Multi-artform gathering h e a l for real
supplied by Jenny Fraser
Multi-artform gathering h e a l was held over 2 days in Cairns recently, organised by Jenny Fraser, which she describes as part gathering / cinema / native christmas / Q&A studio and journey. The private day long event for invited guests, consisted of expert talks and creative responses from artists, to help grow Indigenous Knowledges and culture. The day began with a cleansing smoking ceremony by Henry Fourmile and a cultural safety animation screening by Gilimbaa featuring Riki Salam, providing an overview of the history to heal in Australia. Gudju Gudju spoke on his Yidinji insider perspectives on The Frontier Wars in Far North Queensland, buffered by a soothing rendition from Theresa Dewar and Elaine Thomas sharing an old massacre song in language. Bundjalung Violin player Eric Avery gifted a well practised live lament of his composition 'Butterfly', which pulled heart strings as well. Eric descends from a Yuin man who was the first in his tribe to observe the Tall Ships off the south coast, according to oral history passed down in his family.
In mainstream history the first known European to sail past North Queensland was Captain James Cook in 1770, which was also observed at Browns Bay in the Yarrabah district and this was documented with two paintings of his ship Endeavour, then painted onto the gallery rock wall by local Aboriginal people. In the late 1800's the illegal occupation of the pastoral frontier and Native Police caused bitter racial violence and murders in Far North Queensland. Elder advocate Gudju Gudju recollected at the h e a l event “Our history, even though in this year Australia, in regards to the British colonised Australia, will celebrate 250 years this year, we here on Yidinji Country, our history of white Australia is only 141 years. So that is not too long. So when we talk about the Frontier Wars, and what happened here, when we look at it in reflection to inter-generational trauma, our people were removed off country, and before the removal, we fought, and our old people fought for this country. If you look around, you will see a number of those locations.” Synchronistically h e a l was held one month before the Endeavour replicas were scheduled to depart from Sydney and head up the East Coast of Australia.
The cinema aspect of the h e a l gathering included FNQ local perspectives on the theme of Stolen Lives with short film screenings from Sio Tusa and Jenny Fraser along with Lisa Jackson representing Native Canada. 'Resonance' is the title of the film by Sio Tusa which he shot around Mossman featuring dancer Jaymen Drahm, reflecting alienation resulting from servitude, slavery and the act of Blackbirding. In a Truth Telling exercise especially for h e a l, Jenny Fraser spoke about the impact of empire, slavery, massacres and transgenerational displacement from an insider perspective, and screened a private short premiere of her film Jinda featuring characters played by Ruby Wharton and Ivy Marika. The Jinda film is based on the lives of her Yugambeh family line and was also shot by Fraser on some locations in Far North Queensland including remote town Mt Garnet. Anishinaabe woman Lisa Jackson from Canada made the subversive film titled 'Savage' which is described as 'a residential school musical' in Cree language, and makes a powerful statement on the reality of a First Nations legacy still being endured generations later.
Painter Gordon Syron, who is warming up to his 80th year showed his signature artworks that document invasion in an exhibition titled 'Red Coats dominate my Paintings. He recounted on the day “I'm always painting about the Red Coats because the Red Coats came and they took the land. I'll always remember that because I grew up on the land, and somebody came along and took our land, and that's why in 1972 I went to prison... I learned a lot of things from that, and I use that to put in my paintings, because there is a lot of injustices, and things are not right. In this great country we've got, some people have got a lot of rights and some haven't, and we're supposed o be all equal. I know three of my uncles went to war overseas, and they didn't have any land or anything like that.” Gordon and wife, American Photographer Elaine Pelot Syron attended h e a l and in a Q&A also spoke of their intentions to show their unique Art Collection and also set up an Artists and Writers Retreat on Magnetic Island. Elaine Syron said “If every Aboriginal person had some assistance to research their life that way it would be a way to heal as well, the healing process that needs to take place here in Australia because the Australian history has just been distorted so much that they just sort of left out Aboriginal people, left out the Frontier Wars and the Massacres. As a white person I used to teach History in High Schools when I first came and I knew for sure that Aboriginal people fought back, I couldn't imagine that loved being servants and losing their lands, and I didn't know anything when I cam here in 1971 from America. So I really took it on myself to take pictures of the dance and the protests.”
In the Q&A Yidinji Elder Theresa Dewar offered a translation and interpretation of the Spirit Song which was devised by her old people responding to massacres “We sing it with feeling because we want the audience to feel what we feel ...With history we know the coming of the Tall Ships, we know what they bought, we know that there's no more crying now because they're dead and gone, but we can still get on with life, we must still go forward and we must still be recognised, this all must be recognised.” Theresa and her sister Elaine Thomas also help present the Frontier Wars events on the eve of every Anzac Day, working in solidarity with other spirit-led groups such as Peace Pilgrims, who also presented an installation of massacres site place names for the h e a l event. The work has also been present at many rallies and includes a survey of hundreds of sites, dates and also names some of the victims of violent acts on the Frontier around the region. The day ended on a high note with a dance workshop by Monica Stevens who led participants through a set of exercises, day dancing with a night club feel, reminding everyone to thank their bodies, she said "I believe our bodies are a miraculous apparatus... and I like to think that dance can heal through muscle memory."
On the Sunday. the public event titled Yarn h e a l consisted of a Yarning Circle and Art Therapy held free for participants in Cairns. Guest facilitated by Bundjalung group Ganna Healing, who encouraged the ancient art of communicating and sharing space, this was a rare opportunity for community healing in Cairns. In Aboriginal English the term yarn has been adopted and adapted to generally mean talking and a respectful way of introducing story work. Ganna Healings Lukas Williams explained “When we step into them places, in them healing circles what happens is that we're starting to learn new experiences and healing new things, and it's traditional. The not so good experiences that have happened to us in our past, start to defrag, and its a bit like a computer... So it's super important that the healing for that individual culture uses the individual healing mechanism from their own culture.” Before the event Jenny Fraser made a call out “to ask and encourage everyone to sit down On Country and do Healing Circles simultaneously, all over our nations and all over the world... and help heal the impacts of the Climate Crisis with something positive and proactive.” The call was answered with healing circles of solidarity held elsewhere in Australia as well as in faraway places such as Guam, London, Ireland, France and elsewhere around the world.
All of the h e a l events were devised as a gift to the community and will kick off a big year of creative energy as Frasers art initiative cyberTribe is celebrating 20 years of survival and continuous programming, which has already seen over 55 projects realised on screen, in white cube environments and public spaces. A great deal of good energy has been invested into cultural maintenance by curating group exhibitions and events from an artists perspective, all over the world. There are also plans for the h e a l event to be developed into a touring show to other places, to educate and share culturally safe ways of knowing. Segments of the event have been documented and there are also plans to get it broadcast.
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