Aug 29, 2012

How the opera set put Yarrabah in tune with its past

Last night 1000 locals from the Aboriginal community of Yarrabah sat in the shade of a humongous mango tree to watch an opera. Crikey travelled to Far North Queensland to witness what it meant to locals.

Amber Jamieson — Freelance journalist in New York

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

Last night 1000 locals from the Aboriginal community of Yarrabah sat in the shade of an imposing mango tree -- it's known as the "watery" tree, thanks to its juicy fruit -- to watch the debut performance of Opera Australia’s latest production Yarrabah! The Musical. An hour's drive from Cairns, Yarrabah has had a fractured existence. It was formed in 1892, when the local indigenous people were convinced to join a mission established by priest John Gribble. Over the following decades, half-caste Aboriginal children from different clans of Queensland were taken from their families to live at Yarrabah in dormitories, where they worked without pay, and the girls were married off at 16. In recent years the community has struggled with unemployment, drug issues and severe over-crowding in houses. "Nowadays it's not a good picture. It's really negative," said Lucy Rodgers, who grew up in Yarrabah but had to move in recent years due to lack of housing. "A lot of it comes down to funding but at the same time we’ve got to be self-sufficient and do things from the ground up." Since his days working in the arts in Lismore, Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini has maintained a relationship with several elders in Yarrabah, who had long been keen to do a show about the community. "As soon as I got the job here [at Opera Australia] I got a call saying 'hey bro, you gonna do the opera about Yarrabah?'," Terracini told Crikey. He plans fto do a similar production in a different community each year. Written and directed by Rhoda Roberts -- and starring Australian Idol's Casey Donovan and local performer Troy Brady, plus a cast of 60 Yarrabah locals -- Yarrabah! The Musical tells the story of the town’s history from the 1890s until today. "It's really the story of the people who've lived there and died there and who are there now," said Terracini. Rodgers is on the steering committee for the project and speaks positively about the production's impact on the town. "It's a move forward for us and it's opening our doors for people to come across from Cairns and come into the community and see and say 'well Yarrabah can do it'. We're capable of doing anything," she told Crikey.

Locals take to the stage at the first performance of Yarrabah! The Musical last night

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3 thoughts on “How the opera set put Yarrabah in tune with its past

  1. Mike Flanagan

    Thanks Amber.
    It is good to read of the Arts attending to their social leadership responsibilities. In fact Opera Australia’s funding used to have a requirement that they toured the outback, but they always ignored the indegenous communities. It is great to read that things are changing.

  2. paddy

    Sounds like a brilliant gig.

  3. LolaGalah

    Yes, wonderful if DanceNorth could base something there as well.

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