alive now, more alive in a different way. Bunuba people have got more strength to fight in different ways for what we want in this day, like Dillon said, "Let's look to tomorrow." And I think that was a big challenge for us as Bunuba People, and we're fighters in our own right in the Western world with politics, and whatever's going on with our land, our language, and our culture, and I think this has made us stronger for our tomorrow.

I think the play has been a catalyst to bringing unity across the Bunuba, because like Patsy says, we're all fighters, we're all focussed in our own area of our strengths, and sometimes we're busy pursuing all those things, and we're all going off on our own paths, but the Jandamarra, the play, and the work that was involved, and the way that work needed all of us to be working together, and sharing, and building on each other's strength, I think it's - Jandamarra himself has been the catalyst for re-grouping, and re-strengthening as a collective, the Bunuba community, so instead of everyone being scattered, it's Jandamarra himself, I believe, has brought us together to think about, "Well as a group of people how do we work together to continue the fight to look after the country that he fought for?" And he gave his life for that country, and his people ...

it's been just such a wonderful, wonderful, experience for me to be in that creative space, where my total focus has been in this creative space, and how that's helped me to just de-stress, and just have fun, and with something so positive, and unifying, and so today, being the last day of the show, it's sort of telling me, "It's coming to an end." So I've got this sad feeling that we've got to go back to all the other fights, the other challenges, but I think we'll take the strength, and the rejuvenation from this space, that all our batteries have been recharged again, so we come back to that other place with new energy, and positive, and good energy, I reckon.


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The final results show that the tour made a small surplus of $14,900, with income of $1,136 million, and expenditure of $1.121 million.* Box office and self generated income actually came in $29,000 under budget at $152,200, but this was offset by tight expenditure controls that achieved savings against budget.

Given that we embarked on the tour with a budget that was repeatedly shaved and trimmed from the initial estimates, and that we faced enormous logistical and planning challenges with a contingency line of zero, this is a matter of some pride and great relief to the company.

(* Figures exclude development and operational costs 2008-11 of $228,400, supported by the Aboriginal Lands Trust and Fitzroy Futures.)

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BCE believes that by any measure the Jandamarra Tour was a resounding success.

It was a landmark event in the Kimberley.

On a per capita ratio, given the Kimberley population of 40,000, the overall attendance of 5,097 equates to attendances in Perth of 200,000 people.

It was mounted and successfully run by a small, independent Indigenous company from Fitzroy Crossing with no permanent staff, infrastructure or reserves.

We gratefully acknowledge the support from our sponsors, funders and community partners who helped to make it possible.

After the initial season in Perth in 2008 we set ourselves the objective of taking the show home to the Kimberley. It took us three years to achieve this, but we could not be happier with, or prouder of the result.

To quote June Oscar:
So we've had really good reviews, and I think it has to go to the rest of Australia. This is a show that can go on the road now.

The next phase for the play is to explore potential touring opportunities within Australia, and beyond. Let us see what the future brings!

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And many, many more local organisations and individuals


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Damion Hunter Jandamarra
Patsy Bedford Jini
Kelton Pell Marralum
Danny Marr Dibinarra
Emmanuel J. Brown Yilimarra & Jacky
Steve Turner Joe
Margaret Mills Mary
Trevor Ryan Mingo Mick
Peter Docker Forrest And Richardson
Sandra Umbagai-Clark Mayannie & Wiyali
Cody Fern Lindsay & Trooper
Kevin Spratt Ilaji
Mark Coles Smith Darudi & Georgie
Kristin Andrews Singer & Bunuba Man
Writer & Producer Steve Hawke
Director & Dramaturge Phil Thomson
Co-Director Kelton Pell
Language & Cultural Advisors June Oscar, Mona Oscar, Patsy Bedford, Selina Middleton, Dillon Andrews
Project Management Services P & M Management; Paul MacPhail & Meredith Warne
Production Manager Andrew Portwine
Co-Director Kelton Pell
Co-Director Kelton Pell
Designer Set & Costume Bryan Woltjen
Sound Designer David Pye
Lighting Designer Joseph Mercurio
Costume Supervisor Colleen Sutherland
Animation Artist Kaylene Marr
Animator Ian Tregonning
AV Design Mia Holten
Stage Manager Emma Hawkes
Assistant Stage Manager Georgia Landre-Ord
Marketing & Publicity Lauren Elliott, Muse Bureau
Graphic Design Amy Moffatt
Web Design Ben Van Grootel
Production Photography Matt Scurfield

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