Indigenous story reaches kids worldwide

13 June 2012 Artery

Children across the world are journeying through imaginary Indigenous lands in Insite Arts and TPO’s latest multimedia work, Saltbush.

In the most unlikely setting, Saltbush was born through a chance conversation passionate ‘whitefella’ Jason Cross had with Italian theatre director Davide Venturini, while strolling the banks of the Rhine River in Germany.

‘The first thing I do when I talk about Australia overseas is tell the story of the invasion and our cultural heritage,’ said Jason. ‘That is the reality and we need to tell this in all its horror, acknowledging the good stories, and the challenges.’

Davide is the Director of Italian visual theatre company TPO, while Jason Cross is the Director of Insite Arts. He spends his time creating, managing and directing contemporary performance work.

Realising they could help tell this story, the duo combined skills and resources, including award-winning artistry in multimedia theatre for young people, and acclaimed Aboriginal artists. These included musician Lou Bennett, visual artist Delwyn Mannix, and dancer and choreographer Deon Hastie. Theatre maker Sasha Zahra acted as dramaturg.

The resulting multimedia theatre piece, Saltbush, takes four- to 10-year-olds across the world on an artistic and geographic journey through imaginary Indigenous Australian lands.

Two young performers and an actor/narrator travel through river and desert country, the city and seascapes, while a sensory camera responds to sound and movement on the carpet. It’s an all-immersive experience, where the children are invited to play and become part of the production itself.

‘We told the story from an Aboriginal person’s perspective, entering a new Aboriginal country, encountering new language and new laws,’ said Jason. ‘The journey tells the experience of the three performers’ memories of home and country; personal reflections rather than actual depictions of their country.’

‘It’s a happy and joyful work, but at its heart, it’s a political work too,’ said Jason. ‘It represents a response to country, and this being an Aboriginal country. For the children it’s an entry point to thinking about this and their role, which they will consider in different ways as they grow up.’

Jason grew up in outer western Melbourne and has always been committed to telling our cultural history. ‘As an artist, from Australia, it’s very important to me. I’ve been aware of this since my late teens, and I’ve always had a desire to be political about it, and to be engaged in this story.’

‘It’s a very simple narrative, but it engages children and adults alike,’ he said. ‘Some works just have the ability to speak to us, and Saltbush clearly resonates with a wide audience.’

Saltbush premiered at Come Out Festival in Adelaide in 2009 and has since had successful tours across Australia and South Korea.

This year, the work will tour Taiwan, Macau and then Europe. Jason sees the international performances as a vital two-way dialogue, where artists leave the country to present their work. ‘It’s about us, as a people, leading our work and sharing our story,’ he said.

But just as importantly, the company hopes to tour Saltbush throughout regional Australia, where he expects a young generation will benefit.

‘This is a story that needs to be told,’ said Jason. ‘There are different ways to tell it – be it through the work of Belvoir Street Theatre, Big hART theatre, Yirra Yaakin, or the Ilbijerri Theatre Company — it’s all part of the ongoing narrative.’

The Australia Council supported the early development of Saltbush and is helping to showcase the work internationally through Going Global and the International Performing Arts Market Touring Fund.

Image: Saltbush
Credit: Tim Standing, Daylight Breaks