There is a deep connection to storytelling within First Nations culture which has occurred for thousands of years on the Australian continent. The 2021 YIRRAMBOI Festival – a premier First Nations arts and cultural festival across the City of Melbourne in May 2021 saw these stories take centre stage. Partnering for the third time, Arts Centre Melbourne and YIRRAMBOI continue to develop a relationship based on deep listening and truth-telling.
The festival began on the forecourt of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Theatres Building, under the Spire, with a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony, followed by cleansing all nine levels of the building with healing smoke to rid it of bad spirits and promote the wellbeing of all who work and visit.
YIRRAMBOI means ‘tomorrow’ in the shared local languages of the Woiwurrung and Boon Wurrung peoples, and this year’s festival reflected how past struggles and labour have enabled a new generation of artists and theatre makers to flourish.
“There’s a lot of amazing people that have worked to create our voice in this space,” says Rachael Maza, Artistic Director of ILBIJERRI Theatre Company. The iconic local group celebrated its 30-year anniversary this year and is the longest running Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre company in Australia.
“There’s no way this could have happened without the blood, sweat and tears of those community members who acknowledged and identified the gross need for First Nations stories told our way for our mob,” she says. “When I started out as an actor in my day, most of the work that was coming my way was written by white fellas. When I finally started directing I felt like the gaff(er) had been ripped from my mouth and I could talk.”
Rachael has been the company’s Creative Director now for 13 years and has relished the opportunities to drive her own narrative across a complex and realistic spectrum of First Nations characters on stage.
“I believe that theatre and the arts can offer different perspectives to a story and has the ability to change national narratives,” she says. “I believe that even if we change one heart and one mind in the audience, which I’m absolutely certain that we do, then the carrying impact of that can be profound.”