Performance Poets at Tilley’s, Canberra 5 November 1997
Nurrunderi - the Milky Way - watches over us, reminding us of the need for ceremony and keeping up the lore which protects the country from degradation. This was the theme of the story told by Martakupat Potawurtj about how Nurrunderi, chasing his errant wives, formed the lower reaches of the Murray River and created many features of the Curong. His wives, feeling guilty for breaking the lore, are now the rocks off Kangaroo Island where they drowned themselves. In sadness at their plight, Nurrunderi was taken by the Great Spirit from Kangaroo Island to become the Milky Way.
Martakupat Potawurtj, a Bindjali man whose English name is Darren Perry, is a second-generation stolen child, currently studying Cultural Heritage Management at University of Canberra. Brought up by foster parents in Queensland, he has only recently been able to trace his family back via his birth in the infirmary of Long Bay Gaol and his mother's institutional upbringing in Melbourne to his South Australian Bindjali and Narinjeri origins. He told his story at the Cabaret for Native Title presented by Australians for Native Title and Canberra Performance Poets at Tilley's Devine Cafe on Tuesday November 4.
The Poets, in conjunction with Second Stage, present a monthly eclectic form of theatre they call "Crash Cabaret": unadorned readings of new poems (this time by Anne Edgeworth, Peter Latona, Ken Brewer, Pauline Brooks, Laurie McDonald); strongly dramatised readings (Hal Judge, Kim Houghton) often with accompaniments, this week on digeridoo, guitar and violin; the ubiquitous comedians Fabulous Fred and Wicked Barb; musical acts of all kinds. Eugene Vincent produced amazing harmonics on the digeridoo on Tuesday, as an intro to a C&W style song about the importance of Albert Namatjira.
The purpose of Crash Cabaret is to give the chance for poets to perform their work, new writers to find an audience, and break the bounds of expectations with events which are at least half unplanned - relying on an unpredictable mix of writers and performers who turn up on the night. This is a kind of open-house (open-cafe?) theatre which suits Tilley's, perhaps the only place in town brave enough to put it on.
Nights must vary in quality and excitement level, but for me it was invaluable to hear the Aboriginal story among other people's poetry of place. The non-Aboriginal work all seemed to require degrees of intellectual decoding in order to find the feeling, while a young first timer, Yuga Avatar Hart, went straight to the heart with simple words about identity. Talking of non-indigenous people who have genuinely tried to help, he said "All their words, their kindness / Can they never feel the pain?" and left in the air the past, the present and the dilemma of reconciliation.
While Canberra Performance Poets and Tilley's give the opportunity for moments like this to happen, maybe Nurrunderi can smile a little and look down on us with some hope, after two centuries, of renewed lore and ceremony.© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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