A month-long festival of First Nations culture is tackling deeply ingrained stereotypes and showing us the issues that unite us. By Emma Joyce
THE AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM is launching its first festival of Aboriginal and Pacific cultures. Weave will include a program of participatory events from meditation with Wiradjuri cultural practitioners Milan Dhiiyaan (Laurance and Fleur Magick Dennis) through to watching master weavers Phyllis Stewart and Steve Russell create a four-metre canoe honouring the Indigenous fisherwomen of Sydney Harbour. Laura McBride, who co-curated the new Garrigarrang: Sea Country – the Museum’s first Indigenous Australian exhibition since 1997 – is the force behind this new festival. “We want to represent ourselves,” she says. “We’re working in a building that still holds [the bodies of] over 500 of our ancestors. That history needs to be discussed in a way that people can participate in the healing.”
‘Weave’ is a metaphor for the way McBride wants people to engage with the history shared in the festival. “If we sit together and weave our knowledges and experiences we can build a better, shared future. Also, this is a festival of 256 distinct cultures (at least) within Australia, plus the Pacific cultures, but one custom crosses all of those cultures: weaving.”
Running throughout March, Weave includes a new exhibition,
Gadi, that McBride hopes will introduce the people of the grasstree – the Gadigal people – and their rich and significant history. “Archaeological material, for example a stone flake, shows we were the first astronomers, the first axe makers, the first bread makers. Australia should be shouting that from the rooftops.” Guided meditation sessions by Milan Dhiliyaan, Wailwan and Wiradjuri practitioners will introduce a “very old teaching of deep listening” that she says is “learning Aboriginal culture in an Aboriginal way”.
There’s also the world premiere of virtual reality film Carriberrie, which takes a 360-degree cinematic perspective of dance and song filmed in locations including Uluru. Screenings of documentary Connection to Country, meanwhile, highlight a battle the local people of the Western Australian Pilbara are embroiled in with the mining industry. Ultimately, says McBride, “I want people to appreciate what was lost – and what we will lose. And I want to provide a space for Aboriginal people to tell their own stories.”
Francis Williams of the Naygayiw Gigi Dance Troupe