NewsOne’s Jayson McNamara returned to his home city Brisbane, Australia to report about an important but often undervalued aspect to Australian society – its Indigenous heritage. He visited the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts and Aboriginal Fine Art Gallery to give us an insight into the current condition of contemporary Indigenous culture. He filed this report:
Almost one year ago BlackPlanet and I entered into, what some would call, a risky social experiment. I, a white Australian with no prior experience in the cement jungle of New York City (home to BlackPlanet), was taken on as an intern in one of America’s most dynamic, fast-paced Black media companies.
My initial hesitation and nerves were eased in my first minutes there, that balmy New York morning when I was greeted by the loving secretary, Val. She was a taste of things to come during my 2-month internship there, chatting to me with excitement and curiosity, and with an expected interest in my comical Aussie accent, while I waited to be shown my desk.
Within days of being at the relaxed, red-brick BlackPlanet headquarters in Tribeca, I felt part of a family and a member of a team that was as eager to show me the ins-and-outs of Black culture as they were to learn about mine.
On my lunch break I was regularly taken to Pop-Eyes and, over some juicy pieces of fried chicken, the other writers and I spoke about the mistruths and stereotypes about Black America as well as about Australians (although there was no fried Kangaroo on the menu for me to prove we do actually eat it down under.) Back at the office, we often listened to old-school hip hop but I was never excluded, with a special Aussie playlist created to keep me feeling at home in my new work environment. And finally, I was always encouraged to write about Australia and some of its issues as a means of broadening the international awareness of BlackPlanet members and highlighting the marginalization of other black communities across the globe.
One of my first pieces for NewsOne.com was a report about the discrimination faced by black minorities in developed countries, where the population of black citizens was growing:
I briefly discussed the discrimination aimed at Black communities in Australia and the marginalization they faced as a result. But, if I have learned one thing from my travels abroad, it’s that many Americans are well aware of the reputation that mainstream Australian society has for its precarious handling of the Indigenous population, past and present.
At school I had several Aboriginal classmates and I was always drawn to them, especially their humor and their loyalty to those who treated them as equals. Nowadays, it often saddens me to see how undervalued Indigenous culture is in the broader scheme of modern Australia. Many Aboriginal children grow up feeling as though they have no right to be openly proud about their cultural heritage, and I truly believe this is my country’s greatest shame.
I returned to Brisbane recently and had always planned on reporting about some of the great cultural activities on offer in my city. So, I did.
I first met with Badi Sheidaee, Director of the Aboriginal Fine Art gallery in the center of the city. We spoke candidly about the reputation of the Aboriginal art industry, where criticisms had been aimed at some galleries about the way they procured their art. But he assured me of the mutual benefit of being able to provide isolated Indigenous communities with income as well as share their finely crafted art work with the rest of the world, including Americans.
“A lot of Aborginal art is abstract art and there a lot of reasons as to why,” he said. “American buyers tend to like the stuff that appears very modern and the newer types of works by some of the younger artists.”
A few days later I visited the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts (ACPA), which was breathtaking. I was given permission by elder, Uncle Country, to film a ancient dance that had been passed onto him by his late father. I also interviewed students and spoke with the center’s Artistic Director, Marcus Hughes.
The day I spent at ACPA was an eye-opening experience and I found myself personally excited for the company, hearing about its plans to move into improved facilities and the growth of some of its graduates including a young actor named Elsa, who will soon travel to New York City to undertake further training in acting.
Some of the center’s former pupils have also found success after ACPA. Graduate, Jesse Martin, is now contracted with Leigh-Warren dance studio in Sydney, while many other graduates have made ‘leaps and bounds’ in Australia’s premiere Indigenous dance company, the Bangarra Dance Theatre.
I spoke to current ACPA students Alicia and Travis at ACPA, both of whom feature at the end of the featured video (below.) Alicia said to me she felt her connection to her indigenous heritage had grown from almost nothing.
“I didn’t really know much before,” she said. “Now, I’ve really learned how to be proud about being Aboriginal.”
Both Alicia and Travis expressed interest in progressing into some sort of professional arena following their graduation. Travis said he had been looking for work prior to being accepted into ACPA. The artistic director, Marcus Hughes, said fittingly:
“It’s an exciting future.”
And that’s the impression I got from ACPA, of a dynamic place for self expression and growth, and hopefully an improved future for Aboriginal culture.
The rest I will leave for you, the BlackPlanet audience, to witness for yourselves in this short video I prepared about ACPA.
It’s a small token of my appreciation for having been accepted into a diverse community of people like BlackPlanet, and a way to showcase to you the beauty and potential of one of the world’s most ancient cultures.
A Day at the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts:
Photos courtesy of the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts (Brisbane, Australia)