Ancient First Nations story told through iridescent journey

The 6000-year-old Tjirbruki story was traditionally told orally among Kaurna tribes, but for the first time the dreaming yarn will be shared as a stunning immersive Adelaide Fringe experience featuring animations and state-of-the-art projections.

Feb 12, 2020, updated Feb 13, 2020
Jakirah, Karl and Tikana Telfer. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Jakirah, Karl and Tikana Telfer. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Yabarra is all the work that Georgina Williams has done here on country, fighting for one of the oldest stories here, which is a Tjirbruki dreaming track,” producer of Yabarra: Dreaming in Light and Kaurna Senior Custodian Karl “Winda” Telfer tells InDaily. 

“It is about honouring her story, that’s being passed on now to her granddaughters and to me her son, and her other grandson, nephews and family in our family clan.

“We’re going to tell stories, ancient stories, and we’ve been waiting for the technology to catch up.”

Yabarra: Dreaming in Light showing at the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute for all 31 days and nights of the Adelaide Fringe explores an ancient story through cutting-edge technology, and how Telfer’s mother, Kaurna Senior Woman Aunty Georgina Williams, wrestled for its survival.

Created in partnership with Aboriginal arts collective Yellaka and digital content creators Monkeystack, it is an immersive exhibition that takes participants across piles of sand, through wind tunnels and into bush with the aim of educating them about how the red kangaroo place (the site of Adelaide) geographically came to be through a significant dreaming story.

Yabarra: Dreaming in Light is Adelaide Fringe’s 2020 signature event and comes after last year’s successful Yabarra: Gathering of Light, which transformed the banks of the River Torrens/Karra Wirra Parri into a tapestry of First Nations stories. That display was seen by an estimated 300,000 people.

This iteration tells “another part of the story… the next spot along the track”, says Telfer. It shows how the Tjirbruki (also spelt Tjirbruke) has been kept alive through Telfer’s bloodline.

It’s the red kangaroo dreaming and everyone’s living on this country, so everyone should come visit us and sit with us and enjoy some of the stories, the songs, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, and the laughs.

Dreaming in Light also explores how the ancestor being Tjirbruki was lied to by two nephews regarding the death of another nephew, Kulultuwi.

“Those [South Australian] springs were created from those tears of sorrow, from one of our creation ancestors,” Telfer says.

“The story is about trying to inform people about the natural environment as well, and how we need to come together in peace law, to care for country and care for each other, and care for everything else that depends on country through story, and through the living landscape, which is the living culture.

“That’s what this 6000-year-old story is about.”

Although Telfer doesn’t want to give away too much about what Dreaming in Light will physically look like, he says the animations will be “huge”, the large immersive projections will tell stories, and the “spirit wind” – a wind tunnel – will be interactive.

At the beginning of the exhibition, participants will enter through a cave and be greeted around a fire by three generations of country: young, old and departed.

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“They will then begin the journey after they understand about the protocols and about walking softly on country, and then they’ll follow the journey and the footprints of the kari, the emu,” Telfer says.

They will learn about how the world came into existence: “… the universe, up above with the Milky Way, and the stories and the animals that live in there with our ancestors.”

“Every story has got ways of how you need to behave in relation to the natural world because that’s the only one we have, and that’s the law that we’ve been a part of, obviously, for 3000 generations or more.”

Yabarra: Dreaming in Light. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Yabarra: Dreaming in Light will be shown at the official Adelaide Fringe First Nations hub, the 30-year-old Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, alongside a deadly program of other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Tandanya is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary and are proud to present a First Nations hub for the first time ever during an Adelaide Fringe.

This year’s bill includes theatre productions I Don’t Wanna Play House and The Daly River Girl, cabaret performance Black List Cabaret, dance productions Beautiful and [MIS]CONCEIVE, comedy acts Aborigi-LOL and Kevin Kropinyeri, and music by Nathan May and the Merindas, plus others.

The café has also re-opened for the first time in two years and features a menu including local and native ingredients, such as wild boar and kangaroo. The kitchen is headed by executive chef Rhiannon Mercurio, and the eatery is staffed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

“Tandanya Cafe is just reopening with a new menu with native foods, so there will be a cafe performance program as well with daily food, drinks, and cocktail specials for artists and others,” Telfer says.

“I really wanted to take it (Yabarra) there because it’s honouring the old people that did all the hard work for us to even have a place such as Tandanya, where we could express our culture on our terms in our way in our time respectfully, instead of being invited.

“It’s the red kangaroo dreaming story, and everyone’s living on this country, so everyone should come visit us and sit with us and enjoy some of the stories, the songs, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, and the laughs.”

Yabarra: Dreaming in Light opens this Friday,  February 14, at the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute on Grenfell Street. This is a free event but you still need to book tickets. The event opening coincides with Tindo Utpurndee (the Adelaide Fringe Sunset Ceremony) at Rymill Park/Murlawirrapurka, which is kicking-off at 8pm and featuring Yellaka talent. Go here for all Tandanya Fringe 2020 shows. 

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