2013 has been a year celebrating the diversity and breadth of Indigenous cultures across the country through numerous Indigenous festivals that have populated our arts landscape. But the inaugural Mbantua Festival, to be held over five days this coming weekend, promises to be an especially unique experience.
Hosted by the Arrente peoples of Central Australia, the program includes a stellar line-up of musicians, dancers and artists including Bernard Fanning, Frank Yamma, Missy Higgins, Jessica Mauboy, Djhupi band as well as local artists Jacinta Price, Rhubee Neale and Small Jupiter.
“This is a celebration of traditional and contemporary Indigenous theatre, film and art,” explains co-director of the festival Rachel Perkins, “But it is also a time for listening, learning and sharing. We have incorporated a number of workshops into the program that offer a chance to learn more about bush medicine, opportunities to carve boomerangs, as well a spear throwing competition. Not to mention we have 14 dance groups in the region involved so this is going to be a massive event!”
As more Indigenous festivals start emerging the distinctive features of each become more apparent.
“The Mbantua Festival is more than just an eclectic mix of Indigenous arts and culture,” says Perkins, “What makes us distinct is that we are very much inspired by the desert and its people, and we are here to tell these stories.”
Two festival events that reverberate with local history and are enthusiastically supported by its residents are Bungalow Song and Bush Mechanics Live. The former is a brand new work of musical theatre created in association with Opera Australia that offers its audiences a chance to remember, and be witness to, one of the first institutions set up to house Indigenous children of mixed parentage in Alice Springs.
After their first rehearsal a few weeks ago Perkins was bubbling with excitement, “They nailed it!” she exclaimed, “We have this fabulous group of talented young people here (all under 20) and vocally they are simply amazing! I’m so looking forward to sharing these stories with our audiences!”
With an enormous cast of forty this unique musical theatre piece is a poignant tribute to the lives and memories of those who grew up in one of the first institutions in the area.
“This is an important part of our history both here in the Northern Territory but also for Australians,” she says, “Its fitting that Bungalow Song opens the festival”.
Another show which has also been developed from the ground up is Bush Mechanics Live. Based upon the popular TV series which over the years has developed a cult following, this new theatrical event under the direction of Nigel Jamieson is sure to be a “red desert mad max experience” like no other.
“Nigel has directed large spectrum theatre experience and this cross-over into car culture, with choreographed machinery sequences, pyrotechnics and machine-on-machine demolition all set amidst the grandeur of the desert landscape, is certain to be event like no other.”
Curated with the intention of providing audiences with an intimate experience the Mbantua Festival promises to be an occasion that allows visitors to explore Indigenous culture through the lens of central Australians.
“Major songlines run through these sites,” says Perkins, “This is an opportunity for people to experience just sitting and listening being present and literally have the ochre rub off on you; this is an intimate, legitimate and authentic experience.”
Spanning five days, the Mbantua festival is sure to become an important event in the festival calendar: a culmination of tradition and contemporary Indigenous culture proudly shared and celebrated by the people of Central Australia.
Mbantua Festival – Awakening the Desert
Alice Springs 9-13 October 2013