Roberts following in her grandfather's footsteps

29th November 2017 12:16 PM
ARTState opening ceremony director Rhoda Roberts at City Hall in Lismore. ARTState opening ceremony director Rhoda Roberts at City Hall in Lismore. Marc Stapelberg

RHODA Roberts AO has just arrived in Lismore from Sydney and she's sunburnt. She's just spent the weekend at Homeground, a free festival at the Sydney Opera House, celebrating First Nations Culture. As the SOH's director of programming she was responsible for making it happen.

"It went off," she says but, now it is time to turn her attention to Tuckurimba, the Widjabul name for Lismore, country on which the heart of her mob lies.

It is time to bring her people together with acclaimed dancers from across NSW for the opening ceremony of Artstate on Thursday night. For this reason she has curated Djanda Mandi Gingerlah, which means "acknowledgement and dedication and gathering."

She is not going to let this opportunity pass her by.

"I am so proud to have Artstate here," she says, "I want to show Australia what we have in Widjabul; how we operate under kinship.

"There is no word for visitor in our language, she says, "only one for your place in the community."

As Rhoda speaks you can feel the sense of responsibility in the slow deliberate timbre of her voice.

After all, she is the inspired daughter of her forebears. Her great grandfather, Lyle Roberts Snr, devised a three-point plan for the Bundgalung people, which still exists on a plaque in Heritage Park today.

It is that code under which she is directing this weekend.

"This man was such a visionary. He was the last fully initiated tribal man to go through the full business. He said: be proud of who you are; your race; your colour, and learn to work with the new arrivals because they need to know about the dreaming."

In 1968, Rhoda Roberts' grandfather, Frank Roberts Snr, took part in a corroboree in front of 10,000 white people at the Lismore Showground. He was continuing this message during the period of the Protection Act, under which legislation forbade indigenous ritual, language and ceremony.

Her own father, Frank Jnr, went on to play a big part at NORPA during its initial years.

Rhoda is proud to now be the custodian "sitting on a wealth" of indigenous knowledge, which her elders kept "secretly going through the era of silences."

 

ARTState opening ceremony director Rhoda Roberts with Bundjalung weaving project
WEAVING A TALE: ARTSTATE opening ceremony director Rhoda Roberts with Bundjalung weaving project River Journey artists Penny Evans and Kylie Caldwell. Marc Stapelberg

She points out City Hall sits on Bounty Street, named because of its proximity to the swamp lands where the Aboriginals feasted and then celebrated. She wants Tuckurimba "to be a place of abundance again, but in the knowledge".

Djanda Mandi Gingerlah brings together great creative minds to our regional centre including Jannawi from Sydney, Excelsior and the Bundjalung Muggerah Dance Clan and Nini Nahri-Gali artists accompanied by the violin of Ngiyampaa man, Eric Avery.

NORPA's general Manager, Patrick Healey says of Rhoda, "Her depth of local knowledge and renowned international and national arts practice is a source of inspiration and invaluable guidance."

To be invited to direct the opening ceremony "is wonderful", says Rhoda, and a way of "embedding the Aboriginal culture as part of the fabric of this regional story".

"If we do not do this we will be the first in thousands of generations of Widjabul people that does not continue the chronicles, and we cannot let that happen.

 

Djurra performance at Lismore City Hall by NORPA and director Kirk Page.
Djurra performance at Lismore City Hall by NORPA and director Kirk Page. Marc Stapelberg

"How you dance up country, how you listen to stories, how you eat; and we are going to lose that information?

"We can't, and we can't do it alone; we've never done it alone."

Opening Concert Schedule

7:00 - 7:30PM - Official opening, 7:30 - 8:00PM - Djanda Mandi Gingerlah

8:30 - 9:30PM - 1920's Swing Party with Youth Jazz Orchestra, Shelly Brown, Spaghetti Circus and Cassettes