Honouring an Indigenous icon known by face

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“I know them by face, but not by name.”

It’s a phrase deemed appropriate regarding an acquaintance we’ve maybe met once or twice.

But what about in respect to an iconic Australian author and preacher whose accomplishments for both Indigenous Australians and the country at large were so profound that his face has been on our $50 polymer note since it was first issued in October 1995.

Even those among us familiar with David Uniapon by name may be unfamiliar with his legacy.

This is what first inspired Bangarra associate artistic director Frances Rings to create her work, Unaipon, in 2004.

“You can still put out a $50 note and ask people if they know who he is, and people have no idea he completely revolutionised the agricultural industry,” Rings tells Canberra Weekly.

“I was ashamed I knew nothing about him, and yet I’m a South Australian woman, and I went through my whole education not knowing anything about him.”

The work has been resurrected as the Indigenous dance company celebrates 30 years with its three-part program, 30 Years of Sixty-Five Thousand.

The show combines a re-staging of Rings’ Unaipon (2004), Stamping Ground by acclaimed Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián, and a powerful collection of dance stories from the company’s 30 year history curated by Bangarra artistic director, Stephen Page, and head of design, Jacob Nash.

The production acknowledges the company’s past, celebrating their legacy while also looking forward.

Rings says seeing her work performed 15 years on since its original run has been a surreal experience that’s inspired introspection.

“When you create it, it’s like a time capsule … There was a different energy at the time.

“I also danced in the original one, so I’m physically and intrinsically connected to it.

“It’s a real honour and a privilege to see this work staged by a new generation.”

Over the course of her prolific career, Rings has passed through Canberra many times, saying the nation’s capital is a special place to her.

“We always get welcomed there and I think it’s a national treasure to be able to go and see those things and have those experiences in our museums and galleries,” she says.

Bangarra: 30 Years of Sixty-Five Thousand will be performed at the Canberra Theatre Centre from 18-20 July; canberratheatrecentre.com.au

ILR
ILR