Hipbone Sticking Out has grown out of Big hART’s Yijala Yala Project. The words yijala and yala mean ‘now’ and the project is about heritage – now and in the future. Hipbone Sticking Out is the English translation of Murujuga – the original custodians’ name for the Burrup Peninsula. Murujuga is the world’s largest outdoor gallery of rock art – over a million pieces. It has enormous heritage value in the Western view and even more in the living heritage of the nations of the Pilbara. Hipbone Sticking Out is a public presentation of this deeply alive, culturally private place, and is designed to communicate across cultural boundaries.
The Aboriginal community of Roebourne has been very strong in guiding us to think about ‘heritage’ in relation to young people and intergenerational exchange – the past and the future as one strong continuum. The future heritage of Indigenous nations rests in the hands of their young people – ‘now’.
In this regard the story of Hipbone comes to the stage at an interesting time for our country, because the story is told through the eyes of John Pat – a young man who died in custody. In Australia today, every second young person in juvenile detention is Indigenous (51%). This is not something any society can ignore. Neither can it be seen as solely an Indigenous issue. It is an issue for our society as a whole. We are all complicit in allowing this situation to thwart the potential of Indigenous young people, accelerate the destruction of language and culture, and disrupt communities and families through this epidemic of indigenous incarceration.
Hipbone tells the story of a tsunami of change that suddenly descended on the people of Roebourne, who after tens of thousands of years living in the Pilbara, were suddenly confronted with the sweep of Western aspiration from 1602 that brought plagues, massacres, rapes, stealing of land and children, and currently, the locking up of a generation of young people.
It is 31 years since 16-year old John Pat passed away in that Roebourne lock-up and triggered the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Statistically, fewer Indigenous people are now dying, but we are locking up far more… it’s just a different kind of death. There were 339 recommendations in the Royal Commission’s report, yet only some of these were put in place. The most significant finding was that less Indigenous people should be locked up, but sadly incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians have more than doubled since 1991 when the report was released.
With the Pat family’s approval, the story of Hipbone Sticking Out begins when John hit his head in a fight with police and his brain began to swell. Between that moment and his death in a police cell two hours later, the story goes back in time to explore the sweep of history from the early 1600s when the world’s first globalised company set out to conquer the ‘new world’ and bring home its riches to satiate Europe’s hunger for the new. This wave of hunger swept onto the shores of Murujuga near Roebourne many times, with many explorers, over hundreds of years, until they came to stay just a few generations ago in 1868, bringing enormous change. In 2014, as we sit and sip espresso in our local cafés and read about Indigenous affairs, we are still part of that tsunami, and the community of Roebourne, is still in that time of change. With change however comes opportunity and potential. And in this regard Hipbone Sticking Out brings us to the story ‘now’ and is part of promoting the future heritage of Roebourne – the ‘new Roebourne’ as the senior people who guide the project call it.
The performance begins with artifice and archetypes of the Euro-itch and its consequences in hegemony and empire and the framing of culture, which has clumsily allowed and promoted an ongoing cultural genocide. Throughout the performance, this artifice is stripped away, leaving us in the authentic hands of family and community telling their story hand in hand, with some of the country’s finest collaborators; a true example of maragutharra – the Yindjibarndi word for ‘working together’.
Big hART’s Yijala Yala Project has created many arts products such as Hipbone and is an example of what can happen when different groups of people work together with mutual respect and a willingness to listen, learn and share. It is based on partnerships with anyone who shares the same values – whether it be a not-for-profit arts organisation, Aboriginal corporations, schools, prisons or resource companies. To this end Big hART and the Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Foundation (NYFL) have just formed a partnership, with Big hART becoming an Arts Company in Residence at the new Cultural Complex in Roebourne for the next three years. Until now, the Yijala Yala Project has been largely funded by Woodside-operated Pluto LNG through its Conservation Agreement with the Australian Government, and we are currently looking for innovative partners to join with us in sponsoring this rapidly developing work.
The Yijala Yala Project is an acknowledgement that the future of Roebourne, and other Aboriginal communities throughout Australia, rests in the hands of its young people, and so the project works closely with Roebourne’s young people, connecting them with older generations, and the community more broadly including those currently in prison, to produce many different forms of content such as films, digital stories and comics (NEOMAD, Ngurrara, Warlu Song, Echidna and the Dress), music, dance and theatre.
The work is inter-cultural and long-term – working together across cultures, across generations, across genders, across country, across funding partners, across art forms – maragutharra. Trying to create Hipbone Sticking Out has thrown up many of the same issues faced by contemporary Australian society. What we have learnt is that if we focus on what we don’t understand about each other, it leads to adversarial approaches, however, just a small shift to focusing on the things we do understand about each other, can lead to mutual learning and defining ways that both groups need to shift, rather than trying to impose change.
The Aboriginal community of Roebourne and Big hART’s creative team hope you enjoy.
On behalf of the participants and project team