Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fresh Perspectives: Teaching Australian Indigenous Perspectives in Drama - Workshop for Drama Australia Conference October 2014

Fresh Perspectives: Australian Indigenous Drama - Wheres your place? Whats your landscape? What’s your story? How do I tread with soft padded feet?
By Mark Eckersley

(A workshop developed for the Drama Australia National Conference Evolve 2014 in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, October 2014)

Fresh Perspectives: Australian Indigenous Drama - Wheres your place? Whats your landscape? What’s your story? How do I tread with soft padded feet?

Acknowledgement of Place
·      I respectfully acknowledge the Yuggera and Murri peoples on whose land I grew up in QLD, the Wurundjeri and Wathaurong peoples where I work and raise my children. I would like to pay respect to the traditional and original owners of this land the Muwinina  (mu wee nee nah) people. I pay respect to those that have passed before us and to acknowledge today the Tasmanian Aboriginal communities who are the custodians of this land

(Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workshop participants or readers of this material should be aware that this workshop/document/blog may contain images and names of people who have since passed away)

Before I start this workshop, I would like to point out what some researchers have highlighted as the most important aspects when teaching and dealing with indigenous Australian drama and theatre. There have been a couple of studies into teaching using indigenous learning models, history, literature and drama. Significant studies have been done by Harris (1980), Ishtar (1994), Moriarty (1995), Syron (2005), Harrison & Greenfield (2011), Casey (2012) and Harrison (2012). The main points in working in this area seem to be:

  • Teaching indigenous relationships to place and identity as communal or collective rather than individual
  • Avoiding (or making conscious) stereotypical assumptions and notions about indigenous people particularly in relation to 'place' and identity'
  • Establishing strong collaboration between schools or teachers and the local indigenous community and the local indigenous arts organisations
  • Indigenous knowledge and culture has a deep connection to cultural process and production, indigenous protocols, story ownership, sense of place, identity and spiritual beliefs (Casey 2012)
  • Using drama and theatre as a "catalyst for cultural, political and social change... challenging existing assumptions of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal culture, politics and theatre" (Syron 2005)

Workshop Aims
·      The aim of this workshop is to focus on the theme of Evolving Possibilitieswith a focus on the Cross Curricular framework of ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories and perspectives’
·      To develop a cultural understanding of indigenous perspectives through exploring specific activities and storytelling
·      Outline links between the dramatic elements in more traditional ceremonies & modern Indigenous Theatre
·      To look at the integration of different cultures, narratives, cross-arts initiatives and cultural awareness so that drama teachers can engage with the cross-curriculum priorities and your students
·      To show a number of techniques and activities for classroom teachers and drama educators to explore and implement 'Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander cultures, histories and perspectives
·      Through a sense of place, landscape, story, song and dance we shall explore how to teach Indigenous Australian culture, histories and perspectives.
·      Important focus questions of Where’s your place? Where’s your landscape? What’s your story? And how do I tread with soft padded feet?”

Indigenous Perspectives as a Cross-Curriculum Priority
·      The inclusion of cross-curriculum priorities in the Australian National Curriculum are an attempt to
…equip young Australians with the skills, knowledge and understanding that will enable them to engage effectively with and prosper in a globalised world. (ACARA, 2012).
·      Observation - Teachers feel they do not have enough knowledge, skill, understanding and resources to use Indigenous Australian literatures, stories, cultures and histories appropriately and effectively in their curriculum.
·      Observation - Teachers find it difficult to decide what a cross-curriculum priority is and how, where and why they should plan it in the curriculum

Drama and Drama Teachers are perfectly placed to be advocates and leaders teaching Cross-Curriculum Priorities
·      Drama and drama education has been used successfully on work in a number of cross-curriculum and social education initiatives such as development of literacy skills (Abbott 2013 and Rieg & Paquette 2009), AIDS and HIV awareness (Harvey, Stuart and Swan 2000) and Sustainability Education (McNaughton 2004)
·      To use a metaphor from Australian indigenous history, like the Macassan perahus (or praus) of the eighteenth century, Drama may be able to help teachers to navigate through the rough and sometimes unchartered Torres Strait of the Australian National Curriculum and Cross-curriculum priorities to the deeper waters and riches of indigenous Australian knowledges, practices and perspectives.
·      WARNING: Do not just work on material and ideas from Dreamtime stories and the long ago past of Indigenous cultures. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and history is a proud long living culture which is still living and growing today and the songlines of this culture continues in the people, the stories, the history and the culture as it continues today.
·      "Storytelling has always been a part of our Indigenous heritage, not just as entertainment, but an essential part of passing down the law and lineage of each group… and it is still alive today." (Justine Saunders in Brisbane 1989:vii)

Indigenous Perspectives and Indigenous Learning Styles are more suited to:
·      Learning by personal trial demonstration, or learning by doing, not by talking
·      Learning from real life or by practice (learning by 'wholes', not sequenced parts) 
·      Learning through context-specific skills, rather than the generalized principles, or learning skills for specific tasks rather than learning general principles. 
·      Emphasis on person-orientated learning and people and relationships rather than on information 
·      Learning by real life
·      Focusing on Indigenous artistic and cultural mores and practices 
         (Harris 1980: 39)

Indigenous Songdrama
·      Stories of the Great Father Spirit and the journeys of these peoples and their encounters described in songdrama
·      Indigenous Songdramas deal with the first stage of creation the activities of the Great Father Spirit
·      Oldest indigenous stories are half-spoken, half-sung songline form
Examples: Whale Arrival Story,The Three Brothers Story, the famous gwion gwion or jenagi jenagi (known to some as the stories of the Bradshaw Cave Dancers).

Songdrama Exercises
·      Imagine a relative, friend or event that although long past, has shaped the way you are and what you have become. Tell your partner the story using metaphoric rather than literal language. Tell the story in almost song-like tones.
·      The group starts a tapping rhythm or chant. Each member of the group sings a short story about where they come from. You can be metaphoric. The group keeps the rhythm or chant going until each person has shared their story.

Indigenous Totem and Dreamtime Drama
·      Totem drama is highly ritualistic
·      These stories and their enactment are often linked to dances, sung stories and body painting
·      It often involves painting of bodies with different earthen paints and colours to enact spirits
·      Uses specific chanting rhythms for the aspects of different spirits
·      Uses a central spatial focus sometimes with physical symbol like the tnatantja pole
·      Totem drama songs and dances are still shared today as seen in the film of ‘Ringbalin’ where a number of indigenous people and clans share their stories and dances to dance the lifeblood back into the Murray-Darling River.
·                You and students can even download the Ringbalin phone app to hear the stories and take the journey:

Totem and Dreamtime Drama Exercises
·      This can be done in pairs, small groups or in a large group
·      Think of an animal or bird or feature of the place or landscape in which you live
·      Develop a simple gesture or action which shows this animal, bird or landscape
·      Say the name of the animal, bird or landscape feature and do the action
·      Now show and say the name of your totem and the whole group repeats it back
·      You can start to add a chant if you want to build the momentum of the chant and gesture.
·      You can even define a space through placing a set of pebbles or some earth on the ground around your space or 'place'. Think what your animal totem for your space or ‘nation’ will be. Create a rhythm and simple sequence of repeatable gestures, actions and/or movements for your nation you can even have students create a sacred space and have someone visit and share in the space.
·      An extension to this involves looking at the hills, mountains, rocks or any geographic features that are outside and through using one geographic feature thinking of an animal which that feature could represent

Rainbow Serpent Myth Story
7,000 BC     Here is a Rainbow Serpent Creation Story from the Kunwinjku peoples of Western Arnhem Land. A common activity I use is Reader’s Theatre with students using Dreamtime stories. I normally chose more than one Reader’s Theatre narrators
Far out in the Dreamtime, there were only people, no animals or birds, no trees or bushes, no hills or mountains. The country was all flat.
Goorialla, the great rainbow serpent, stirred and set off to search for his own tribe. He travelled across Australia from South to North. He reached Cape York where he stopped and made a big red mountain called Narabullgan. He listened on the wind and heard only strange voices speaking strange languages.
This is not my country. The people here speak a different tongue. I must look further for my own people.

Goorialla left Narabullgan and his body made a deep gorge where he came down. He travelled North, stopping every evening to listen on the wind for his own people. He travelled for many days and his tracks made the creeks and the rivers as he journeyed North.
His next resting place was at Fairfield where he made the lily lagoon – Millilinka. Goorialla turned his great body round and round but the ground was too hard to make it deep.

One day he heard a voice singing on the wind. He heard, “Haaa! Haaa!
That was my people singing,” said sad Goorialla, “They are holding a big Bora.” As he travelled North, the singing became louder and louder…

Traditional Indigenous Dance and Mime
·      Primary and Secondary students alike love to learn Indigenous dances and animal moves. The following mimes and movements can be taught on their own or done with an audio or videoclip such as:

·      Abel Tasman, Captain Cook and other Western sailors were not the first to make contact with Australian Indigenous people. Probably around the 13th Century Macassan traders made contact and traded with Indigenous people. 
·      The following song lyrics by rock group Yothu Yindi were originally written as a poem and a tribute to the Macassan traders who made contact with and traded peacefully with Indigenous people for many hundreds of years.
·      We are going to create a dance or movement piece to accompany music or a song. This can be done with students as a short exploration or as a performance piece. Here are some videoclips of some Indigenous songs about Macassan Traders and contact:
     Yothu Yindi - 'Macassan Crew'
     Traditional Indigenous Songcycle on Macassan arrival
     Here is a newsclip outlining the controversy about the date of the      arrival of the Macassan traders.
Macassan Crew
By Yothu Yindi

Yendharama birrapirra
Tradewinds blow
The southern cross
Taking their prau
Across the sea
They came in peace
Through the Ashmore Reef
Smoke and steel
And the Tamarind seed
Steer it up right
Steer it up true
Navigate the morning star
Brave Macassan crew
Sailed on through
The hole in the wall
The place we call Rarrakala
To the shores of the far North East
Smoke, steel and the Tamarind tree

Gapala Mangatjay
Gapala Gurrumulnga
Navigate the morning star
Brave Macassan crew
Miyaman Matjala,
Miyaman Gurrumulnga,
Daynggatjing Garrnhdalu,
Daymulung Wila'wila'yun,

Miyaman Mangatjay,
Miyaman Gurrumulngu
Daynggatjing Garrnhdalu,
Daymulung Wila'wila'yun,

Steer it up right
Steer it up true
Navigate the morning star
Brave Macassan crew

Other Suggested Activities
·      ‘Statues Come to Life’ or ‘A Night at the Museum’ - Have students research various famous indigenous historical figures and during Indigenous Awareness Week the students comes to life when groups visit their statue. This can also be performed in a group like ‘A Night at the Museum’
·      Read Media events or historical accounts of events and discuss and deconstruct dramatic elements, cultural bias and stereotypes. Make or create new interpretations of these media events or historical accounts using Image Theatre or Forum Theatre
·      Make connections with members of your local indigenous communities and learn the original place names for parts of your area or learn the stories and discuss ways that these could be presented.
·      Take some poems or plays by Australian indigenous poets and playwrights and use these as the basis for theatre pieces or act out speeches or scenes from Australian indigenous plays. Some poems which work successfully are:
Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s A Song of Hope and Jack Davis’ Jack Pat
A number of Australian Indigenous poems are available for use at:

Indigenous Drama in the 20th and 21st Centuries

We are now going to break into smaller groups (4 or 5 groups) and work for 10 minutes on working out ways to present and stage a number of extracts from Australian Indigenous plays. You can work with the style indicated for each play or you can come up with your own style of presentation.

Kevin Gilbert's The Cherry Pickers (1968)
This play was a turning point in Australian Indigenous drama. The Cherry Pickers was written in prison around 1968 and smuggled out of jail on toilet paper. The play uses mythical realism, chorus-like chants and uses colloquial and local dialect language features:  

I saw the inner earth, the rock of heart, the cycles and the change of time that winds us back to life and spirit in a form changed...”
Handouts! We get to feed our family when we’re starvin’ and go and sit on the holy mission. We have to swaller our pride and go and sit longa Christ for a while to catch a feed orf them...”
“But it ain’t against THE law… if a bloke is hungry and gotta eat then it’s all right. The whites kil’t our kangaroos, emu, duck. They stole our tucker, our land...

Robert J. Merritt’s The Cake Man (1974)

Poetic Realism – Epilogue The Cake Man
Sweet William: … Forget all this shit about giving me back my culture… What I want, what I’m here for is… it’s something else again… You ever heard of the eurie-woman? Well listen, then, I’ll tell you what’s an eurie-woman, and what it is I want here. I was working at the Killara Station … (Wide-eyed) an’ all of a sudden I heerd this emu drumming somewhere close. I got up am wen’ outside and stoked the fire, an all the time this emu was still drummin’. Soooo… while I was turnin’ round, I got the biggest fright of me whole life! It weren’t no emu, it was a woman. And she had hair that was shinin’ black, an’ it hung right down her backside. She was the prettiest woman I ever saw… yeah… she was an eurie woman… I fair bolted out a there… But it didn’t matter where I went, she was always in front of me … her hair shinin’ and swirling like it was made out of water, an’ her skin like black lightning. Well… then there is this gubba I was workin’ for, was sayin’ to me… ‘Come on, William, ain’t no eurie-woman… Come back to reality.’ (Pause) (Smiling sadly). Exac’ly what the eurie-woman was sayin’ to me… (Pause) Two realities. (Pause) An’ I lost one. (Pause) But I want it back … I need it back (Pause.) Not yours… mine.
Note: Originally this was done with Sweet William drunk with a bottle in hand. How does changing this help to undo stereotypes which surround indigenous people? How could this speech be done to reinforce a positive modern representation of indigenous culture?

Kevin Bostock’s Here Comes the Nigger (1976)

Political and Domestic Realism
Verna: (smiles): I’ll tell ya, most of the money that’s earmarked for blacks ends up in white pockets… They visit aboriginal reserves and communities, they shoot in for a day or two in their big, black government cars. But do they live with grassroots people and experience conditions for themselves. No they don’t. Instead, they stay in posh hotels where they can go to buffet luncheons and have room service with hot and cold running white girls.

N.B Political comments and speeches are often done by students in an overtly political way. Try doing Verna’s speech while doing different domestic tasks (i.e. making a cup of tea, ironing, sorting clothes)

Wesley Enoch & Deborah Mailman’s The Seven Stages of Grieving (1994)

Direct Address, Comic Theatre, Stand up Comedy
Scene 12 Murri Gets a Dress
 (Delivered in the style of stand up comedy) Have you ever been black? You know when you wake up one morning and you’re black? Happened to me this morning. I was in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, “Hey, nice hair, beautiful black skin, white shiny teeth ... I’m BLACK!”
 You get a lot of attention, special treatment when you’re black. I’m in this expensive shop and there’s this guy next to me, nice hair, nice tie, nice suit, waving a nice big pump-you-full-of-holes semi-automatic gun in the air and the shop assistants are all looking at me. “Keep an eye on the black one ... eye on the black one.”
 OK, so I went to try on a dress and the shop assistant escorts me to the ‘special’ dressing room, the one equipped with video cameras, warning to shop lifters, a security guard, fucken sniffer dog ... ‘Get out of it’. Just so I don’t put anything I shouldn’t on my nice dress, nice hair, beautiful black skin and white shiny teeth...”

Note: Students can think of an incident where they were insulted or suffered prejudice and turn it into a  stand up comedy piece of theatre.

Wesley Enoch’s Black Medea (2000)

Unity, Focus, Opposition, Juxtaposition

(Students can use soundscapes to help stage this speech. The two speeches can also be done together synchronised or as a Split Focus scene)

Medea: (Sound of the wind which Medea initially talks to) A loveless bed, the madness, a man – a shell of everything he is capable of, that’s what you left me. You have taken any peace I dreamed possible. (Talks to herself) I’ll take what’s mine. I gave him all the happiness he has, I gave him a home, I gave him a son, I gave him my life. I want a life in return… (Talks to the audience) I have sinned against all that is sacred… Do not judge me, for tonight I am coming home an outcast.

(Use movement and physical aspects to help stage this speech)

Jason: I had this dream. I am following this man… I can’t see his face but I know its my father. I am following him down this alley between two high walls… There are no doors or windows. I can hear other people. The alley’s only wide enough for one… I am following my father and I can see we’re in a line of men all walking in the same direction down this alley. Then we stop when we reach the end… I see my son … I want to show him the way out but I can’t show him anything…

Note: Are there other Ancient Greek plays or plays like those of Shakespeare which can be rewritten or transposed into an Australian Indigenous context.

Tom Wright’s Black Diggers (2014)

Didactic Dialogue and Irony

Black Diggers’ uncovers the contribution of First World War Aboriginal Diggers, following their exceptional stories of the battlefields of Gallipoli, Palestine and Flanders to their homelands were they were treated like animals and second-class citizens. Stylistically it was initially staged in the style of Brechtian Epic Theatre

“Four years I spent in uniform, all of us, ready to make a sacrifice. And I get back, and you say, with a stroke of a pen, that you can just wipe aboriginal land off the map…”
“Ex-servicemen are welcome here. We don’t see the skin. We see the service.”
“I still don’t have the faintest bloody idea what we were fighting for but I felt like I won something over there then I lost it back here.”

Conclusions about Teaching Australian Indigenous Perspectives in Drama
·      Indigenous Learning structures centered on personal trial demonstration, or learning by doing is suited to most drama teaching
·      Songdrama and early indigenous storytelling techniques of chants and rhythms can be used to tell metaphoric personal stories
·      Creating a special space or making or creating a special space can be an important technique to embrace from traditional Australian Indigenous Drama
·      Using traditional indigenous Dreamtime stories, music, animal movements is a useful starting place for doing Indigenous Drama
·      Using an Indigenous song or poem can be a good basis for a class or a performance piece
·      Modern Indigenous plays and speeches from plays written by Indigenous playwrights can be a good way to explore World Theatre and aspects of theatre style such as Realism, Poetic Realism, Non-Naturalism, Direct Address, Comic Address, Unity, Focus, Opposition and Juxtaposition
·      Doing Indigenous Drama should always involve concepts about ownership of ideas and stories remember what is important – Place, Identity, Stories and a link to the land.
·      Or to put it another way:
Wheres your place?
Whats your landscape?
What’s your story?
How do I tread with soft padded feet?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Useful Resources for Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in The Arts and Drama

Useful Resources for Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in The Arts and Drama

ABC Australian Broadcasting Commission TV Documentaries Unit. Frontier Stories from White Australia’s Forgotten War. Bruce Belsham [Dir.] Video (1997) DVD (2007).

ABC Australian Broadcasting Commission. 2005. Buried Alive: Sydney 1788-1792 Eyewitness Accounts of the Making of a Nation. ABC Sydney. Sydney. (DVD)

ABC Splash Education Website
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

ACARA website.
Sample Curriculum Maps

Australian Children’s Television Foundation. 2009. My Place for Teachers. ACTF. Sydney. (Website).

Bangarra Dance Company
Indigenous Dance Company.

Aboriginal Culture

Drama Australia
Drama Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Guidelines 

Drama Teachers Network
Indigenous Lesson Ideas – Play ‘Stolen’

Eckersley, Mark. (2012). Australian Indigenous Drama. Tasman Press. Altona.
Haddon, A.C. 1898. Torres Strait Islanders (short film). Australian Government Film Archives.

Kooemba Jdarra Theatre Company
Indigenous theatre company based in Brisbane.
Miers, J. 2008. Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories website.

NSW Department of Education and Communities Aboriginal Perspectives in the Creative Arts
Aboriginal Perspectives in the Creative Arts

Aboriginal Dreaming Unit

Resources for Teaching Primary Drama with Indigenous Units and Activities
Exploring the worlds of K-6 Drama: Ancient Anna to the Cloth of Dreams (book and video) 1999

Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives Resources Page

Queensland Government, Department of Education and Training
EATSIPS (Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in schools)

Reconciliation Australia 
The National Curriculum - Knowing the Truth about Australia's History

Questions and Fact Sheets

NSW AECG Aboriginal Education Unit. 1987. A Lesson in History: 1788-1988. Sydney. (Video).

South Australian Curriculum Standards and Accountability Framework
Aboriginal Perspectives

A number of Australian Indigenous poems are available for use at:

Yarra Healing. 2012. ‘Unit 7 Changing Lives Changing Ways’ on Teaching and Learning page (Website). CEO Melbourne (Catholic Education Organisation, Melbourne). Melbourne.