Sharing stories and expression through experience in Derby

Warru Watiya! Ngayu Zac, I’m a Traditional Owner Wongi, Yamatji man and a performer at Constable Care with a passion for the power of the arts to make a difference to the lives of young people. I’ve recently returned from a 10-day regional tour to Derby with Constable Care’s Theatrical Response Group, working on intensive programs with Derby District High School and the nearby Mowanjum Community. Our Arts & Education Manager, Danielle, has recently written about this moving and impactful tour, and I’m excited to share my experiences and thoughts as well.

First of all, I was particularly impressed by the strength and support that the kids give each other – Derby District High School was the only school where I saw zero bullying, and I noticed that when conflict did arise, it was quickly worked out between students without the need for teacher mediation. Conflict resolution, negotiation and rebuilding friendships after fights is something that can be difficult even for adults, so it was wonderful to meet young people who had mastered this so skilfully.

Despite the very serious issues and the sadness that the town and its children face, there is still a very strong sense of culture and spirit in Derby. I also noticed an exceptional level of talent in the student community – so many of the students that I met during our tour are very dedicated to acting, sports, writing and music; I was delighted to get to know them and see what they were more passionate about, and hope that in the future their voices will be heard by many others in Western Australia.

My work as a theatre-in-education performer and the coordinator of Constable Care’s Theatrical Response Group involves breaking down the barriers of actor/spectator, creating a performing arts experience that completely involves students and incorporates their voices to create something new and intensely meaningful to them. I try to make it my responsibility to allow young people to safely explore their feelings and their impressions as we strive together to find a truth as a collective group.

Because of this, we’re able to create a space where young people can mature psychologically in a short space of time, acquiring a toolkit of incredibly important skills that will serve them well long after the tour ends. Working on the ground means that I get to see (and be part of!) this personal growth first-hand, and I couldn’t ask for a more rewarding job.

We worked with students on developing resilience, empowerment and team-building skills so that they could work on furthering this important network of mutual support. Towards the end of this process, I saw kids as young as 10 able to identify issues that they faced as a group and first-hand, relevant solutions.

Remote communities often find themselves experiencing the dangers of isolation, and the best way to combat that isolation is via support. It was wonderful to meet with the teaching staff, who were clearly very supportive of their students, understanding of the complex issues that they face, and passionate about helping them to grow.

During our time in Derby, we helped the kids to understand that there is power in conversation, and in understanding and overcoming the issues that you face in life. Resilience in the face of great adversity is particularly challenging, but a battle-scar is called a battle-scar for a reason: you earn it in battle, and come out the other end with the strength to tell your stories, and to empower others through their own battles.

Outside of the classroom, a Derby experience that particularly stands out in my mind was staying at lodgings located right next to an indigenous cemetery. Ghost stories are a particular interest of mine, and along with fellow actor Hunter Page-Lochard, I recently travelled around Australia meeting local storytellers and elders, hearing traditional spirit stories and searching for the basis behind them, resulting in a four-episode documentary series Shadow Trackers. After our journeys tracking the shadows of traditional indigenous ghost stories and urban legends, sleeping next to a cemetery for days on end certainly put my Shadow Tracker senses in overdrive, and hearing many things go bump in the night, I can’t say I got an awful lot of sleep – after months of hunting down indigenous ghost stories, this time they were hunting me down!

It was truly a pleasure to work with the young people of the Derby community. I hope if they’re reading this that they know that the only restrictions they have are the ones in their mind, the ones that they allow to win – and I’ve seen first-hand the strength that they have to overcome them, to win those battles and wear those scars as symbols of their own bravery.

Ngayu Yaku, and thank you for the time that we shared together – I hope that what you learned from our time together will serve you well, and please know that I learned as much from you.

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