Posted by Meredith Benke Bell
The first in a series of four Big Country Puppet projects took place in October. This series is generously funded by the federal government's Indigenous Languages & Arts Program, through the Department of Communications and the Arts. Trainee puppeteer and puppet maker and Broome local, Eduardo Maher tells us a bit about the project.
Bayulu School, only 10 minutes south of Fitzroy Crossing, is a primary school for Bayulu Community and now also a home to a giant goanna, an on-land sawfish and Gina, the giant cane toad. These are all puppets, of course, that I got the privilege to help make and also perform with in the puppet show 'The Cane Toad Hunter.' The show is the story about a ranger and a hunter seeing the effects that cane toads have on their country whilst also learning about the correct and safe way to deal with them. I worked alongside many talented locals, including the Gooniyandi Rangers, Cherry Smiler and Bernadette Trench-Thiedeman to help create this production.
It was the 30th of September that I began my three weeks of puppet making for Theatre Kimberley at Bayulu community school with Bernadette, and although I had had some minor experience helping with puppets on the 'Shorebird Quest' earlier this year, this was my first time being employed as an artist for a project and not just helping out.
In Fitzroy we were lucky enough to be able to stay with art teacher, Lesley Smailes for our three weeks in the area. We began by meeting up with the Gooniyandi Rangers and senior artist Mervyn Street to discuss the story and the initial designs for the giant puppets. It was decided that the show would be narrated in Gooniyandi language, Kriol and English and include an original Gooniyandi song about cane toads, written by local linguist Cissy Nugget. The Rangers wanted this work to highlight the impact of the oncoming wave of cane toads and educate the community on ways to minimise their impact on native animals. So the making of a giant cane toad was an obvious choice and so were the goanna and sawfish - the latter two representing the land and river animals that would be affected by the cane toads.
The first two weeks working on the puppets was an exciting and very new experience. From coming up with puppet designs with sketches and small models, to picking out the correct cane lengths to create stable bodies for the puppets, from learning how to sew and listening to random podcasts with Bernadette while burning my fingers on the hot glue gun - these weeks were full of new experiences. But it was in the final week of the project that I had one of the more surprising enjoyments of working with puppets when I got to use the skills I'd gained those previous two weeks to help the Bayulu School kids design and make their own puppets. It was great seeing their enjoyment when we first introduced ourselves to the children as giant puppets, inspiring them to make whatever animals came to mind, and then being impressed by their own creativity with puppets. I worked with three different groups of kids all making crocodiles but by the end of the workshops, none looked the same. On the last day was the performance directed by Bernadette. We finally gathered all the school kids with puppets, the pre-primary children wearing cane toad masks and the Gooniyandi Rangers -- all taking control of their own puppets and together giving a performance to Bayulu Community and Fitzroy Crossing residents. As predicted, the community loved the show and the children loved being able to run wild with their puppets.