Few contemporary developments have been as committed to foregrounding their First Nations history as Barangaroo. From the design of the headland park that evoke pre-colonisation landscapes, to projects such as UTP’s Blak Box which investigated the relationship between language and the earth beneath one’s feet. This winter, Barangaroo will once again host a conversation between First Nations peoples and settler Australians, mediated through a giant, six-metre-tall puppet named Marri Dyin.
Developed by performance company Erth Visual & Physical, who are known for their large scale puppets, Marri Dyin is an entirely new work. Artistic Director of Erth, Scott Wright described he process that led to Marri Dyin’s first outing in 2018.
“[The Barangaroo Delivery Authority] came to us and asked us if we were interested in creating a new work for them. What they provided was three pages of brief that outlined the things that they wanted covered in that one project, and there were only two things that was in that brief that was of any interest to me. One was to acknowledge or recognise the original people who lived on that land before settlement and the second was to reflect or to acknowledge the natural environment, and then I threw the rest away.”
Working on an initial idea that drew on the life story of Pemulwuy, a Bidjigal man who led the resistance to English colonisation, Wright proposed constructing a six metre tall puppet of Pemulwuy and setting Barangaroo on fire.
“I did get some support on that but I very quickly realised that because Barangaroo was named after a woman,” noted Wright, “the opportunity to recognise and acknowledge women was actually a far better path to go down.”
This decision led to the eventual development of Marri Dyin. A new spirit, created in collaboration with Murri man Jacob Nash, head of design at Bangarra, and Jo Clancy, Wiradjuri woman and independent dance artist, the puppet is designed with reference to the midden mounds that dotted Sydney harbour prior to European arrival. With a necklace of shells, this year Marri Dyin’s skin will change from being inspired by sea anemone to being reminiscent of fish scales. To first welcome her, the creative team came together at Barangaroo for a welcome ceremony.
“The puppeteers and all the people at Barangaroo that we worked with, we purchased about $500 worth of oysters and we ate oysters and we took the shells and crushed them up and made a little symbolic midden and put it inside her,” recalled Wright.
Setting up her winter camp at the corner of Exchange Place and Wulgul walk, Marri Dyin welcomes visitors to join her and sit by the campfire as she tells stories in the Eora language. On weekend nights, Marri Dyin arises, and with a school of fish controlled by children, walks through Barangaroo.
To devise the movements of a six-metre-tall puppet, Wright worked with Clancy to model movements, however, “the trick and the difficulty to all of that is what we can physically do in our small, slightly under two metre bodies is very difficult to transfer into a six-metre-tall inflatable woman who is filled with three hundred different lights and a sound-system.”
Working with puppetry conventions and then adapting them to the particular figure in question, Wright and his team focused on bringing human form to life, with a repertoire of movements. In addition, First Nations dancer and choreographer Albert David has been teaching a group of children to provide Marri Dyin her flock. With individual fish puppets, the school of compatriots will contribute life and brevity to Marri Dyin’s walks.
The decision to include children as part of the performance for the first time this year extends the work that Erth does with its younger audiences, something that is at the core of the company. As Wright points out, working with children leads the company to take a different view towards youth.
“We take for granted the idea that the child is kind of stupid until they become an adult,” noted Wright. “[But children] have incredible imaginations and things can be whatever they want them to be and there's no question. You go, ‘This cardboard box is a car’ and they go, ‘great!’ It becomes a very tangible thing in their world, [so] why wouldn't you want to perform for children?”
While the sky turns into dark navy, and the lights of the towers of Barangaroo provide the stage lighting for the performance, Wright hopes that all who attend come away with a bit more knowledge than when they arrived.
“This year with Marri Dyin, we're looking at how do you educate people through action instead of institutions. People don't come to winter camp to learn something, but when they leave they will have.”
Countering the criminalisation of First Nations languages and then its subsequent erasure from the landscape it once described, Marri Dyin hopes to tie these threads back together again. For Wright, “it provides a vehicle for us all to come together to say something about what we believe is the future, and that we're all united and don't wish for a place for people to be persecuted or judged because of their colour their race their religion or their thoughts and ideas.”
“I only hope that Marri Dyin has a huge life outside of what we've created her for,” continued Wright, “because it would just mean the learning process will continue.”
Marri Dyin runs from May 24 – June 15 every day from 6 to 9pm. For more information, click here: http://www.barangaroo.com/see-and-do/whats-on/vivid-at-barangaroo/.