Image of Ngukurr dancers at DanceSite 2015 by Benjamin Bayliss

Kicking up dust at DanceSite 2015

Above image of dancers from Ngukurr taken by Benjamin Bayliss at DanceSite 2015.

All images by Benjamin Bayliss. All words by Jess Ong, Artback NT’s Communications Manager.

In mid-September, Artback NT celebrated the third and final DanceSite festival taking place in Borroloola, approximately 1000 kilometres south-east of Darwin.

Borroloola is Yanyuwa country, the traditional land of the Yanyuwa people – one of five local dance groups taking part in what will be a joyous, energetic coming together of communities to give voice to the diverse array of traditional dance in the Northern Territory. DanceSite is an initiative that has been delivered across the NT in various locations for the past eight years as part of Artback NT’s Indigenous Traditional Dance Program (ITDP). Promoting cultural maintenance and exchange through the mediums of traditional dance and song, ITDP, DanceSite and its associated activities move to a new hosting community every three years. During these three years, the program transitions towards complete community ownership.


Flying over the sparse landscape of the NT towards Borroloola the occasional river snakes through the largely brown pattern below, providing a glisten or two amidst an otherwise dry country.

I am met equally enthusiastically by Lia, Artback NT’s Indigenous Traditional Dance Program Manager and Festival Director of DanceSite, and the hot breeze that whips around me like a dancing ribbon, before jumping in the bulldust coated car and driving 80 kilometres further east to the township of Borroloola.

I’ve missed Lia’s smiling face and infectious passion about her green smoothies so we have many a yarn driving along the Carpentaria Highway, stopping at the outstations of Devil Springs and Curtain Springs to see if anyone needs a lift into town – a car is a necessity out here, this is remote territory where the closest Woolies is an 800 kilometre drive away. We’re joined by a quietly spoken Priscilla who’s an artist and also helping at Waralungku Art Centre on DanceSite activities.

The art centre is the place to be – it’s all happening! The Bardi Bardi (elder women) are outside in their spot on the tarp under the trees sewing headpieces with Marni (a visiting lecturer from Uni of Melbourne here to conduct an evaluation of ITDP), troopies are coming and going, Josh and Eve (dedicated volunteers who can’t get enough of Artback NT and keep coming back!) are out the back papier-mâchéing a larger-than-life jabiru lantern and Chloe (Waralungku Art Centre manager) is attempting to work amidst the noise and lack of internet. The hardcore production team of Vanessa and Jason pop in quickly to organise a reccy of the festival site before jetting off with cables and leads in tow.

Image of The Kailani Dancers at DanceSite 2015 by Benjamin Bayliss

Image of The Kailani Dancers at DanceSite 2015 by Benjamin Bayliss

I hang out with deadly choreographer and DanceSite MC, Ghenoa Gela, bringing Juniper the Jabiru and Damper the Dugong to life with layers of tissue paper and lashes of flour-and-water mixture. It’s almost meditative. The arts centre is metaphorically wall-less; inside and outside are one and we shimmy from one spot to another when needed. As the days progress, we grow – photographer Ben and his son Max arrive, along with special guests The Kailani Dancers and sitting under the trees on the faithful tarp, we’re welcomed to Yanyuwa country by ITDP Cultural Events Officer, Marlene.

The days are hot, 37 degrees is the norm though the mornings are cool for a moment. Activities and rehearsals with elders are shifted around the weather, from afternoons to mornings and back again. For the very first time, men are actively engaged at the art centre, creating their costumes and joining the women for rehearsals that could almost become a mini DanceSite given the number of people dropping by to watch. There’s a crackle of excitement that’s beginning to erupt…

After long days, particularly by the production team and Lia and Marlene, we reach the first night of DanceSite. It’s a beautiful evening, slowly cooling down the way it seems to in the NT. Peppered at the front are Grey Nomads on their journeys looking enthralled to have stumbled across this festival, while kids are bouncing energetically all over the place.

Local dance groups Yanyuwa, Gurdanji, Mara, Garrwa and Wanda Ngula share their stories and Dreaming through dance and song, as does the visiting dance group from Ngukurr. Each group delivers the perfect balance of respectful revelry and special acknowledgement of culture presented with a layer of pride. The audience gives space to each group and dancer, celebrating alongside them in what really is a coming together of communities in one of the most remote places in Australia. Special guests, The Kailani Dancers, bring a hypnotic style of dance that has the crowd intrigued and captivated – hailing from Kiribati in the Pacific, we’re transported to sandy beaches and frangipani trees.

Saturday starts with a clean up and a bacon and egg sandwich eaten on the grass of the Borroloola Showgrounds where we have a moment to reflect and re-energise! The Smith Family runs children’s activities in the afternoon, yet another 37 degree day that’s unnoticeable thanks to a sweet waterslide. There’s a youthful, frenetic buzz brought on by not only the waterslide but also the mixed games of soccer, the reading, face painting and fruit eating. Borroloola Community Arts Markets set up stalls, including a small nursery, cake and bush foods – all add to the liveliness!

Image of the five dance groups of Borroloola at DanceSite 2015 by Benjamin Bayliss

Image of the five dance groups of Borroloola at DanceSite 2015 by Benjamin Bayliss

As the sun falls, Juniper the Jabiru and Damper the Dugong sway in the wind, carefully watched by more Grey Nomads who are in prime position. We enjoy the privilege witnessing an incredibly special, collaborative dance and song be unveiled featuring choreography and words put together by the five local language groups – the first time in decades this has happened. A project initiated and guided by Lia and Marlene and delivered by Ghenoa, ‘Magu Gula’ is about the impact of mining on the lands. The intention is for this new contemporary work to be passed along and performed, taking its place alongside other traditional song and dance.

Dancers from Kununurra treat us to incredible stories and performances. Strapped to dancers’ backs are Ballmarra, vibrant coloured boards giving the dancers a height at which they effortlessly glide around. Two Kununurra dancers emerge with enormous masks that look like evil rabbit type animals, telling the story of Devil Devils. Children’s screams pierce the air, a mix of both fun and fright, reminding me of how I used to hide under the reception desk of my dad’s surgery when the lion would come in and dance for Chinese New Year. The Kailani Dancers are back to entrance us once again, this time inviting the audience on stage for an impromptu dance – talk about ultimate crowd participation, it’s a joyful moment, a finding of common ground by two very different cultures who use dance and performance as cultural maintenance.

Image of dancers from Kununurra at DanceSite 2015 by Benjamin Bayliss

Image of dancers from Kununurra at DanceSite 2015 by Benjamin Bayliss

DanceSite is over for another year and is the last official one for Borroloola. Dance groups pack up troopies and buses for the long journey home, buoyant from a weekend shared with familiar faces.

We just sit for a minute and wait for the dust to settle…

Artback NT shadows

That Desert Harmony feeling…

It’s with a heavy heart that we farewell our Music Touring Manager, Vanessa Hutchins, who leaves us soon for another adventure. Heading to Desert Harmony Festival one last time to kick off Desert Mulga Band‘s tour, Ness wrote a blog to say farewell to the people and lands she’s come across…


More often than not working for Artback NT finds you on some remote regional highway caught up in your own work and program. But recently a nice synchronistic experience occurred in Tennant Creek – the Heart of Gold – for three of us Artback NT mob, in town for the 26th Desert Harmony Festival.

It was a significant trip for all programs, visual arts, dance, theatre and music touring…

Alice Buscombe was up to hang her last exhibition for Artback NT – Marina Strocchi at Nyinkka Nyunyu Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre, finalsing her commitments and celebrating 15 months working as Artback NT’s Visual Arts Touring Manager including producing the enormous Punuku Tjukurpa during her time. Britt Guy was commencing her new journey with Artback NT, holding consultations and planning long term commitments to the Barkly region, meeting new artists and enjoying the festival activities. And I was touring Desert Mulga Band, five young Warlpiri men from Yuendumu and Nyrripi, headlining BAMfest (Barkly Aboriginal Music Festival) as part of Desert Harmony Festival. This too was my farewell of sorts, my last Desert Harmony Festival after many consecutive years, saying goodbye to the amazing Barkly Arts crew – Alan Murn, Kathy Burns, James Winwood and Peter Coloutti, as I celebrated my last tour for Artback NT.

We all met up for a wonderful opening ceremony Warumungu style at Nyinkka Nyunyu on Friday night and were welcomed to country, this included a typical informal Gerry McCarthy hug and greeting. I was star struck as I met Kurt Fearnley who was there as ambassador for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. That man just makes my efforts pale to delusion. Following this we scooted up Battery Hill to see the amazing full moon rise and say goodbye to the day. The light and beauty of the moon rising was intense, only to be heightened by the arrival of the very special Music NT Desert Divas – Beatrice Lewis and Dallas Franka who appeared out of the dark, in Tennant Creek to run the Barkly Divas programme. After that delightful occurrence Brit and I made our way to the performance of Team of life by KAGE, an interesting way to spend a Friday evening.

Bininj band

Bininj band

Saturday morning was spent on the art trail which had Tennant buzzing, this included a live talk from Marina Strocchi at her exhibition. Britt and Alice then went to the football and I caught the Barkly Divas at a showcase performance in Peko Park. Desert Mulga and I than did a sound check and some media interviews in prep for BAMfest that evening. Late afternoon we decided to hook up again and Britt, Alice and I journeyed out to the Kunjarra “Devils Pebbles”. Always a special energy resource, the area magically showcases the light and shadow of the day and hints at the scared knowledge of that country. Re-charged and energetic, I than mustered the band (and Britt) and we headed off for a night of great music and dance. The BAMfest line up showcased Barkly area bands including Rayella, Barkly Boys and Winanjjikari All Stars. Filmed by TILT Vision and uplinked to many communities live, broadcast simultaneously by CAAMA Radio with the ever present G-MAN live in our face, the concert was a highlight for Desert Mulga. By the time the band played there was massive dancing crowds enjoying the night. The Eldorado Hotel certainly had the festival vibe going later that night. Most of the performers were staying there, including APRA musos, CAAMA Radio mob, Desert Mulga Band, Rayella Band, Moira Finucane and her Cabaret mob and Djuki Mala. All seemed attracted and drawn to the vibe of Music NT’s Phillip Eaton, poolside.

Sunday morning began early with Britt and I watching the sunrise through the rocky ancient land, a special final way to say goodbye to Tennant one last time. There is certainly something special in that country that challenges your inner spirit. We then met a philosopher over breakfast, and that seemed a poignant way to greet the day. Britt and Alice left to drive to Alice Springs and fly home to Darwin. Meanwhile, I prepared to relax into my day off – when the phone rang. Kathy Burns from Desert Harmony Festival – Could I help them today… emergency… Cabaret…. Someone hasn’t turned up..!#?. please…

So I ended spending the day with Moira Finucane and her Cabaret mob – ‘The Birds Of Paradise’ – doing every task under the sun, a tech run and finally fellow spot operator on the show.
It was worth it. I got to enjoy watching 1000 people from local Tennant Creek get jolly and enjoy a very romping night, including the ever present (under my spotlight) Gerry McCarthy. It was nice to join such a hard working Desert Harmony team and help out where I could… It was definitely part of that Desert Harmony feeling.

The next day I drove up Stuart Highway, a road I know so well, to Katherine, and continued my goodbyes…

Artback NT mob

Artback NT mob

Karla Dicks and Doni Maulistya on their bikes in Alice Springs

I found an artist in crime…

Image: Karla Dickens and Doni Maulistya on their bikes in Alice Springs.

Kerjasama (Collaborate) is a reciprocal visual arts residency between Indigenous Australian and Indonesian artists. Kerjasama was launched in 2014 through Asialink’s Arts Residency Labratory, with Artback NT and Cemeti Art House coming together to deliver this program.

Recipients of the residency for 2015 are Karla Dickens (NSW), a Wiradjuri woman whose works are in the collections of museums, regional galleries and private collections, nationally and internationally, and Doni Maulistya (Yogyakarta), who has undertaken residencies and exhibited in Indonesia and Singapore. Karla and Doni recently spent six weeks in Alice Springs and will spend another six weeks in Yogyakarta in November.

Karla gave an artist talk as part of her residency, which she has shared below…

Karla Dickens - 2015 Kerjasama recipient

Karla Dickens – 2015 Kerjasama recipient

Ice in Alice
or so the plan was?
I’m talking about the drug
not the hail storm
that was to come
leaving a blanket of hard

As I flew into Alice my tears
welled looking out the window,
knowing this landscape
would have stories
as big as
it was old.

Driving towards the town
centre I passed through caterpillars,
large red caterpillars and
I became a child listening to
the stretches of a Dreaming story
before an opening in two
giant rock formed grubs.
I spotted the recycle centre,
on the left
the tip
I felt comfort with an instant reminder,
I was an artist
artist in residence.

I waited for A Yogya Boy to arrive
a new brother called Doni.
I had somehow crowned
myself as his hostess,
a hostess on unknown country.
It would be a case of the blind leading the blind
with eyes looking intensely, wanting to see.

It was time to be shown the
ins and outs of Alice,
the keys, roads, food holes
and art haunts,
locked and unlocked.

I was greeted by those with varying degrees of cultural passports,
some had stamps a-plenty,
polished and worn in honour,
stamps for remote community experience,
dealers, art workers, miracle workers and
some simply wearing blinkers thick as bricks.

Most without the stamp of knowing how to deal
with a pale faced Blackfella from the east coast
wearing my pale skin like a plain clothed detective
invisible to most of those with cultural passports
I floated.

It’s an invisibility I have used before
a useful and helpful cloak
it allows mouths to open wider, and lips to move faster.
My darker skinned family had their own cloaks
that keep them removed
I soon saw the Arrente peoples’ invisibility,
the country called Alice is now coming into focus,
a welcome to this country was needed.
The ice man gave the all clear,
delivered on a set with red kangaroos on the tails of planes.

Nowadays as a middle aged mother
I’ve gone from a plain clothed to undercover detective.
Detective Dickens loves filing reports.

The files are not art making material
for this artist in residence
but time hungry, never the less.
Happy to have brought work up to go on with,
its direction was about to change.

Slipping and sliding on the edge of
the tourist surface
eyes wide, ears pricked and heart raw
I attempted to soak up what I was now swimming in,
questions began to pile as high and thick as the
Aboriginal paintings in direct-to-public art supermarkets,
culture on sale for a discount.

My gratitude grew for visits
from a local man named Dan.
A local on many levels,
a spirit that knows the black space in between
the blessing of a swag and medicine woman.

Watch This Space made its introduction,
I now watch an A-grade team with speed and focus,
becoming acquainted with the Yogya Boy
I found an artist in crime,
blown away by his youthful vision
Two artists in residence stewed
with similar questions and bubbling inspiration,
ideas of art and concepts bursting from the seams,
a building pressure to wrestle what it is,
what it is to take the bull by
the horns as artist, visitor and
tourist in residence.

It didn’t take but a week to
realise there was no way of knowing
a town like Alice in a five week period,
let alone what was laying outside her doors,
wrapping it up in a well packaged
art basket wouldn’t be easy –
a jelly wrestling marathon
was about to begin.

The artist mind was one thing
then there was the transport trip,
shaky legs together with unbalanced
juggling on a brand spanking new red pushbike,
4WD’s looked bigger than ever before after not sitting
on two wheels for decades,
not forgetting the jail-like compound I found myself locked in
and the countless warnings of personal safety
with more don’ts than most toddlers hear before lunch.

Another flat
embrace this opportunity
create something now

Like a well oiled football team
Doni and I scored our first try
when we touched down with the realisation
that work would come second and experience our
new attack.

The chains of push bikes are woven into the caterpillar story,
I start to create my telling in the making and creating,
I’m locked behind a cage
I reflect.

As we learnt about flat tyres
and how to sort licenses and permits
a car was sent from heaven with the doors of Alice opened
to the outside world.
Brilliant red knocked on our psyches as we ventured on
a few day trips,
armed with cameras and a release
of our own made pressure cookers we set sail.

Into the history of missions,
a history I know and a pain
close to my heart, regional borders
now have bridges,
an exchange of cross-cultural
knowledge is handed over to
my international brother.

Religion is a solid point of
conversation, it’s global with
an intercultural dialogue that
sings many songs.
In a landscape where cowboys,
tyres and dots make their tracks,
the Aboriginal embrace in parts
of the desert is warm
not much to forgive the
churches for here.

A break for freedom at the
Blue Gumboot Camp, directed and
held tight by Aunty Elaine,
dancing and connections were made
in a dry river bed, I allow
myself to take a few long
deep breaths.

I’m a collector of things,
a bower bird that travels, has
its limits yet a freshly hit eagle
was an object that would not be left.
Instructed by bossy travellers in the
backpackers’ hut at the “Ayres” Rock
camping ground
I learnt that boiling water would
release the glued feathers.
The quest to take photos as an
artist not a tourist was interesting,
finding a quiet space to sit
with that rock felt impossible,
not a personal highlight.

An Australian flag I had
rolled up in my luggage is now
the backdrop of a seven sisters work
a big work, needing many
hours and patience,
a work that has a cord of string
that will follow me to Java.
In a global context
the stars belong to the world,
to the sky people
these stars find me outside of Blackstone
between hours of roads, tracks and
car bodies the spaces between take on
a new depth of fullness
spilling over in the dust of creation
a wholeness known by few in this life.

Go ahead blow my mind and dig deep
into my soul
ancestral woman takes flight
before my eyes
as the old women weave,
I unravel
levels of knowing take me back
to that small girl I am
no invisibility here.

The seven sisters are not the only
sisters in camp.
There are sisters who have sung for
a lifetime as one –
mothers, daughters, granddaughters,
aunties and cousins.
Food, needles, massages, tea, lumpy
magic balls nestled in the lips of
women, women who talk without
speaking, women with no need or
want for passports, they carry the stamps.
I’ve been stamped with an ink that an
artist in residence longs for,
whether it lasts like a tattoo, it’s too
early to tell.

It’s not in the product, it’s in the production.
The living, the dead
the fire
the age
the covers and the veils
the moments and the spaces between space that is
loud with silence.

So pleased to have met you,
I’ll water my seed as I feed my dog
and cuddle my daughter under my east cost sky
and as I journey to Java with my new brother.


BROKEN – a Q&A with Mary Anne Butler

BROKEN is a new play by the multi-talented Mary Anne Butler. A distinctively NT work with a universal theme, BROKEN wrestles with matters of chance, choice, hope and fate – posing the question: when you find yourself empty, how do you start again?

BROKEN is directed by Gail Evans and stars Matt Edgerton, Rosealee Pearson and Ciella Williams. It opens at Brown’s Mart Theatre on Wednesday 18 March and runs until Sunday 29 March. Tickets can be purchased here.

Behind the scenes footage and other bits and pieces can be found on BROKEN‘s Facebook page.


Artback NT’s Communications Manager, Jess Ong, caught up with Mary Anne to hear her thoughts on the inspiration behind BROKEN and how this goosebump-inducing work came together.


Artback NT: Where did the idea and premise for BROKEN come from?

Mary Anne Butler: I’d had this character called ‘Ham’ floating around in my head for a while. He was a ‘salt-of-the-earth’ Territory born and bred bloke. I knew he worked on the mines, and that he was a rural SES volunteer.

I was also fascinated by a news story from 2007 in which a woman rolled her car on the Stuart Highway, north of Tennant Creek. She was trapped in it for three days without water or food – literally metres from the highway – but no-one could see her because the car was behind some scrub. It got me thinking about how tenuous the act of driving out bush is.

Then I had a conversation with a friend’s partner one day. I didn’t know him very well so I asked him about himself and he revealed he’d been an ambo. I asked him to tell me some of his stories from that time – which he did – and he also revealed that when they come across someone in distress, the greatest fear that person has, is being left alone. So an ambo will look that person in the eye and reassure them that they won’t be left alone. This fascinated me, because I felt that an extremely vulnerable person being cared for by someone who was in control and competent, must forge an imbalance in terms of relationship power. I asked him if bonds ever formed from these chance emergency encounters. I recall him saying that yes, bonds did form, but they weren’t ‘real’ so – ultimately – they had to be let go.

So in my writer’s brain, a new character – Ash emerged. A woman involved in a rollover. And Ham finds her, then tends to her and they spend several hours out in the desert, waiting for ambos to come. And what happens in those few hours is that they form an emotional attachment because both of them are a bit lost in life – and the romance of the desert creates a pressure cooker for them to reassess their current lives, and imagine a life together.

…but that in itself is not dramatic. In drama, there is a school of thought that three characters are the best number for creating conflict – and drama is conflict. So I created Mia – Ham’s partner – who is back at home, waiting for him, with issues of her own.

I guess for me plays are a combination of inspiration, chance, and then lots of hard work – what I call the ‘crafting’ of the drama. The idea and premise come from a combination of these. Usually I have a ‘lightning bolt’ moment of inspiration which sets of a heap of questions in my head, and as I circle these questions [and they circle me], we gradually get to the point where the crafting takes over.

Artback NT: Do you feel BROKEN could’ve worked in a different landscape or was the aridity and isolation of Alice Springs just what the story needed?

Mary Anne Butler: I drove from Alice Springs to Glen Helen one day, and on the way back my radiator over-boiled and I didn’t have enough water to refill it. I stood by my car and there was no traffic, either way. As night started to fall, I got an incredible sense of how alone I was out there – on what is quite a main road in the NT’s context – and it both terrified and fascinated me. Dingos called across the landscape with their thin, eerie, high-pitched yowl and I thought I was done for.

A lovely bloke with a sensible water container turned up and helped me out; but that moment – which offered me a firm sense of me being nothing in this vast landscape – stayed with me. As BROKEN took shape, that arid desert landscape became a character in its own right.

Artback NT: BROKEN is an all-encompassing, emotional play yet there are only three characters – how did you develop their stories?

Mary Anne Butler: It’s kind of hard to explain, but this might help: I was writing a play a few years ago, and I’d done this ‘plotting’ workshop – so I thought I would apply what plotting I’d learned to this play. I plotted out the journey for my protagonist [Zoe], and there I was, writing away – when it came to the point that Zoe was supposed to do something which I had on my plotting sheet. Well, she just wouldn’t. She wouldn’t do it. I ended up talking to my computer screen, as if I was talking to her, cajoling her. She still refused. In the end, I literally said – out loud to my computer screen – “Well you tell me. Then. What do you want to do?” And – I kid you not – she set off on another path. So I wrote down what she did and we got out of that particular plotting hole, me led entirely by her.

…sometimes I think writing is a kind of madness, but mostly for me it’s about doing lots of research, making sure I know the world and the characters really well, and then getting my brain out of the way of my instincts for the first draft. Just let it flow. It’s pivotal for me to then re-engage my brain in drafts 2, 3, 4 etc – to sort out logical contradictions and script anomalies. I don’t pretend to understand the process, but I do love it because it is so fluid and exciting.

BROKEN, also had two huge hands: the first one via dramaturg Chris Mead. Dramaturgy is the craft or technique of ‘dramatic composition’, and I find it invaluable as a playwright to send my half-baked play to an intelligent dramaturg to read, and provide me with constructive feedback for the way ahead. Chris is the Literary Manager at Melbourne Theatre Company, and he’s one of the smartest people I know, particularly with structure. With BROKEN I knew what the plot was, I knew the characters well, but also I knew the issues I was facing were structural, as BROKEN was a work that messed with the chronology of time. Chris was pivotal in helping me shape the complex structure of the script, and for that I’m extremely grateful.

emptiness is the beginning of all things

The second massive boon to this work was that it was lucky enough to receive one of the Brown’s Mart ‘Build-Up’ grants in 2013. This allowed not only fees for the above sessions with Chris Mead, but it also gave us two weeks on the floor with the amazing Gail Evans directing three professional actors, while they put the script through its paces: refining and polishing it, asking me smart questions, testing the emotional core and veracity of each of the characters.

Gail Evans is one of the finest directors I have ever had the pleasure of collaborating with, nationally. She commits to the script and story in the first instance and doesn’t bring in anything extraneous, preferring instead to let the script to do the work – which, for a playwright, is heaven. Those two weeks led by her were pivotal in honing and refining the text to what it is now, which then went on to win the NT Literary Award as well as getting shortlisted nationally for the Griffin Theatre Award for “…an outstanding play or performance text that displays an authentic, inventive and contemporary Australian voice.” Without the Brown’s Mart Build-Up and the input of this amazing development team, I don’t think the script wouldn’t have got that recognition.

…that’s why I love theatre so much. It’s collaborative. It’s way more fun when you’ve got other people to play with, and the work can only get richer with such smart and empathic minds contributing to the process.

Artback NTReferences to nature feature quite heavily throughout BROKEN – was this a deliberate decision or was it one that came organically?

Mary Anne Butler: Entirely organic. I wrote out of Brisbane until 2002, when I moved to the NT. All my Queensland works are urban dramas. As soon as I came to the NT, the size and scope and power and beauty and danger and tenuousness of this vast, largely unpopulated landscape – Top End, coastal areas, desert – impacted on my work; I guess in part because NT characters now so strongly feature in my work, and they are a product of this environment. It’s just so interesting here. Nature is a massive force which has its own ideas, and we as humans are servants to that, it’s the one thing we can’t control. If a cyclone or a drought or a tsunami or a flood decide to hit, there’s nothing we can do about it – and I actually find that oddly refreshing.

Artback NT: Similarly, the lyricism, contrast and overlapping of dialogue between characters in BROKEN almost leaves it reading a bit like poetry…

Mary Anne Butler: In 2011 I made a trip to Sydney to see some theatre shows as part of my professional development. One of those was Terminus, written by Mark O’Rowe, an Irish playwright. The stage was bare for the entire production – no sets, no props – just three Irish actors telling the story of the play, which was written in iambic pentameter, the rhythm and rhyme which Shakespeare wrote in.

Iambic pentameter has a way of driving a story forward, and Terminus blew me away. I read all of Mark O’Rowe’s other works, which lead me to Conor McPherson – another contemporary Irish playwright. I read all his works, and then discovered Abbie Spallen – also Irish. So this handful of contemporary Irish playwrights showed me a way to write that I hadn’t realised was possible. Their lyrical, sparse, poetic imagery influenced the language of BROKEN as it started to take shape.

Artback NTYou were heavily involved in Highway of Lost Hearts (another fabulous work by Mary Anne), what’s it like to now be somewhat removed from the direction and acting side of BROKEN? Were you ever tempted to take on one of the characters?

Mary Anne Butler: It’s heaven to not be involved beyond writing and producing. While Highway of Lost Hearts was an awesome trip [literally], and it taught me so much, BROKEN offers me a chance to sit back and focus on the script alone, to see how that works in front of a live audience.

I do get to sit in on the first week of rehearsals, and I’m both excited and nervous about hearing BROKEN read for the first time, seeing it come to its feet, terrified of the director and actors asking me script questions for which I have no answers. But I can’t wait, it’s gonna be an awesome week with such a talented director and cast, and an awesome creative crew. I’ve seen the set already – designed by Kris Bird – and it is stunning.

I’m so, so happy to hand this work over to such a talented team of local professionals, and I’m really excited about just rocking up on opening night to see what magic they have woven.


Jorna Newberry, mimpu.Muur-muurpa: Bloodwood.310x300x340mm.c.2000.

Behind the scenes of Punuku Tjukurpa

Image: Jorna Newberry, mimpu. Muur-muurpa: Bloodwood. 310x300x340mm. c.2000.

An exhibition of national significance, the time has come to prepare for the opening and touring of artwork from the Maruku Arts archive, based at Mutitjulu near Uluru in the Northern Territory. Punuku Tjukurpa opens at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide in March 2015 and will tour to 13 regional and metropolitan venues across five states and two territories. It is the first touring exhibition of works from Maruku Arts and offers a privileged, unique insight into one of Australia’s finest art movements and a pathway into a culture rarely seen.

Artback NT’s Visual Arts Touring Manager, Neridah Stockley and Steve Anderson, a man with an extremely diverse skill set, have began the task of building and consolidating Punuku Tjukurpa‘s exhibition ‘furniture’. This entails the creation of presentation and installation systems, such as support structures, brackets and panels for exhibition objects and works.

Artworks in Punuku Tjukurpa have been selected from the Maruku archive, a collection of over 400 works set up in 1984. However, many of the works in this collection are far older than the collection itself, and artist’s names were not always recorded. The photo of the collection of spearthrowers (first image on second row) were made by several artists, and the work second from left is by the late artist, and founder of Maruku, Walter Pukutiwara. Sadly we do not have the artists names or date of production listed for these exquisite works.

Like constructing and deconstructing a puzzle, Neridah has strategised the best way to pack objects and support pieces into boxes, breaking down packing and storing information into manuals for each venue. It’s essential these works are stored and packaged safely to avoid being damaged or compromised as these boxes will be on the road for three years worth of touring around the country!

Alice Buscombe, also a Visual Arts Manager at Artback NT, has been photographing different elements of Punuku Tjukurpa and you can see more behind-the-scenes action on our Facebook page.

For more information on Punuku Tjukurpa, please visit the exhibition page.

Artback NT goes everywhere

Territory music hits the highway

Image: Artback NT is everywhere!

Artback NT’s Music Touring Manager, Vanessa Hutchins took a long drive to Broome to showcase Territory music and despite the thousands of kilometres, managed to write a blog post!

1000km later and I find myself in Halls Creek after three busy days on the road selling Territory music. I’m happy – the response has been great and word already precedes me, as too the talent of the Territory musos I’ve come to talk about.

For the past three years I’ve been negotiating with venues between Darwin and Broome, organising a yearly tour for Indigenous musicians. These trail blazers; Reggae Dave, Catherine Satour and Jacinta Price have all represented the NT on this tour, receiving Australia Council’s Contemporary Music Touring Program, which has supported the costs of the 4000km round trip. They have laid a great foundation for future tours, with the feedback from venues illustrating the hard work they have done. Thanks guys, you have made this adventure easier!

Hanging out

Taking a break

This trip has been about evaluating the tour, getting feedback from venues about what they want, checking out new venues, and selling NT bands who are tour ready. So far the trip has been amazing, the feedback has been excellent and the positive momentum to continue this tour is very motivating. It’s really important to do trips like this – to meet the hard working publicans, venue managers, community workers who do the hard yards to stage these events, and it’s given me a strong idea about what works and what doesn’t. The exciting part is this tour route could be possible for many Territory bands, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, so I’ve been talking up the talent of many Territory bands, and that’s just cool.

It must also be one of the prettiest tour pathways in Australia. Yes it’s about 300km between towns, but driving up through the ranges and huge river districts of the Vic and Fitzroy Crossing is just beautiful. The Kimberley is alive for music possibilities, and yes they do like their country music but they also like having a good time. It’s a similar influence as in Darwin, holiday makers enjoying the dry season, beer in hand and with a need for live music.

It's a long drive

It’s a long drive!

All up the venues in Kununurra, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Derby and Broome are welcoming to professional bands with a hard working attitude. The trip has been great and now it’s time for the long drive home.

Katherine River by Linda Joy, NT emerging artist in residence, 2014

A Q&A with Linda Joy

Image:Katherine River, ink on canvas, 100 x 52cm

Linda Joy is the first NT artist to undertake Artback NT’s Emerging Artist in Residence program. Linda has spent the last five weeks in Alice Springs where she has created work inspired by the region and its landscapes and will be holding an exhibition at the Charles Darwin University Library in Alice Springs at the end of her residency. Between paint pots and cleaning brushes, Linda kindly allowed us to pick her brains for five minutes…

Your current work explores Top End landscapes – what elements of the land inspire you? How do you then interpret these elements on to canvas?
I synthesise observations of Top End landscapes from an aerial perspective using water as the keystone of composition. Coils and washes represent the rocks and trees of the land. I seek inspiration for these works from the environment around me, as such, the body of work I have produced over the past couple of years is predominately Top End.

Can you share your artistic process?
My visual journals are extensive reflections of this artistic journey that I’m on. They underpin everything I do and also document the development of my love of ink and charcoal.They are my constant source of intel! I have also gained inspiration from helicopter flights over the land. That is such a cool way to look at the lay of the land, the patterns, textures, shapes and movement – I really should tap into my son-in-law’s pilot skills there!

How did you uncover your talent for this particular type of art (ink of canvas, use of minuscule coils etc)? Was it an accidental or gradual discovery?
About three years ago Don Whyte Framing put a call out for artists to produce work for the Offcut show, a local annual fundraiser held at the framing shop. It’s an initiative of Don’s and is a completely beautiful, vibrant and energetic evening that conjures up images of a Parisian salon. I collected my canvas then looked at it blankly with only days to the deadline. I wasn’t practicing so had no idea at all where to start. I basically went back to the last drawing I did in my sketchbook eight years prior (before teaching took a grip on my life). It was an ink pen drawing of Tolmer Falls and I ended up making two canvases for the show. It was exciting and I was on a bit of a high so just kept going with it. I created a larger work called Litchfield that was accepted into the Togart Art Award that same year. I had to experiment a lot with fixing the inks on to the canvas and ways to prepare the canvas to save the nibs from getting blunt. It is a very meditative process working this way. I love it!

Wurre (Rainbow Valley)

Wurre (Rainbow Valley), ink and wash on archers, 56 x 76cm

What and who inspires you?
The million dollar question! I was inspired at a very young age by my father’s black and white photography; I found the ‘dark room’ intriguing with the red and yellow light. My mother worked alongside him as the handcolourist, and I loved the smell of oil paint and turps and I still do! I studied photography in the early eighties and furthered my arts practice in the nineties when I undertook an Arts degree in Darwin. Franck Gohier was a massive inspiration to me then and continues to be. He is one of the most generous, passionate, prolific, supportive and inspiring artists I know. A genuine master.

Travel, camping, my journals and the very environment we live in are the impetus for my work. My three daughters, Lani, Imogen and Matilda are my biggest inspiration – they are encouraging and believe in what I do, I am so lucky!

Who are your favourite artists and/or artworks?
That is such a tough question. I have just come back from an extended visit to France so my head is full of Impressionism at present. Sitting in l’Orangerie with Monet‘s Water Lilies murals was very inspiring.

I love the collage work of Vik Muniz, the video work of Bill Viola, the photography of Vee Speers, Kudzanai Chiurai and Chema Madoz, the comical work of Rob Brown, the community work of JR, the lino prints of Franck Gohier, the land paintings of Kathleen Petyarre, the spontaneity, colour and texture of Van Gogh… all are high on my list of greats!

What are some surprises to have come out of your residency with Artback NT?
Wow! There are many. COLOUR! I have only really worked in black and white with the landscape work, though most pieces I’ve produced so far also include reds and golds. The marks are intricate ink washes rather than coils and the composition has evolved from the horizon rather than the aerial perspective like my other Top End work. Interestingly enough, I am also working on paper rather than canvas… so yes, there is quite a few surprises there!

The residency has been a brilliant platform for experimenting like this in such a supportive and vibrant community. Of course it’s all a bit scary, you can get comfortable with one style and then it is difficult to explore other options. I am definitely ‘jumping the void’! I find this is still a meditative process, the intricacy and the repetitiveness of the washes. I am still aiming for that peace in my work, representing the vastness of land, the undulation and in this case the overwhelming portrayal of the iconic rocks that are inherent in this particular landscape.

A completely different environment has inspired a completely different approach; it has all just transpired that way, which again is the beauty of this residency.

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Dogs on the road – part X

Dogs on the road is coming to an end – part X is the last chapter in this special book! Image: Renner Springs peacock.

Several days driving took us from Maroochydore to Rockhampton, then to Mackay for a show at the Mackay Entertainment Centre. And what a show it was! Mackay came out in force with their Friday night open-ness – laughing and crying the whole way through. Nicky, the very smart publicity woman had discovered that Mackay had a dog walkers club – replete with around 500 members – so she targeted them, and the dog jokes and references got huge laughs on this particular night. Additionally, a drama teacher had brought her group of kids the 90 minute drive down from Hopevale, and they hung around for some time afterwards asking questions and commenting on the work. It was truly lovely.

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Rockhampton pubs

…from there to Townsville for a rest day. Aimee stayed with her bro, while Brad and I bunked in at our hotel. The first night I caught up with lovely ex-Darwin mates Louise and Jenn and got inducted into the local football semi-final while supping on oysters and champagne. Next morning I joined Aimee and her bro and sister in law for a trip to the aquarium and across to Magnetic Island via ferry, where Brad joined us for a swim in the ocean. Dinner at the local pub consisted of fresh seafood, then it was time to catch the last ferry back to the mainland and crawl into bed. After a spa, of course. Tough life on this road.

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Aquarium life!

On our way out of Townsville the next day we drove up Castle Hill for a spectacular view of North Queensland’s mountains and ocean, then off to Cairns for our last two shows. This tour has gone SO quickly. Twelve weeks seem like four. As we drive past cane fields and lush sub tropical vegetation, I think of when we left on July 8th, driving dry red dirt-lined roads towards Katherine. The landscape has changed so much along the way; and we have as well, I’m sure.

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The view from Castle Hill

Cairns weather has that tropical pull of warm wet air and it felt like we were back in Darwin, in a hotel overlooking the flat ocean. The accom was once again superb – a three bedroom suite with massive balcony and lounge, a spa bath for those with the inclination and time, and a gorgeous kitchen fitted out with every kind of appliance known to human kind. But no cooking tonight as Aimee’s two fabulous mates, Ben and Sheralyn introduced us to the delights of a Korean Barbeque, and we feasted on all sorts of things I won’t mention here for fear of offending the vegan and vegetarian readers.

This time in Cairns is a bit of a return for me. I trained as an actor from 1987-1989, performed in a long-running theatre in education program for five years during the mid to late nineties and then walked away from acting, turning to playwriting as a less stressful career. Then in 2004 I got offered a role I couldn’t refuse with Knock-em-Down theatre and Just Us Theatre Ensemble; treading the boards again for the first time in years with a show that premiered at COCA theatre in Cairns. Now 10 years later I’m back at the COCA theatre, and the first night sees some of the old mates I made back in 2004: Sarah Flenley, Susan Prince, Suellen Maunder and Sue Hayes turned out in force with their friends to see the show – delivering a standing ovation which was gorgeous. The next day I got to catch up with some of them for coffees and lunch, which was equally lovely.

…and then our last show on the 17th Sept – also marking the 50th show for Highway of Lost Hearts, counting the 2012 and 2013 seasons. This last show was really pretty special in terms of the audience being very moved – and consolidated a few questions for me about why I write, and about how audiences have related to this particular work.

…but that’s another story…

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Raintree fruit bats

And then it’s over. Three months of touring, 14,789 kilometres, 37 shows across 28 venues. Just the bump-out and three tired souls head for our final hotel home to consume a glass of celebratory champagne before a night out on the tiles to celebrate with a couple of games of pool and a late night wander along The Esplanade.

Our final rest day the next day where Ben and Sheralyn took us to Lake Eacham for a swim and a look at the Atherton Tablelands, then home via the cheese and chocolate factory. We delivered Aimee to catch a plane back to Darwin that evening while Brad and I navigate the Barkly Highway back home; where the ‘real world’ apparently awaits. Whatever THAT is!

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Dunmarra dog and furry friend

Eternal thanks to all those involved in the touring of this work: Artback NT: Arts Development and Touring – and all who sail within her – for belief in this work and commitment to getting the tour up, Angela O’Donnell for particularly dedicated support of me as an emerging producer, Playing Australia for touring funding, all the venues which booked us along the way, and every single audience member who attended, Browns Mart Theatre for remount support, director Lee Lewis whose vision sustained the piece through all those shows, Kris Bird’s extraordinarily transportable and bump-in-and-out able set ensign, Panos Couros’ evocative and moving sound design, Sean Pardy’s rich and dynamic lighting states, Aimee Gray’s professional, thorough organisational skills and terrific road trip personality, Damien Pree’s eternal ‘can do’ optimism and engaging tales of life, the universe and all good things within, Brad Fawcett’s keen sense of humour and vast technical know-how, Jess Ong and Robyn McLean’s visual talents for making all these blogs look so pretty, Faye McAleenan for making sure everyone always got paid on time, Kelly from Stage and Screen for booking such fabulous accommodation and you – the reader – for following these blogs!

…it’s been a blast…

XX Mary Anne


On the road with Gift of Life

Gift of Life is a heartfelt and informative story of an Indigenous woman who is struggling with end stage kidney disease. Following her journey through the difficult process of dialysis to receiving a kidney transplant, Gift of Life is a story about family, loss and love and the extraordinary gift of giving through organ and tissue donation.

Gift of Life is currently touring through communities in Western Australia and are sharing stories with us along the way…


“We’ve been travelling through some beautiful country here in WA. Yesterday we drove Geraldton to Carnarvon, 5 hours through rolling hills into huge sand dunes and on to low sparse scrubby country complete with red dirt – just like home! It’s wonderful to be taking this play into the community again. I’m thrilled to see how this simple little show always moves people in the most extraordinary ways – bored adults sit up and pay attention, rowdy kids quiet down and listen, and we’re guaranteed a few tears every time we perform. Looking forward to heading out to Mungullah this afternoon to share the story once again!” – Ella Watson-Russell, cast member.

MA and Gus

Dogs on the road – part IX

The road is winding north and the gang are on it, join them in Dogs on the road – part IX! Image: Mary Anne and her friend from Barraba, Gus.

A rest day in sunny Newcastle brought visits from the lovely Katie Saunders and Alyson Evans, ex-Darwinites now residing in Sydney. We had a gorgeous night at the hotel, cooking up a Sunday night roast chook and chewing the fat [not literally]. The next day Katie and I strolled over to the ocean and played Scrabble, partook of a leisurely lunch, and then I reluctantly put Katie on a train back to Sydney. Alyson had to go back earlier in the day. It was a wonderful extra breath of joy in the already joyous tour schedule, and I miss those dudes and their positive energies so much!



Newcastle also brought the Doc Shop to die for: a narrow, cluttered, dusty chaos of Doc Martens heaven, shelves stocked with models from bygone eras – so I managed to score a pair I’d admired back in 2010 and neglected to buy at the time, and then they disappeared off the market. And here they were, IN MY SIZE!! So a swift purchase before we headed out of town to our first NSW show. The next four days consist of driving, bump-in, show, bump-out, sleep, driving, bump-in, etc – so a big week for all.

On arrival into Quirindi that evening it turned out to be steak night at the local pub, and everyone we met told us this was a ‘must-do’. So we did, and sure enough the scotch fillets were amazing. Tender, cooked to perfection, and absolutely MASSIVE. The publican joked that if we ordered the Rump they’d have to fold it in half to fit it on the plate. Turns out this wasn’t actually a joke.

…we rolled home to our accommodation which turned out to be an old retirement home converted into a motel – complete with emergency call buttons. They even let us use their industrial kitchen for cooking the next day.

Quirindi’s Royal Theatre is a gorgeous old retro heritage building converted into a cinema-come-theatre with metal pressed ceilings and plush red seats which swallow you up as you sink into them. We’ve had a huge variety of theatre spaces along this trip – from the massive Greek Hall without any theatre infrastructure in Coober Pedy to the tiny theatre in Barrabra, which is totally outfitted for theatre. We have different versions of lighting and sound for each venue, and one of Aimee and Brad’s challenges is to assess the technical stock which each venue has access to, and adapt the show accordingly. Some shows have very limited lighting, and others have the full kit and caboodle. Lucky they’re both good at adaptation!

From Quirindi to Gunnedah, where I scored an op-shop leather bound edition of Poe’s Tales from the 1940’s, and read one to Brad and Aimee that night to enhance their dreaming prospects. ‘The Red Death‘ is one of Poe’s typically cheery little numbers, and stayed with us all for days.

Edgar Allan Poe

Thanks, Edgar

…thence to Barraba where we stayed and played at The Playhouse; an independent hotel and theatre owned and operated by the lovely Andrew Sharp – a thespian himself, who played Brad in the original Australian Rocky Horror Show and has worked with the likes of Jim Sharman. He was utterly gorgeous, welcoming us literally with open arms, and extending his generosity to feeding these three weary travellers creamy coffees, gourmet meals and sharing his beautiful dog Gus with us. Gus is very much the house dog; mooching out into the main street from time to time to leave his mark on his territory, but otherwise hanging around the tables in the dining room hinting for scraps or pats or cuddles. He’s GORGEOUS and I have intense yearnings to go out and get a dog to take home with me.

Andrew and Gus

Andrew and Gus

The Playhouse show was just awesome: a packed house and very attuned audience, all Friday night relaxed and ready to laugh it up for the evening. Many had travelled from two or three hundred kilometres away to see the show, have dinner afterwards and then staying the night in Barrabra. It’s a 6.30 show and afterwards we join the large crowd for one of Lola’s slap-up meals and then chats into the night. We met some really gorgeous people, and I hope to stay in touch with a few of them.

A reluctant farewell from Barrabra took us a little way down the road to Bingara, and another delightful theatre space well-assisted by Martin. Andrew Sharp from Barrabra drove an hour to see this show, as he’d been too busy serving dinner at his place the night before – so it was delightful to see him again. A very different audience to the previous night, large and a lot quieter – but we’re getting used to that. Some audiences just like to sit and listen, others laugh a lot, others again shed tears. The accom at Bingara was the most incredible so far: The River House – a massive, interlinked warren of large rooms, massive cooking facilities and a ‘Food Garden’ of lush citrus and herbs including coriander, cumquat, thyme and kaffir lime. So that night after the show Aimee and Brad ferried me home immediately, then returned to complete the bump-out while I worked the gourmet kitchen in a cooking frenzy to get dinner ready, and we sat to dine at midnight with wine and Barry White in the stereo. Just like home, really.

…and Tenterfield had the balance of all the above with a near-full house at the School of Arts and the most incredible audience responses, including some very vocal participation from the front row. It was a hoot, and an awesome end to our NSW leg of the tour.

A quick stop at Girraween National Park on the way to Queensland brought us sun, a red bellied black snake, kookaburras and a climb up a massive rock to spectacular views for some.

Giraween National Park

Giraween National Park

Equally spectacular was Chris, Aimee’s mum – who drove all the way to Tenterfield to see the show and then back to her home on the Sunshine Coast the next day where she joined us for champagne and prawns at the Sebel in Maroochydore. Our jaws were dropping as we wandered around our luxury suites, Brad’s complete with not one but TWO spa baths [one inside, one out] and Aimee’s and my suite nestled at the edge of the lap pool. The ocean sighed all night from just across the road under the rising full moon, and here – we thought – might just be where heaven resides. On the Gold Coast.


Spa bath celebrations

…now who woulda thunked it…?

Canberra storm

Dogs on the road – part VIII

The crew make their way from our nation’s capital up the East Coast in Dogs on the road – part VIII. Image: Canberra storm, complete with rainbow.

Seven glorious nights in our nation’s capital brought us fine sunny weather, a five night season at the utterly gorgeous The Street theatre, visits from Sydney family and friends, some delectable Thai and Indian cuisine, and four reviews of the show. We had a terrific time in our massive apartment complete with gigantic spa bath and city views.

On arrival it was cold, rainy and smelled of snow in the distant hills – but day two brought sunshine and warmth. We seem to have had the sun follow us everywhere, for which we’re all extremely grateful. As mentioned in the last blog, arrival also took us to a Thai restaurant with specials of the day including roast duck with tamarind sauce, pork belly with chilli jam and tofu with greens in an amazing piquant sauce. And I had to go back for more a few days later. My costume seems to be getting smaller each day, but Brad says it’s the cold weather, and that clothes actually shrink in the cold – which makes sense, so I’ll stop worrying about it and wait to see what the warmth of North Queensland offers in terms of dress sizes.

Dogs of Canberra

Dogs of Canberra

Caroline Stacey who programs The Street Theatre is one of the reasons we’re on tour in the first place. Through the maze of steps which sees shows getting voted in through the long term Cyberpaddock process, sustained votes from The Street across three rounds of voting are what helped get Highway of Lost Hearts across the line. Caroline said she had always wanted an NT work, and Highway seemed like a good fit. And I’m incredibly grateful for that, because these five shows were filled with terrific audiences who are clearly used to seeing a lot of live theatre, and who came unconditionally with us on the journey every single night.

Like Geelong – where we also had five shows in a row – it’s odd what this does to your body and psychology. I need a two hour nap every afternoon before the show, otherwise I can feel a bit flat. So mornings for me were spent delivering workshops to local writers, then a quick lunch and then sleep lockdown from around 2-4, followed by a shower, then to the theatre for an 80 minute warmup, half hour for makeup, and then we’re on! The Street writing program is awesome, it’s been sustained by Caroline for five years now, she gets dramaturg Peter Matheson to work with local writers every year to develop their works, and as a collective they have some fascinating and unique playwriting voices and concepts. It was terrific working with these writers for a bit, and I can’t wait to see their works produced down the track.

…having said that, there was one day that I wasn’t booked to deliver workshops, so Damo and I hit the Canberra op-shops: where he scored several tennis racquets and I picked up a whole lot of stuff I don’t need and have nowhere to store, given I sold my Darwin house during this tour. Lucky I’ve got a big storage unit booked!

Post show is generally spent chatting to folks in the foyer for up to an hour, then we all set off for a late dinner, DVD, and – in Canberra’s case – Brad arrived to take over from Damien for the rest of the tour, so we all spent one night in a local pub, playing pool and chatting to some of the locals plus a guy from the Netherlands who was in town for one night only, and he’d come to see the show! That was pretty cool. He ended up joining us for pool, then toddled next door to stay at the backpackers for the night.

Pie face

Aimee and Brad’s pie faces

Bob Dylan played Canberra on Friday night, and my sister Sarah and her partner Geoff drove from Burrill Lake for that and then to see the Highway of Lost Hearts show on Saturday night, as did my gorgeous niece Tess, and nephew Alex, both driving from Sydney with their partners – so I got in one glorious Saturday morning and lunch in with my family, followed by a late dinner, and then Sunday breakfast with them to boot. Plus Ben and Waimei – lovely mates from old Darwin days – came all the way from Sydney to see the show as well, and wallowed on into the night until it turned well into morning. It was just awesome. It made me feel really homesick when we had to take off on Sunday midday, and that pull of family and friends felt really strong. I just wanted to jump in their cars, or take them all in our van, and head off together. This is the first time I have felt really homesick for Darwin, and I guess the family / friend ties, the love and pull of Darwin’s gorgeous community and being on the road for so long have combined to throw me up into the air a bit. This tour has been amazing, and I have learned so much. But my Darwin home calls louder with every kilometre, and part of me is relieved that we’re nearing the end of this extraordinary journey.

Little dog, Tequila

Little dog, Tequila

Canberra also gave us our first reviews, each of them gorgeous and different and illuminating different aspects of the work. It’s been terrific to get a national perspective amongst them, which the first link is – and a credit to the whole Highway of Lost Hearts key creative team of director/dramaturg Lee Lewis, dramaturg Peter Matheson, sound designer Panos Couros, lighting designer Sean Pardy and set designer Kris Bird.

Canberra Critics Circle

City News

Lip Mag

Canberra Times

We’re off to regional NSW next – a bit of a full on week with four shows in a row, every day also involving driving, bump-in and bump-out. So big days ahead.

Love to all, from this extraordinary Highway adventure.

X Mary Anne

The gang

Dogs on the road – part VII

The gang conquers Victoria! Enjoy Dogs on the road – part VII.

…well, Melbourne was a treat…

The gorgeous Artback NT mob had thoughtfully programmed a few rest days here which book-ended my birthday, so we all took in family, friends, fine food and sleeeeeeeep. I got to hook up with some lovely mates from days of yore – squeezing in two birthday dinners and two birthday lunches – and feeling thoroughly spoilt indeed [as well as feeling a couple of dress sizes larger. But hey; that’s what birthdays are for.] It was gorgeous to catch up with so many friends, and when the Highway team re-grouped to shift across to our Williamstown accommodation on the Thursday evening things continued to improve; Damien and Aimee surprising me with two very special bottles of bubbly [one from Aimee and one from Artback NT!] and Damo’s dual gifts of two silver champagne goblets engraved with ‘Highway of Lost Hearts National Tour – 2014′, in a velvet case n’ all, plus an original retro Scrabble game he picked up in Geelong. The two sweeties then also gave me the best room in the house for the next three days – directly on the water, overlooking Hobson’s Bay and taking in views of Melbourne across the bay, sailboats, the rustic old wooden pier and – in the morning – black swans gliding past. Spoilt, or what? It was GORGEOUS, all of it and I felt [and remain feeling] very very happy and lucky!

Family dinner

Family dinner with Mary Anne’s nieces, Katie and Sarah-Anne

The view

The view from our accommodation in Williamstown

The Williamstown show was a delight – in a gorgeous theatre with a pressed metal ceiling and a really attuned audience, many of them friends and family of all three of us – so mums, dads, siblings and friends from old drama school days finally got to see the show, which they both laughed and cried in and then stayed for a good hour afterwards: chatting, buying scripts, reconnecting and talking about the show. It was utterly awesome, and we finally staggered back to our apartment to watch some of Damo’s ‘True Detective‘ series, unwinding into the wee hours.

Williamstown dog

Dogs of Williamstown

From Williamstown to Albury for a night at the Hothouse ‘Month in the Country’ cottage – a delightful old homestead a few k’s outside Albury with cows and rabbits and ducks and galahs and lots of paddocks surrounding the home. There are several rooms and a massive living area where artists stay for residencies, or just when passing through, as we were. Aimee took off to see family while Damo and I sat in the declining sun, indulging in aperitifs and receiving fleeting visits from Kookaburras and bunny rabbits, all very cute. Aimee returned to a toasty warm house and roast chook, followed by… yes; chocolate and more True Detective. We’re all hooked.

Monday morning – what could we do but check out the Albury op-shops where I scored an old hand-held ice crushing machine and a small travel sized version of Squatter from days of yore, complete with those tiny little sheeps’ heads and original old money. Lovin’ these smaller towns and their op-shop gold.

…and thence to Canberra for five shows in a row at The Street Theatre, and as we approach the ACT the clouds gather, the temperature plummets and those stories of minus 5 degree Canberra nights ring true. Bring on the duck down coats, I say… And – as it turns out – the local Lemongrass Thai, where we sample pork belly with chilli jam and duck with tamarind sauce, more op shops, and more retro Tupperware purchases in between shows, workshops and the odd session on the gym exercise bike to work off the pork belly.

Canberra's cherry blossoms

Canberra’s cherry blossoms

Canberra is also where we say goodbye to Damien, as he heads off to Singapore to be best man at a wedding. Brad Fawcett will replace him for the last three weeks – and even as I write this I can’t believe the term ‘last three weeks’. This has all gone way too quickly, and every day has been a joy. We will be incredibly sorry to leave Damo, he’s been totally awesome. But we will be happy to welcome Brad, and induct him gently into the op-shopping, True Detective, chocolate-eating and tail-wagging ways of this most amazing road journey.

Shady characters

Farewell Damo!

…change, huh? It’s an odd little beast…