KEEP (Kimberley Environmental Education Puppetry) Project Update September 2016
The Kimberley Environmental Education Puppetry project (KEEP) provides exciting new environmental education experiences in Kimberley communities that are
site specific and culturally relevant.
These projects focus on local biodiversity and the threats to it, as well as providing a new platform for aboriginal ranger groups to engage young people
in their work on Country.
The KEEP Project was conceived through a partnership between Theatre Kimberley, Environs Kimberley and individuals.
Aboriginal Ranger groups, schools, scientists, and other organisations are essential collaborators in the development and delivery of KEEP projects.
It's been an exciting year for the KEEP Project, and in February we returned to Bidyadanga Community. For the first stage I spent one month co-designing
and building the 'Big Bidgy Puppets' with the Karajarri Rangers and other Bidyadanga community members. The Rangers chose to build two giant emus and 3
giant threadfin salmon – both species being important community mascots as well as the central characters for traditional and contemporary stories. The
puppets were built in the wet season through February, so there were lots of big storms to keep us company.
The Karajarri Rangers were a multi-skilled team who were adept at building giant puppets and learning specialised construction techniques. At the beginning
of March, the Rangers brought their troupe of giant puppets to the school, delighting students and teachers alike and building the excitement for the week
ahead. Jeremy Cussen and Gwen Knox joined our team to deliver the KEEP project and Kit at the La Grange School in Bidyadanga for one week, engaging students
in a number of curriculum specific multi-sensorial activities which focussed on the Karajarri Rangers work on Country. The Rangers told culturally important
local stories about emus and salmon to the students and these formed the basis for scripts and performances that were subsequently developed. They worked
in tandem with the KEEP team to assist students with puppet making, challenging students with complex designs such as an articulated giant mud crab. One
of the senior Rangers was so happy with the stingray puppet he had designed that he insisted on taking it home.
The project culminated in public performance incorporating the 'Big Bidgy Puppets'. On our final day, we were privileged to be invited to the conclusion
ceremony of the local men's initiation period where hundreds of young men from all over the Kimberley returned from their bush camp to be welcomed back
by the community women with a huge feast! In May the Karajarri Rangers travelled to Broome and performed with their Big Bidgy Puppets at the Shinju Fringe
Opening Ceremony, where they received wide acclaim. They had an encore performance at the Theatre Kimberley Worn Art event later in June.
In early September the KEEP Project travelled to Yiyili Community – 2 hours drive from Fitzroy Crossing. Artists Karen Hethey, Shelley Stansfield and
myself worked in the Yiyili School with the Gooniyandi Rangers and acclaimed Senior Mangkaja Artist and Gooniyandi man Mervyn Street. Mervyn recently produced
a stunning short animation 'Willimillimilli' about a giant sea eagle stealing a Ranger wildlife camera and flying with it for 90km up the Margaret River.
The film is narrated in Gooniyandi language and Yiyili students were the first people in the world to watch the animation! This story formed the basis
for the students' performance. The Rangers and KEEP Team worked with 3 different classes to create 3 distinct scenes for the show based on the Rangers
fire management work and cane toad work on Country. Assisted by the Rangers and KEEP team, the senior students built a giant 'Willimillimilli' sea eagle
puppet for the performance. The Rangers dressed one student in fire safety gear for his fire extinguishing performance and used giant Bilby puppets as
part of the show. Rangers are important role models for youth in many Kimberley communities. In both Yiyili and Bidyadanga Communities teachers commented
that the engagement of the Rangers was crucial to the success of the program and had many benefits beyond the KEEP engagement.
The KEEP Project will continue to deliver it's unique environmental education in 2017 through range of new projects, delivering important messages about
Kimberley biodiversity and its threats through theatre and puppetry. New partnerships and possibilities on the horizon so stay tuned!
Watch the KEEP video!