Yardworks art exhibition,Fremantle now


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New work from Rachel Riggs is on show until September at Gypsy Tapas House, Fremantle, Western Australia upcycling everyday throw away materials into extraordinary art! Yardworks Artist Rachel Riggs Advertisements

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Victorian Bride Ships

‘The Cinderella Colony of Western Australia’

Research from ‘An Australian Parsonage’ by Mrs Millet, published 1872

‘ Of the single girls we had more than sixty on board our ship, and one fortnight’s acquaintance with them had sufficed to show us that they were a most unpromising set; and moreover, our early impression that several of them had made acquaintance with the inside of a jail was not at all effaced by the experience and events of the voyage’.

The Tartar ship left London October carrying 118 passengers including Mrs Millet & her husband Edward, the newly appointed chaplain of York in WA, as well as the 50 young female Lancashire cotton weavers. Arrived Fremantle 12 December 1863.

‘The proportion of single adult males was eleven to every single adult female.’ Inquirer, 11th November 1863, Perth, Australia.

The Bride Ships by Rica Erickson, Hesperian Press 1992

Experiences of Immigrants Arriving in Western Australia 1849 -1889

‘As the passengers came on board their names were listed and each was allotted a berth number. Married couples occupied berths amidships, single males were accommodated forward in the dark part of the ship near the crew. The single women’s compartments were separated from both by a partition. Each section was divided into messes, or groups of six ( in larger vessels there were messes of eight). One in each mess was chosen to be responsible for the behaviour of the others. They descended below decks by steep ladders, shown to their numbers berths and instructed how to hoist a bench table, at night, between the tiers of bunks and fasten it to the deck above with iron bars. The bunks, ranged on either side of the table, were like coffins, one above the other, with little headroom. A small curtain gave a little privacy to each.

Women could wash on bath days in a large wooden tub wearing a shift and screened by canvas.

Those in charge of the messes brought down the daily issue of rations and supervised the fair division of food. Food could be salt pork, potatoes and peas with ginger pudding, hard biscuits always. They ensured that all utensils were cleaned and properly stowed away after meals, and that the bedding was aired on deck, weather permitting, at least twice a week. They usually won a small gratuity and several privileges on board for their duties.’

‘All were then mustered on deck, segregated as they would be below decks with married couples standing between the servant girls and the lads. After rollcall they listened to a recital of ship’s regulations. These were posted up, but not all the passengers could read. The most unwelcomed rule forbade communication between the single women and males.’

‘The first few days at sea were usually rough and tested the stomachs of the passengers who had never before been at sea. Below decks the air was foul with vomit, but few people had the strength to climb the hatchway ladders and pace the heaving decks for a breath of fresh air.’

Books and sewing materials were donated by organisations like the British Ladies Female Emigration Society. Literacy lessons, games and library books were sometimes provided.

‘The pilots long boat put off from Rottnest to guide them into safe anchorage. Another long boat from Fremantle came alongside bringing the Colonial Immigration officer and the Colonel Surgeon. The immigrants were lined up in order on the deck for the last time.’

‘The arrival of any ship at Fremantle always created a flurry of activity. Colonists in the most isolated settlement in the world were always avid for news.’

‘Most of the single women were Lancashire lasses who were thrown out of work when cotton mills closed down as a consequence of the Civil War in North America. British ships blockaded the North American ports in retaliation for the sinking of a ship, and this prevented the export of raw cotton to Lancashire….left thousands of people…. in abject poverty.

Donations to the Lancashire Relief Fund were sent from the British Colonies to save families from starvation. Under these circumstances Lancashire mill lasses were glad to migrate. One of the girls on the Tartar, although only 23, looked like a wrinkled old woman. She ate ravenously and soon became plump.’ (from Mrs Millet’s account)

‘The newly renovated Poorhouse-Home, Fremantle was ready to receive over a hundred immigrants when the Tartar came in Dec 1863. Pauper inmates were segregated on the upper floor while the immigrants occupied the ground floor in a long room divided into separate spaces by wooden partitions.’

Mrs Millett thought the immigrants lodgings were bare, cold and meagre, but was pleased to see they were perfectly clean, well ventilated and water could be obtained by the bucketful from a well in the yard.

Life at the Home and depot was boring for idle inmates. The matron supervised the usual tasks of sewing garments and laundering of linen from the hospital and gaol.’

China Blue by Jan Gothard, Melbourne University Press 2001

Single Female Migration to Colonial Australia

Between 1850 and 1900, seventeen thousand single British women accepted an assisted passage to Western Australia. Without assistance, working class women would never of afforded the long sea voyage and in return these women would solve the colonies domestic servant problem and become the future wives and mothers of WA. They were subject to routine and rigorous examinations of health and character, controlled  on the passage out and after their arrival, until the colonial government had seen them safely with employers or relatives.

Relatively few single working class women wrote diaries which have survived, more likely emigrant diaries were written in the form of a letter home. Sisters or female cousins may have been possible recipients of journals. But these were the very women who so often followed the adventurous pioneer out to the colonies. So the chances of working class women’s journals surviving were far more remote than those sent back to middle class families of the cabin passengers. Therefore working class emigrant women are less visible, but due to the ‘double control’ of immigrant authorities are perhaps more visible in government archives.

Middle class women’s philanthropic work “benevolent maternalism’ was undertaken to safeguard  women and to protect colonial homes. It was ideal for women as paid domestic servants to be trained under the eye of a middle class mistress.

‘Getting on, bettering oneself and enhanced employment opportunities, joining family and friends were major reasons to emigrate.’

‘In the 1860’s prospective emigrants were advised that ‘Female domestic Servants, who really understand their business, are in great demand in Australia, and are sure to obtain immediate employment at good wages’.

‘In 1863, when conditions in Lancashire were poor, the Duke of Newcastle approached all the Australian colonies to accept unemployed female cotton weavers as prospective immigrants. None responded favourably, although all but Western Australia were happy to accept other single women qualified in domestic service. W. A alone reported few employment prospects for any immigrants. Yet it was to W.A that the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners sent 50 young female Lancashire cotton weavers….all found employment.’

Lost in Chengdu – 21st UNIMA Congress and World Puppetry Festival, China

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Ive just recently returned from attending the UNIMA World Puppetry Festival in Chengdu, China. I went as Production Assistant for Joanne Foley, Australian Puppeteer with her company Foley Bergere and her street theatre show ‘CHAIR’. Based on Jean Genet’s ‘The Maids’, Joanne has performed this work all over the world and especially for this UNIMA festival, had the script translated into Mandarin. She performed 10 times in all during the festival week, with only one performance in English. The audiences were surprised and delighted by Joanne’s performance, as she was the only foreign artist to play in Chinese.

With no access to Facebook  or Blogs, I kept my journal , heres some highlights!

Fri May 25th

Flying early morning from Perth, we arrive in Chengdu late in the evening to an ecstatic welcome from our language student volunteers, holding up placards and giving us welcome bags with t shirts, caps, programme and key ring’s. Gu Rui is our wonderful interpreter and guide, and each company is given a mobile phone to keep in touch. Driving through the huge city at night, the red neons shine bright on the grey urban environment, the city is as homogenised as any – with huge shopping malls, adverts for luxury goods and intense high rise housing. A very different place from Joannes experiences here in the early 80’s. High up in our hotel rooms, happy to have arrived with flight case intact, have a drink and relax, only to be told we have to off at 5am to rehearse for the opening ceremony!

Sat May 26th

Dawn, we are taken by buses along the ultra modern highways to the Intangible Cultural Heritage Park – everywhere are banners, building wraps and floral decorations for the UNIMA congress. The amount of advertising and promotion is staggering, and there is a growing realisation of how important to China this festival is. Breakfast is fast food – chicken burgers and hot orange juice. A riot starts when everyone realises there is no coffee. The worst coffee machine in the world at our dressing rooms – only makes 4 cups per giant syrupy bag. On this diet, we will all be supersize me by the end of the week! All day we are at the park, rehearsing in the grey cloudy hot polluted sky, the visiting companies enter on stage in a detailed line up with troupes of Chinese dancers and the traditional, state puppet companies. Over and over again, to the ear splitting shouting of the directors, everyone is drilled. By the end of the day, the opening ceremony is looking like a Disneyesque puppet Olympic spectacular with video projections, fireworks and Joanne being pulled along on a cart with the Egyptian Company Wel Ya Wei Puppet Theatre’performers. Instructions are shouted’ You must come tomorrow with costume and puppet,’ over and over,  Taken back to the hotel with a polite request we all go to bed! Great meeting other new puppeteers and old friends, especially catching up with Jose Navarro, Richard Bradshaw and Gary Friedman.

Sun May 27th

Very early start again, everyone off to the park to get ready and have more rehearsal for the opening spectacular performed for the invited dignitaries, lottery selected public and the congress members. The show goes up on time, despite the director shouting so hard into the microphone he looked like he was gonna bust a blood vessel. The show was amazing, and a credit to how puppeteers can get on with performing in any conditions, in any time, with any audience. Seeing the breadth of the puppet troupes from China with every technique, was amazing, beautiful rod female puppets with their water sleeves and bend backs floating in the air, mask changing warriors, Sichuan opera puppets and human performers with amazing costumes.

So when the opening ceremony was over, the general public, hundreds waiting patiently outside were finally allowed in and …..nothing. Nothing was programmed. It felt as if the organisers had put so much energy into the opening spectacular they’d forgotten to get any other programme ready. People drifted about, playing with stage props they found, and having constant photos with anyone with a puppet or costume. But nothing was happening on the main stage which was a shame, as there was far more capacity for audience in the venue, than allowed at the opening ceremony.

Then the thing we feared most happened, somewhere in the translation of the day’s events, Joanne was expected to do a short piece of her work , without her set, just puppet and costume on the main stage to a huge audience. To her credit, she did it, the first time speaking in Mandarin to a Chinese audience. As ‘CHAIR’ is an adult piece, I don’t think it was quite what the audience had expected after waiting for a long time for anything to happen. They clapped politely, but started complaining to the stage hands about the wait and lack of shows. We escaped to the heritage food quarter to the beautiful teahouse and a catch up with Lucile Bodson, Directrice – Institut International de la Marionette (ESNAM) Charleville -Mezieres.

At the end of the day we were all taken for a celebration banquet, no time to change from working clothes, everyone very animated from the day’s events and hungry! We vegetarians are separated from the meat eater’s room, and had to leave before most of the food had arrived! Realised there was no festival club or place for all the artists to get together, so via the Americans and the Macedonians, two great bars back to back are found – one with a dance floor and the other cheap drinks.

Mon May 28th

Realisation today that that the artists are very seperate from the UNIMA congress delegates and distances hard to travel between shows aswell as  there is no itinerary for getting tickets to see each other’s shows. So everyone decides just  to go on the buses anyway with their passes and get in. Preparations for our Foley Bergere show today, and then off to see the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which was wonderful but very rushed, the Germans were left behind in the cafe. Wonderful to meet up with Heather Henson and her Ibex Puppetry Company, who as well as having awesome Creature shop puppets, also use amazing kites in a fusion of flying bird puppets performed by champion kite flyer Curtiss Leigh Mitchell in the work  ‘Celebration of Flight’ .

Tues 29th

Today we had three very good audiences for our shows at the Intangible Cultural Heritage Park, we weren’t really sure where the audience was going to come from, but there was a decent turn out of families with young children and older people. Joanne performed in Mandarin again after spending time with Gu Rai our interpreter, perfecting her tone and accentuations. Had some amazing responses particularly older women, who it seems really got the oppressive nature of the story, the Madame being overthrown by the maid, and then the maid being free to live her life! Very good stage management support ,and tech equipment on site.

In the evening, just going for a walk around the block with Katrina, Krume & Jordancho from Macedonia, we experienced the most amazing things! Dancing in the park with the local evening exercise group, eating fresh dumplings from the markets, finding cold beers and sampling the hot & spicy Schezuan speciality hot pot tofu with the restaurants homemade rice wine or fire water, foot massages from the whole family and then an incredible fire massage is viewed, where your back thru hot towels is literally aflame! Only for the more masochistic I think, it does hurt and bruise you, we later find out. Back at the hotel its street drinking with Peter Schumann and the Bread & Puppet people before going to the adopted festival bar to sample more rice wine and, catch up with the very beautiful Basil Twist.

Weds 30th  – What day is it?

Beginning to lose track of time as every night is festival party night and everyday shows to perform , and shows to see! Went to the Tibetan quarter today, with the Macedonians, and Jen Lea, our Tibetan bar hostess. Took a lovely walk about the Wuhuo Memorial Temple and soaked up the spiritual history. In the afternoon, went to see ‘The Hunger’ by Tinker Ting from Norway, directed by Dik & Vicky from Pickled Image in the UK. Despite being set on a Disney fantasy stage with a noisy family audience, the mood was adult & dark, and I was lost in this hungry world of paper, empty doll heads, and a strange mannequin desire. Fantastic somehow, to see two big, strong, shaven headed men  – Per Loset and Gisle Gjermundsen , beautifully puppeteer in complete synchronicity, with haunting visuals.

Got some upmarket free dinner at the UNIMA congress delegates hotel and then to see ‘Butterfly Dreams’ by Visual Expressions, USA with Bart. P Roccoberton – Professor of Puppet Arts at The University of Conneticut. Designed/performed by American Chinese artist HuaHua, for the first time she shows her beautiful mask and performance work in China after 20 years. The show is based on the famous Taoist poem, ‘Am I a man who dreams he is a butterfly or a butterfly who dreamt he was a man’ and one of the scenes was performed in the closing ceremony with amazing music.

Thurs 31st – Really Lost in Chengdu

Today was crazy, it started with singing karaoke in the Intangible Cultural Heritage Park to draw a crowd on stage 7, as it was a bit quiet. We performed three times and met up with Joannes old friend, Jean Kaplan, who turned up smiling on a Sedgeway and went for lunch. Ive taken to getting around the long distances on site by bicycle, which is much more fun than walking . Bluer skies and we actually saw a bird or two today.

Had a visit to the amazing Puppet exhibition, which shows all the traditional Chinese puppet traditions, is beautifully designed and had Chinese puppeteers demonstrating their work and contemporary collaborations from  America. Fabulous puppet collection ,which is due to tour internationally and then to have a huge permanent home in Chengdu.

Takes two hours to get back in the traffic , and even thought I’ve missed the bus,  I’m determined to see a show this evening, so I decide I will be able to find my own way with the map. It immediately starts raining, the map is a soggy mess and isn’t very accurate anyway, and I’m totally lost within a few huge streets! So I try to get my bearings but give up, flashing my UNIMA pass at a policeman, who luckily can speak a little English. Please help me get a car taxi not a rogue motorbike one, who been trying their luck circling me several times. Relief at getting in a dry car, and after much deliberation between taxi man and policeman as to where this theatre venue actually is, we set off. Taxi man keeps asking me in Chinese of course – is this it? Is this it? and i haven’t the foggiest. Finally he finds it, and with gratitude I open my bag to pay – only to find I’ve left my purse in my room! This also has the name of the hotel im staying at in it! Out of the dark comes a very kind stranger who pays for me, don’t worry he says, as he grabs the taxi. So full of thanks and damp, I rush into the venue and gratefully sit at the back with the families.  I relax back in my seat, to see ‘Impressions of Puppetry’ scenarios of different techniques and puppet styles from Sichuan Puppet Troupe of Zizhong including the beautiful rod water sleeve puppets.

Back on the bus, finally find Cariad Astles and we have a great catch up about British puppetry, so good to see her and head to the bar for a drink.

Friday 1st June

Today we play for the Children’s Day at the Jinsha Site Museum built on the 3,000 year kingdom of Shu. Despite the show being for adults, we had big family audiences and interesting responses from the audiences especially thesecurity guards when Joanne appeared in her body stocking.

In between our shows, I’m able to explore the archaeological dig and museum, soak up the incredible history and see the sun bird gold disk, Chengdu’s cultural emblem based on the creation myth.

The evening was spent singing Karaoke and dancing the night away to Balkan gypsy fusion folk music with French festival marionnettissimo artistic director Jean Kaplan and his gypsy music festival mega MC son Fabian.

Sat 1st June – Lost voices

Well, today we have very croaky voices, and we play at the Temple. This,  is what we have been told all week, and have invited people to see the show. But when we arrive, we realise it’s the very beautiful Ancient Temple Teahouse, a different place to the temple, and try to redirect people to us. But its very difficult to explain how to find us in the maze of small streets , which runs back to back with the Wuhuo Temple wall, especially when you are trying to tech the show and the technician is pulling out leads for no reason, and on his mobile phone! Can’t hear the sound from where the tech box is, so have to run up and down ancient rickety wooden stairs. Such a beautiful place that has delicate teas served and plays Schezuan opera and shadow theatre regularly, but with the worst toilet ive seen for a long time. Anyway the shows go pretty well, and then we were completely finished with our performances.

Big night out to celebrate! and also celebrate Penny Francis and Noriko Nishimoto receiving UNIMA Women’s Lifetime Achievement awards.

Sun 2nd June – Closing Ceremony

Had some time off, and then Tibetan lunch in the Tibetan quarter with friends before the performance by Peter Schumann, founder & director of the Bread & Puppet Theatre and Chinese Theatre Works called ‘Songs from the Yellow Earth’. This felt very political for Chinese audiences, scenes reflecting the suffering of the common people and their yearning for social stability, war and peace drawn from Chinese opera and poetic works from the ‘Book of Songs’. To see Peter Schumann and company perform was amazing, shadow play with bodies and rough cut outs providing the graphics, like Schumann’s woodcut prints accompanying his words.

Then the celebration of the closing ceremony,  some beautiful collaborations between international puppeteers and Chinese companies with all the performing companies winning an award!

Mon 3rd

The puppet circus has is leaving town and its all so quiet now. Last minute sightseeing and shopping before we all go our seperate ways and leave what has been an incredible experience of puppetry and people in China with memories of an amazing festival that will stay forever. Thank you UNIMA International and UNIMA China for creating this event!

Thanks also to Gary Friedman for links to his brilliant films and to Curtiss for fixing Foley Bergeres broken flight case.

Towards a New Australian Theatre Part 2 Masterclass

I had a fascinating weekend if at times frustrating (only because I can only reference UK/European site specific work rather than Aussie productions!) working and getting to know a brilliant group of Perth artists who have experience with large scale, site and community specific productions. Nice simple aims of the workshop were –

to learn for our own practice, meet each other make a fictious show and pull together a database for collaborative ideas.

We all had to describe what we did in detail, for some of us, (including me), who are jack and jills of all trades this was a bit difficult to clarify, but excellent practice in defining skills. Joey asked what the most burning question we had was? Well mine was, how do you stage/ share dreams?Answer, stay with the image /intuition, dont let the concept take over.

Joey spoke of how the fascination of the artist, whether its with the site or artform, carries the performance/project.How we should make work for as diverse an audience as possible with universal messages, artists speak through many languages. This reminded me of the Reggio Emilia philosophy for young children, to be allowed to be expressive through their own visual & sensory languages ‘One hundred voices.

‘The phenomena of the artist in the world – art comes from responding to the world, the director trusts that somehow their responses connect with the audience’

Joey spoke of creating different artist teams with core design/directors, working with engineers to make a fascinating machine/company to focus on the real story with emotional, poetic images. The feeling/ action has to be clear, it is not logical but the work has to convey what you want it to say.

‘Image speaks louder than words – easy to come up with amazing creative images, harder to make them count’

As an example Joey showed his research of Butchers signs, using images of pigs, specific fonts etc to make the symbolic representation acceptable to society.

Joey went through his experience and methodology of making large scale site specific collaborative work. Often starting with approx 20 scenes, ideas on post it notes to develop the product, and creating a framework for yourself to work in.

Everyone went out on a field trip to different sites in central Perth, either abandoned waste grounds or park areas.I have always had a thing for the carpark squashed at the back of the PICA building and the Blue Room theatre. The building was once a school, and this area probably once a playground, lots of history and a really interesting enclosed space.Overlooked by the Art gallery of WA and the new urban garden.With Joey we discussed the spaces potential And followed the  research and devising method for Site and Community Specific Works.Taking the commonplace and giving room for a unique experience , the weekend was a unique experience to engage with the trials and errors, & extraordinary heights of making large scale site specific work.

Towards a New Australian Theatre Genre



A few months ago I was very excited that Joey Ruigrok van der Werven was coming to Perth, from the legendary Doegtroep Theatre, Holland, to give an inspirational lecture on creating image based performance events in Australia,

Doegtroupe reinvented the ordinary world with their street theatre, the name means theatre of rubbish! From Joeys time as an Engineer with Doegtroep, he believes artists step out of society and hold a mirror to reinterpret life. If you take away the arts people become very poor. Artists  need space to discover and explore as these iconic European companies had in the 1980’s.
Joey also ran a weekend masterclass on creating large scale spectacle and and inventing performance environments.

one of the unsung heroes of Australian contemporary performance’ Realtime

This was right up my street, as a visual theatre maker,I have always  wanted to scale up , from small scale theatre to gigantic with the dreams of making large scale sensory spectacles for families. So I was very happy to also be invited to the masterclass to work and share ideas with other WA artists, thanks to Performing Lines.

Joey believes the director is a facilitator of process, and that you can only make the large scale work if you can make the small scale, which is heartening to hear. Doegtrope obtained money from building foundations,as acertain % can be used for public art which does not always have to be a sculpture or fountain.


Towards A New Australian Theatre Lecture at The Bakery Photo: Sarah Rowbottam


for a full overview of the lecture please see Towards a new australian theatre genre’ lecture at




Joey is now based in Australia and has developed his own methodology on creating large scale site specific and community work. His intention is to make image driven community theatre, using real life events, bringing theatre to the people in their environment. Theres no need for a theatre infrastructure here, using industrial, abandoned spaces and bringing new life. He discussed how the renegade artist theatre companies, such as La Fura (Spain), Royal de Luxe (France) and Doegtrope (Holland) have become iconic for their country, as with La fura’s giant puppet and spectacle for the Olympics in 1992.

To be continued

La fura dels baus puppet

La fura dels baus olympics open 1992

Butterflies – world poems

Love is like a butterfly
in so many, many ways.
It brings a bit of sunshine
even on gloomy days.

It makes our souls feel lighter
just to know it’s there
And gives our spirits wings,
as if floating in the air.

It carries us to places
that we never knew before
And comes in many sizes,
shapes and hues galore.

Once we’ve seen it,
we wish to hold onto it so tight
But like a frail butterfly,
we must allow it free flight,

For if we should try
to cage it up
and hold it in a pen,
We’ll surely crush its wings,
and it’ll never fly again.

To keep that love glowing
in our hearts each day,
We must remember
always to give some of it away.

Every little bit we give
to someone else to share
Comes back tenfold,
and we’ve so much to spare.

Put your love
on gossamer wings,
and give it flight;
It will return to you,
and bring you much delight.
– Unknown

The butterfly counts
not months but moments,
and has time enough.
– Rabindranath Tagore

Chuang Tzu in dream became a butterfly,
And the butterfly became Chuang Tzu at waking.
Which was the real—the butterfly or the man ?
Who can tell the end of the endless changes of things?
The water that flows into the depth of the distant sea
Returns anon to the shallows of a transparent stream.
The man, raising melons outside the green gate of the city,
Was once the Prince of the East Hill.
So must rank and riches vanish.
You know it, still you toil and toil,—what for?

Li Po

I like for you to be still
It is as though you are absent
And you hear me from far away
And my voice does not touch you
It seems as though your eyes had flown away
And it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth
As all things are filled with my soul
You emerge from the things
Filled with my soul
You are like my soul
A butterfly of dream
And you are like the word: Melancholy

I like for you to be still
And you seem far away
It sounds as though you are lamenting
A butterfly cooing like a dove
And you hear me from far away
And my voice does not reach you
Let me come to be still in your silence
And let me talk to you with your silence
That is bright as a lamp
Simple, as a ring
You are like the night
With its stillness and constellations
Your silence is that of a star
As remote and candid

I like for you to be still
It is as though you are absent
Distant and full of sorrow
So you would've died
One word then, One smile is enough
And I'm happy;
Happy that it's not true

Pablo Neruda

To a Butterfly

Stay near me—do not take thy flight!
A little longer stay in sight!
Much converse do I find I thee,
Historian of my infancy !
Float near me; do not yet depart!
Dead times revive in thee:
Thou bring’st, gay creature as thou art!
A solemn image to my heart,
My father’s family!

Oh! pleasant, pleasant were the days,
The time, when, in our childish plays,
My sister Emmeline and I
Together chased the butterfly!
A very hunter did I rush
Upon the prey:—with leaps and spring
I followed on from brake to bush;
But she, God love her, feared to brush
The dust from off its wings.

William Wordsworth

The Quod Project, Tania Ferrier


Dawn Rottnest

Dawn Rottnest

‘The island that forgot what it was

A few weeks ago I attended a talk on ‘The Quod Project’ by Tania Ferrier at the Heathcote Museum & Gallery, Perth, W.A. The artist also spoke of her life to date with her artworks and major influences.

Recreated Quod cell by Tania Ferrier

Recreated Quod cell by Tania Ferrier

Many people in W.A holiday on Rottnest Island, I have visited many times but until I saw this art installation, based on historical research, I hadnt realised the true nature of the dark history which lies behind the happy holiday scenarios. There is nothing about the true Indegenous history very much at Rottnest, there is nothing to celebrate in the way the Aboriginal people were treated in Colonial history. This invisibility is endemic in everyday life in Western Australia, as if  Aboriginal people are refugees in their own country.

Noel Nannup – Noongar Elder spoke in the Welcome to Country  from the heart about ‘the need to get away from the shame and look at it differently. Something happened over the water, which needs to be known and understood to bridge the gap between black and white australians and heal. Do Australians understand their real history? Know the real spirituality of this place Australia? Respect the sacredness of life, of our selves and the rights of all people”

Tanya Ferrier’s ‘The Quod project’ explores the notion that her holiday and childhood experiences were based on a lie,  exploring her own story which corresponds with the terrible injustice of the Aboriginal prisoners shipped out and incarcerated in prison on Rottnest from 1839 to the early 1930’s.

As a child, her family stayed at the Quod, part of the Rottnest Island hotel resort, as her mother had holidayed on the island as a young girl with her sisters. The Quod was promoted and still is, as especially suitable for families, allowing for 6 guests to sleep in a unit that was once five cells and housed up to 35 Aboriginal men with no window or sanitation. There was an average of 14 deaths per cell, each cell being 2m x 3m housing 7 men. 5 men were hung in the centre of The Quod, by a particularly brutal governor, Henry Vincent. He designed the Quod and settlement, built by Aboriginal labour, with prisoners interred from all across Western Australia.

‘Words cannot paint the picture without being offensive’ Rottnest Island History by EJ Watson 1922.

Under the floors were secreted fragile posessions – glass spearheads, spoon, message stick, left by the prisoners and confiscated by local government.

As a child on holiday, Tania didnt know the deeply political history of Rottnest and that she played upon the burial ground of approx. 400 men. The cemetery was only identified and sectioned off  in 1997. The island is called Wadjemup by Noongar people, and is not a holiday destination for  Aboriginal people, but a place of great sadness. Over 20 years of Aboriginal protest is acknowledged in the Quod project,over the failure of government authorities to recognise and respect this rare, well documented site of Aboriginal oppression.

This is a very personal journey by Tania, her story told with the artworks created, aswell as a carefully researched installation with the trust of Aboriginal collaborators including Cedric Jacobs and Noel Nannup . Photos of Tania’s mother at Rottnest are the only ones she has, as her mother Alice, committed suicide after her 6th birthday, Alice left a note saying she had gone to Rottnest. Tania was never told the truth about her mother and she was never spoken of again in her family.Through the eyes of a child, Tania thought her mother had disapeared forever at Rottnest.

In fact, part of the auto biographical work seen is a series of digital prints which included illustrations from ‘The Isle of Girls’ a childrens book by Eleanor Smith, published in 1953.

In a series of digital prints called “If these walls could speak”, Ferrier imagines  the prisoners peering back to the future , to a time and place they could not of believed possible. There are concealed cell doors in the walls of the Quod today, and she juxtaposes the peephole view with imaginary, contemporary views of what would be seen eg a girl putting on lipstick.

 Some people have strange dreams when they stay at the Quod.

‘The Quod project stages that original shock of recognition that can be too easily forgotten in the current political climate: “Oh my god I didnt know! In occluding the historical truth, we wound and damage the living. In the Quod Project, the visitor travels through a series of spaces in which the artist seeks to find a form adequate to the task of representing the tauma of what we now know about the history. We move from the postcard to the painterly,to the documentary photograph, staged and framed to the colonial witness, voiced and amplified into our common space, and finally, in the Quod cell, to make a simulacra of the real – albeit a real that makes visible what the island cannot show: a hole in the holiday space of Rottnest”‘ Josephine Wilson

Main Reference – ‘Far from Home. Aboriginal prisoners of Rottnest island, 1838 -1931’ by Dr. Neville Green and S. Noon .

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