Taking Circus Up the Gibb
Dragonfly Outreach 2017

Posted by Meredith Benke Bell

Terry Forrest Dutchie, a young Wananami student, takes time out from pyramid training to smile for the camera.

Trainer Franque Batty teaches Diondrey Donation some handstand balancing skills.

Chelsea Goatley, Airlie Eastwood, Leah Pigram, Jackai Fagence, and Molly Bell show off their cane toad bagging successes.

Five hundred kilometres up the road from Broome you’ll find a beautifully kept school, which is the pride of the peaceful little community surrounding it. It sits at the base of the scenic Kupungarri range, just a stone’s throw off the Gibb River Road. The school is called Wananami Remote Community School, and the community is also called Kupungarri. You may have passed it on your family Gibb explorations – it’s right across the road from Mount Barnett Roadhouse.

This idyllic location is where we found ourselves for Theatre Kimberley’s last outreach project of the year. Lead artist Catherine Daniel and Sandfly grad Rachel Sawyer started this circus arts project in the last week of October, working with all classes of the school throughout each school day. They taught many areas of circus – aerials, minitramp, tumbling, juggling, unicycle, amongst others. It was hot work, working outdoors at a time when temperatures had just started to soar.

After a week of foundation work, in came the reinforcements! Circus teacher extraordinaire, and every child’s perennial favourite, Franque Batty travelled with myself and 6 young Sandfly circus trainees to assist with the second half of the project. We joined Catherine and Rachel to add to the teaching team for show production week. As is our custom, we slept wherever there was room – with the group occupying the Wananami School library. (I think it took the librarian a while to adapt to our squatting there, but she had to forgive us in the end – she is a former Sandfly Circus mum from many years back!)

The Sandfly kids were able to help the adult trainers with instruction and they also participated in the skill workshops and rehearsals. Our students were school year 7-9, so it gave the oldest Wananami primary students some peers whose skills they could look up to.

The second week focused on the show that the school would perform for their community. It couldn’t be taken for granted that all friends and family could attend, because Wananami School is made up of Kupungarri students, but also numerous students from Dodnun (nearly an hour towards Kununurra), and Imintji (nearly an hour back towards Derby), which means that approximately half the students commute an hour to school each day and then an hour home again. With the assistance of the school bus drivers, the attendance results were excellent though, and almost all the kids had some family there to watch.

The kids decided to perform a show about things they liked to do – so you can imagine that rope swinging in the gorge and fishing were feature scenes. Kids were able to use visual art skills to produce puppets and props to contribute to the production. They painted exquisite fish puppets for the fishing scene (designed by our props guru, Chris Hill), and older students helped me create a 4WD ute (to serve as a hunting vehicle). It’s a credit to the school that they keep a shed full of organized recycling materials – we had heaps to work with!

The show was great fun. Part of the fun was seeing these joyful Wananami kids presenting so many new skills to their loved ones. All the kids were in so many scenes, which was representative of their engagement in such a variety of skill areas. Even the tiniest kindy students were fantastic on stage. It was also fun to see our own teens performing amongst the school kids, at times absolutely wow-ing participants and audience alike with their elegant aerial skills or their dynamite power on the minitramp. To see them blossom as performers as well as leaders to the local children was a great result. I am also pleased that TK can provide some of our Broome young people with the opportunity to leave the comforts of town to learn a little bit more about the geography and Indigenous communities of the Kimberley. The Wananami students and staff are beautifully warm and enthusiastic, and they made teaching outdoors in the build up season heat a pleasure regardless.

There’s only one thing we’d like to change about Wananami, and our energetic Sandfly teens started trying to make this change during this visit. I hate to mention it in case some Kimberley residents are oblivious to this fact, but the cane toad has settled into residence at Kupungarri. We discovered that our Broome teens are as passionate at toad busting as they are at teaching circus. Now there’s some life skills for Kimberley living!

Categories AAA Publish, Outreach