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Clancestry: Past and future collide for an unprecedented celebration of country

Jul 22, 2013

Only one year in and Clancestry  is already being pegged by the media as ‘destined to become a signature event on the Queensland cultural calendar’.

Dubbed as a festival created by the Indigenous community, for the Indigenous community, the three-day event celebrated and showcased both traditional and contemporary artforms across a number of genres including music, dance, crafts, visual arts and storytelling from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. The event brought together an unprecedented number of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups to meet and collaborate in years.

From 26 February to 3 March 2013, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre  (QPAC) on Brisbane’s Southbank was host to Clancestry – its first ever Indigenous festival. Curated by Rhoda Roberts, the renowned creative director of the Awakening segment of the Sydney Olympic Games opening ceremony, Clancestry is the result of Australia Council’s first round of its Indigenous Emerging Producer Mentorship Program (EIMP).

QPAC producer Deborah Murphy was the successful recipient of the EIMP grant in 2011. ‘The EIPM program and the engagement of an emerging producer specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander work provided QPAC with the impetus to focus our programming in this area into a concept event that has authentic community support,’ said Deborah.

According to QPAC CEO, John Kotzas, QPAC had been looking to do a major cultural celebration with Indigenous communities for some time, however was conscious that in order to have the right impact, community needed to be involved from it’s inception. ‘Central to the success was making sure the local elders were absolutely engaged in the design and execution of the event. For it to be a true celebration of the community we really need that community to be truly involved. Deborah led us through the process,’ said John.

‘It was very important to us that the event wasn’t imposed on the community, rather that the community felt ownership of the event and a partner in its success.  QPAC has a relationship with many Elders in the community and our first step was to pull together as many community leaders as we could to discuss our plans and seek advice and support.  They demonstrated their support by being at the festival every day in big numbers,’ said Deborah.

Festival performers included the renowned Black Arm Band and an huge array of the best performers and musicians in the country including fourteen time Golden Guitar winner, Troy Cassar Daly, The Belle Flowers, the ACPA Dancers, Archie Roach, Darky Roots, Djolpa McKenzie, Emma Donovan, Impossible Odds, Kaylay Tyson, Lijah and Linta J and Lou Bennett. The program also featured thought provoking panel discussions led by Indigenous thought leaders including Wesley Enoch and Dr Anita Heiss.

One of the most notable highlights of the festival was the spectacular closing ceremony in the form of a modern-day Coroberee – the largest held on the peninsula for over 100 years. Ten Aboriginal nations were involved in an incredible display of cultural celebration led by choreographer Fred Leone.

According to Rhoda Roberts, the Coroberee was not only an amazing celebration, but a cultural milestone for the local communities. “What you must remember is that for our elders, witnessing a Corobree of that scale in a venue like QPAC was unimaginable. You often hear Queenslanders talk about living under “The Act”- legislation that was active until the 80’s that banned our elders from being able speak their own language or practice their own culture. If they did, there were massive repercussions including in many cases, the removal of children. I don’t think many of them thought an event like this would be possible in their lifetime, so for that reason the significance of the event was extraordinary” said Rhoda.

The balance between cultural maintenance and participation in the wider performing arts industry was a major focus of the festival.  ‘It’s not easy to put a festival like Clancestry together – people tend to think “Oh I’ll just put a festival together” but getting it right is a huge challenge. It is very difficult for us to get non-artists from our community to come and see our artists. Our biggest Indigenous arts organisations like Bangarra suffer greatly with this. Our challenge is to develop that audience with the message that through supporting their artists they are continuing their culture – which is absolutely crucial,’ Rhoda added.

However Rhoda believes that the future lies with our young custodians. ‘We have a truly thriving community – a lot of the younger people are very passionate about maintaining traditions and also adapting them to fit into modern life. There is a renaissance of sorts with the youth realising that they have an obligation to country and culture to keep it strong – they take it very seriously.’

The next Clancestry festival will coincide with the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM) 2014, which Rhoda believes will further the opportunities for our Indigenous performers to convey their culture further and ensure real employment outcomes for Indigenous artists.

‘Not only is it essential that we have events like Clancestry to engage with each other but also for these artists who make this their livelihood and continue their practice,’ Rhoda added.

‘It breaks my heart when I hear of yet another talented Indigenous performer leaving the industry and the sector that they have given so much to because as mid-career artists they are not getting the work. They do it because their heart and passion and sense of obligation to their community drives them to do it. We need to ensure that the mid-career artist can remain in their artform by being upskilled to take on other roles in the industry, whether at a level of administration, choreography,’

‘This is why mentorship programs like EIMP are essential. We don’t have a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the industry at producer level so we are relying on our colleagues. The more we are trained up in the arts the better to ensure the authenticity of the work,’ concluded Deborah.

Clancestry 2014 will coincide with APAM 2014. For more information visit:

Clancestry, A Celebration of Country was awarded a Queensland Reconciliation Award, Partnership category on Thursday 11 July to recognise our partnership in developing the program with Nguin Warrup Limited.