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Reviews/Multi-arts

‘Noongar Wonderland’ – more than adventures

4 March 2022

As the name promises, Perth Festival’s closing event is filled with wonder, but it’s also filled with valuable Noongar lessons about how to live and love, says Barbara Hostalek.

Noongar Wonderland, Boomerang and Spear in partnership with Perth Festival ·
Perry Lakes, Perry Lakes Reserve, Noongar Boodjar, 3 March 2022 ·

Magical and exciting, Noongar Wonderland is a multisensory experience designed to unite our diverse community.

Curated by Kylie Bracknell (Kaarljilba Kaardn) and Clint Bracknell, of Boomerang and Spear, with Ian (Moopa) Wilkes, Noongar Wonderland invites audience members into an immersive light and sound installation, populated by artists and storytellers.

My own experience of Noongar Wonderland begins as I approach the performance space, and extends beyond it to the natural outdoor beauty of Perry Lakes at dusk, where the work’s set was created many thousands of years ago.

I feel a cool evening breeze, see a fading pinky-orange sun lowering behind the upward stretching arms of many standing tall trees, catch the familiar scent of fire smoke as redtail black cockatoos wail their welcome from the sky.

Audience members are guided through Noongar Wonderland by Noongar elders (Birdiyar) and a diverse cast of Noongar people and multi-talented creatives of all ages. As we cross over the threshold into knowledge systems and ways of being and doing that are both ancient and constantly evolving, each participant must choose their path for the evening, where to go and what to do, what to see and hear.

As with many Aboriginal stories, Noongar Wonderland is not linear, but circular and this provides the audience with the opportunity to wander between the curated settings amongst the lakes.

I head straight for a well-tended fire where I am warmly greeted by Noongar Elders. I’m invited to participate in a smoking ceremony to clear away negative energies and bad spirits, so that happy, positive energy enables me to see clearly, and hear intently, the knowledge and teachings being shared.

Life-size creatures such as the bobtail (designed by artist Sharyn Egan) capture my attention immediately, supported by Mark Howett’s colourful and energetic soundscapes and lighting design, that underline the importance of animals in Noongar cosmology.

A basketball court is filled with artwork of bright patterns, colours and lighting, to spark creative minds while playing.

A Noongar man stands, outside at night, his hands in front of him, mid clap. He is painted with ochre which glows orange and lit by blue light. In the background we can see other dancers.
A joy to watch: dancer and choreographer Trevor Ryan. Photo: Court McAllister

Like Alice who entered another kind of Wonderland, we journey through a labyrinth of storytellers and floating characters to uncover something about our own identity and relationship to the world around us.

We encounter various aspects of life before settlement that continue to this day, such as the concept of using all elements of the Balga tree in daily activities. These concepts are underpinned by the idea that living on the land is a holistic experience, that mind, body and spirit come together as one. It’s about community; learning together, sharing the moment, being happy and connected. It’s about speaking Noongar and living its values, gathered around kaarla (fire) with boodjar (land); united by expressing love, care and respect for Country.

I walk and wander with others, watch and listen to Elder Aunty Roma Winmar who shares a yarn around the kaarla about her mum, the struggles for the right to education, growing up Aboriginal as a child in the 1940s in Western Australia, and her passion for passing on knowledge and supporting children to be themselves. As is Aunty Roma’s trademark, she ends with a song teaching us Noongar language “Ngalak Keny Moort” (“We Are One”).

Then there is a Ground Water Song to indicate that we should gather around the Dance Ground to watch, listen and, when invited, dance. The Dance Ground against a sunset, and then nightscape, is mesmerising in size, with sand reflecting various swirling and rippling, weaving lines and light projections. Storytelling builds the intensity further, with music brilliantly composed by Clint Bracknell.

Choreographed and performed by Trevor Ryan and Rubeun Yorkshire, the dance performances of stingray, dolphin, dragonfly, bobtail and bullshark, accompanied by the Mayakeniny Dance Group, are exciting; a joy to watch and learn.

This truly is a land of wonder, filled with Noongar teaching about how to live and love, lessons from which all of humanity could benefit, if implemented.

Pictured top: Dancers performing in ‘Noongar Wonderland’. Photo: Court McAllister

Noongar Wonderland continues until 5 March 2022.

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Author —
Barbara Hostalek

Barbara Hostalek is an independent First Nations playwright proud to be living with Noongar Boodjar. She began writing plays at Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s Writers group in 2015. Her work has been produced by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company (Cracked), Black Swan Theatre Company (Unsung Heroes monologue series: Own Way) and Mudskipper Productions (Banned). Park fun play? Hands down, the sandpit.

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