Cre­ativ­ity born from var­ied past

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Ali­cia Perera

In its 150 years of his­tory, the town of Roe­bourne has faced more up­heaval and strug­gle than most.

But one thing its var­ied his­tory has done is make it a place rich in sto­ries.

To­day, th­ese sto­ries have been the cat­a­lyst for Roe­bourne’s re­cent growth into an arts town.

Al­most ev­ery kind of art is now flour­ish­ing here, from tra­di­tional paint­ing to mu­sic, film, theatre and dance.

To­gether, they form a rich arts cul­ture that is not seen in neigh­bour­ing Pil­bara towns.

As many Roe­bourne lead­ers are at­tempt­ing to change the im­age of the town from a place de­fined by its past trauma to one fo­cus­ing on a uni­fied, pos­i­tive fu­ture — what some call the “New Roe­bourne” — one of the key ways that new nar­ra­tive is be­ing told is through the arts, in all forms.

Art old and new

One of the first signs of Roe­bourne’s em­pha­sis on the arts is that there are not one, but two, art cen­tres on the main street.

At Yin­jaa-Barni Art, chair­woman, artist and el­der Allery Sandy sits work­ing on a can­vas that is one of her two pos­si­ble en­tries for the Cos­sack Art Awards mid-year.

She is one of 16 artists who has been with the group since it was es­tab­lished in 2006.

It and Roe­bourne Arts Group are the main cen­tres of paint­ing and crafts in town and both en­ter mul­ti­ple ex­hi­bi­tions each year.

Ms Sandy spe­cialises in aerial paint­ings, por­tray­ing land­forms seen from above in bold colours and or­ganic pat­terns.

“I sit and look at the coun­try and I look at the colours,” she said.

“I guess for me, it’s al­ways that happy feel­ing, and colours that bring joy. I like to have some­thing that’s bright and beau­ti­ful.

“Ev­ery­one’s re­ally changed a lot from where we were to what we are to­day. We’re putting more work into our art, and it’s amaz­ing.” That said, one of the most in­ter­est­ing di­men­sions of Roe­bourne’s arts scene is how, for such an old town, it has also em­braced cut­ting-edge new me­dia.

Dig­i­tal sto­ry­teller Stu Camp­bell led the de­vel­op­ment of print and in­ter­ac­tive comic book se­ries Neo­mad, based on cul­tural mythol­ogy and real Roe­bourne peo­ple, in 2012.

It was a hit and kick-started more dig­i­tal sto­ries through arts com­pany Big hART.

He said the pop cul­ture work was de­signed to get young res­i­dents en­thu­si­as­tic about their town.

“The in­ten­tion of the video game right from the start was to cap­ture Roe­bourne as an ex­cit­ing, fun, play­ful, en­er­getic, lively place, where all th­ese kids were liv­ing,” he said.

“To fo­cus on giv­ing them a great op­por­tu­nity that was pos­i­tive and en­joy­able for ev­ery­one.”

Also in­volved in Neo­mad was Tyson Mowarin, a pro­lific film­maker who owns Wee­ri­anna Street Me­dia in Roe­bourne. He cre­ated the award-win­ning Wel­come to Coun­try app last year.

“My main aim do­ing films is to cre­ate a liv­ing, breath­ing ar­chive for our his­tory,” he said.

“So peo­ple can see them and learn. Not just keep them in an ar­chive in Can­berra where some­one can see them in 100 years time, but to give ac­cess to them.”

Con­tent and com­plex

One of the most re­cent and in­flu­en­tial play­ers in the Roe­bourne arts com­mu­nity is na­tional arts and so­cial jus­tice or­gan­i­sa­tion Big hART.

Big hART cre­ative di­rec­tor Scott Rankin was re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing the group to the town in late 2009, when fe­male el­ders in­vited them to help tell sto­ries of a more pos­i­tive and fu­ture-ori­ented Roe­bourne.

From there, Big hART and the com­mu­nity jointly de­vel­oped a broad arts pro­ject called Yi­jala Yala.

Both words mean “now” in the Ngar­luma and Yind­jibarndi lan­guages re­spec­tively and were cho­sen to con­vey the idea of a new Roe­bourne.

As well as Neo­mad, the pro­gram has in­volved crit­i­cally ac­claimed the­atri­cal show Hip­bone Stick­ing Out, the mu­si­cal Murru Pro­ject, youth film­mak­ing work­shops SMASHED Films, and the up­com­ing tra­di­tional song and dance show the Tjaabi Pro­ject, with lo­cal artist Pa­trick Churn­side.

Big hART pro­ducer An­gela Prior ex­plained their work was de­signed to be in­ter­gen­er­a­tional.

“There’s knowl­edge with older peo­ple, there’s the fu­ture with the younger peo­ple, and as a com­mu­nity it’s all con­nected,” she said.

“Art is part of build­ing and ex­plor­ing those con­nec­tions.”

The most con­crete sign of Roe­bourne’s re­cent com­mit­ment to the arts has been the es­tab­lish­ment of the Ngurin Cul­tural Cen­tre.

It was an ini­tia­tive of the Ngar­luma and Yind­jibardni Foun­da­tion Ltd, who pro­vided all the fund­ing and are try­ing to fill it with events to en­gage the com­mu­nity.

NYFL has built the am­phithe­atre and cen­tral build­ing in stages over the past sev­eral years and Big hART is the cur­rent com­pany in res­i­dence.

Mr Rankin be­lieves that with the cen­tre in place as a com­mu­nity hub, Roe­bourne’s rep­u­ta­tion as an arts cen­tre will only grow.

“Big hART is work­ing on the ca­pac­ity and con­tent and NYFL is work­ing on the com­plex,” he said.

“When that cul­tural cen­tre is fin­ished, the prob­lem in Roe­bourne will be find­ing a place to park.”


In Roe­bourne to­day, the arts are a pow­er­ful way for res­i­dents to tell their sto­ries both in­di­vid­u­ally and as a com­mu­nity with a com­mon goal. Big hART’s Mr Rankin has a pas­sion­ate be­lief in the town’s po­ten­tial to be a ma­jor arts cen­tre in WA and Aus­tralia.

“It’s the best place in the world to be work­ing as artists, Roe­bourne,” he said.

“For us (Big hART), you don’t want to be work­ing with the hip­sters in Su­bi­aco and Brunswick and Ballinghurst. You don’t want to be pre­dictable and bor­ing, sur­rounded by the same sto­ries that ev­ery­one wants to tell. You want to be at the coal­face of the 21st cen­tury. And here in Roe­bourne is that place. It is a cul­tural fron­tier town which is sit­ting on the most beau­ti­ful de­posits of cul­ture, far big­ger than any min­er­als.”

There are many more sto­ries for Roe­bourne still to tell and no short­age of me­dia, or pas­sion­ate res­i­dents, to tell them.

Mr Camp­bell said artist Ms Sandy once summed up the ef­fect while watch­ing a Neo­mad in­ter­ac­tive comic. “When she first ex­pe­ri­enced the iPad app, and she tapped on the speech bub­bles and heard the voices, she said she just thought this is such a great con­tin­u­a­tion of how we’ve al­ways told sto­ries, where you’d hear the voices, telling you the story,” he said.

“She made that con­nec­tion to the old ways that they would hear sto­ries.

“And I thought wow, what a great way to keep the tra­di­tion alive.”

Pic­ture: Ali­cia Perera

Max Cop­pin and artist Allery Sandy with one of her can­vases at the Yin­jaa-Barni Art stu­dio.

Pic­tures: Ali­cia Perera

Th­ese boys are part of the real-life cast for the Love Punks gang in comic se­ries Neo­mad, based on ac­tual Roe­bourne res­i­dents.

Big hART’s An­gela Prior and Stu Camp­bell in the Ngurin Cul­tural Cen­tre, where the arts group is the com­pany in res­i­dence.

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