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Spirits of the Red Sand

Spirits of the Red Sand

“Welcome one and all – welcome to our world, the world of the Aborigine. I am your storyteller – and tonight, we will journey together through the corridors of time where our story begins at the turn of the century, a fearful time of great trouble, confusion and fear. A period when the cultures of two people are to meet for the very first time.” (excerpt from the Storyteller, Spirits of the Red Sand)

We step inside the village, and an English soldier in his red uniform welcomes us outside the gates. He points to where we have to go and gather, together with about 50 or so other people. We are then given instructions inside the hall. In a few minutes, the Welcome To Country ceremony begins. We are introduced to the Miban (Mibanj or Mibin), which means wedge-tailed eagle, and used by the Yugambeh to denote an Indigenous person of that group. After the ceremony, we are ushered into the theatre where the Dreamtime begins.

The Beenleigh Historical Village and Museum is the home of Spirits of the Red Sand, a cultural performance depicting the history of the Aboriginals from the time the first settlers arrived. The story revolves around three Aboriginal brothers during that time of great turmoil and confusion as told by the youngest, Jarrah. But it is more than just a show to be watched and heard. It is depicted in a form of story-telling where we, the audience, become part of the act, allowing us to participate in the processes that the Aboriginal communities had to go through daily while addressing the challenges of new colonial settlement.

“Spirits of the Red Sand is told in a ‘true-to-life’ manner whereby traditional interpretations of the culture through various symbols characters and parables are not dropped or replaced, but integrated into the context of the people, their land, their stories, their lifestyle their cultural identity,” states Mike Tamaki, owner of Global Storytellers, one of the entities that produce the Spirits of the Red Sand.

Global Storytellers co-produce this cultural performance with Nunukul Yuggera, owned by Eddie Ruska. Nunukul Yuggera had been presenting “Welcome To Country” cultural programs and dance performances for various corporations and organisations. It was only after Eddie and Shannon Ruska experienced the Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua, New Zealand, that they shifted their focus to the idea of a permanent venue in which to perform, developing cultural experiences in Southeast Queensland. Mike introduced to the Ruska family a new form of cultural product delivery by way of “moving theatre” cultural re-enactments.

As we meander along the village, following the cast moving from St George Anglican Church, where the English priest enumerates the sins of not being Christian, to the bora, where the Aboriginal families conduct their community affairs, we are able to see and understand how their belief system and culture influenced their everyday life decisions and how they coped with external influences, such as the introduction of early Australian migration.

The performance is strikingly straightforward, powerful and confronting. But as the audience are made a part of performance, we were able to empathise and relate to the personas of the story, a feeling as if we were actually with them at the time of early settlement. All our five senses were used to enjoy Spirits of the Red Sand – sight by watching the scenes and characters, hearing by listening to the words of the cast and audio recordings, smell by sensing the smoke from the bora fire, feel by being physically part of the performance, and taste by sharing in a meal that includes bush food and modern Australian dishes – all integrated in one evening of a unique cultural experience.

“Like most nations, the chapters of our story are diverse and colourful – with the turning of each page as intriguing as the previous – and each story is a journey leading us to our destination. Sharing our stories allows us to understand more about who we are as a people, as a tribe and as a nation. It helps us to accept what we have been through, where we have come from, and where we are going, carrying the dreams of those who suffered before us as a compass with which to navigate with boldness our every step forward. The time has now come for this nation to turn yet another page to a new chapter in its story — a chapter of acceptance, tolerance, caring, understanding and charity.” (excerpt from the Storyteller, Spirits of the Red Sand)


By Roselle Tenefrancia






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