Don't Just Count Us, Let Us Count

ACPA Alumni interview playlist

Ten years ago, the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts (ACPA) developed a show called Reflections: Referendum 40 years and to the future. The performance was a creative response to the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum when Australians voted overwhelmingly for constitutional change to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the national census.

Don’t Just Count Us, Let Us Count! tells the story of this historic milestone through the eyes of ACPA alumni as they reflect on the creative process, research and the performance which shaped who they are today and their understanding of the campaign to be counted.

Presented in partnership with Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts

Director’s Notes

In going over my director’s notes for Reflections: 40 Years and to the Future, a decade on as part of the process for writing this foreword for the SLQ exhibition, I was reminded of why this play was so urgent and important at the time.

Two major things were happening with this production by way of ACPA; I was on board as the new Artistic Director and for the first time the whole school was coming together to perform on the main stage at QPAC. Three important dates were also being recognised within this production. The first was the 10th anniversary of ACPA, the second and most important and the focus of the Reflections play was the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, and last but not least was the 50th anniversary of NAIDOC.

As far as the Brisbane was concerned these were all seismic shifts in the cultural and political landscape. Both NAIDOC and the 1967 Referendum created the cultural space and opportunity for an Aboriginal Centre for Performing Art to be realised. It was with this sense of purpose which drove us to create what I believe is a special and deadly local production. This play was meant to be a graduation piece for the graduating class of 2007 but it became much more than that. After establishing we’d be basing this play on the 1967 Referendum, we started getting local Referendum and Social Justice warriors such as Vanessa Fisher and Sam Watson, and Elders such as Uncle Bob Anderson to come in and talk to the students and light a fire under these young people who knew next to nothing about the Referendum, NAIDOC and how ACPA came to be.

I am very proud of this production. As proud as any I’ve been involved in or created. Reflections: 40 Years and to the Future sits right alongside Box the Pony, Black Chicks Talking, The Story of the Miracles at Cookies Table, Radiance and The Drovers Wife. I believe it has a place within the canon of important local Indigenous work and hails as ACPA’s signature foundation performance piece.

Leah Purcell

Message from the Chair

Behind the scenes of 'Reflections : Referendum 40 years and to the future'. Video by Teone Reinthal for the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts, 2007.

The Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts is proud to partner with kuril dhagun at the State Library of Queensland to commemorate the most pivotal referendum in Australia’s history.

In 2007, when ACPA created Reflections: Referendum 40 years and to the future under the artistic direction of Leah Purcell, we were celebrating our own anniversary: ten years as Australia’s first centre of training excellence for emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing artists.

It was indeed an occasion to celebrate and reflect on the evolving acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their contribution to the nation’s growth, identity, culture, and future.

Three decades after the constitutional change that counted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as members of the national population for the first time, the Queensland Government, through Arts Queensland, established ACPA for talented young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to be counted again, to express and be recognised for their artistic interpretations of both their heritage and their contribution to the contemporary arts landscape.

Reflections, therefore, was not just a seminal work for ACPA as a creative performance; it was a commentary on the power of united forces to have a reverberating impact on future generations and their dreaming.

That Reflections has been included in kuril dhagun’s commemoration activities for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum bears testament to its artistic significance and enduring appeal. We are honoured to be featured in the exhibition and complementary events.

Leilani Pearce
Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts

Message from the Chief Executive Officer

At the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts we celebrate the way Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have endured over centuries - by a strong tradition of story-telling through words, singing, music and dance.
ACPA’s programs respect and build on that tradition, preparing the next generation of performing artists and arts workers to become the initiators and leaders of future cultural dynamism.
That’s why ACPA provides industry relevant vocational education; that develops skillsets with artistic quality to engender confidence; and that provides performance and showcase opportunities for talented young people.
Reflections: Referendum 40 years and to the future, and its subsequent feature role in kuril dhagun’s commemoration activities for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, exemplifies this commitment to giving students unique opportunities for performing publicly and for co-creating enduring works of art and cultural significance.
It was a holistic experience for the students of 2007, from the primary research to the encore performances. It allowed them to collaborate with professional artists on the script, the music, and the choreography. It became not only a milestone on the Centre’s historical landscape, but also a benchmark for all performances since.

We are thrilled that ACPA’s students today (and the wider community) have this opportunity to learn from our alumni about their experience of bringing to life the stories that inspired Reflections; and how that experience shaped their understanding of such a significant contribution towards ‘closing the gap’.

Dr Dimitri Kopanakis
Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts

Reflections

Documentation of the ACPA production 'Reflections : Referendum 40 years and to the future'. Video by Teone Reinthal for the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts, 2007.

In 2007, the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) presented Reflections: 40 Years and to the Future, a musical theatre performance for graduating Advanced Diploma students. It also showcased the abundance of talent within the rest of the cohort, with students enrolled in all courses participating. In an ACPA first, the production was staged in the Cremorne Theatre at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) under the direction of award winning actor, director and writer, Leah Purcell.

Students had the opportunity to spend time with Elders who had been 1967 Referendum warriors in the campaign, including Uncle Bob Anderson who shared stories of his involvement, working alongside Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Aunty Kath Walker). After hearing these stories from community members and other Aboriginal political activists, such as Uncle Sam Watson and Aunty Vanessa Fisher, the students became truly inspired.

This momentum encouraged further research into the 1967 Referendum and other important political and social events. Character development sessions had students exploring activists and campaigners such as Uncle William Cooper (Yorta Yorta community leader), Faith Bandler (South Sea Islander human rights fighter) and Jessie Street/ Red Jessie (non-Indigenous political campaigner).

As the complexity of our history became apparent, more themes were explored.  Reflections commented also on the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families known as the Stolen Generations, the events of the Freedom Rides led by Charles Perkins and The Wave Hill Walk-Off with Vincent Lingiari, among overarching issues of race discrimination, civil rights and freedoms.

Working across each of the performative areas, these stories and experiences were expressed through the production of songs, music, poems, monologues and dances. The individual and collective contributions were pieced together to create a musical theatre based script resulting in Reflections.

While students were gifted the experience of working with the remarkable Leah Purcell, many talented trainers contributed to a variety of pieces. Special mention must go to Penelope Mullen, Jools Purchase, Nik Hills and Jeanette Fabila; all well respected dancers and choreographers. Support also came from Bangarra Dance Theatre, Cultural Edge Design, Queensland Theatre Company, Reconciliation Australia and kuril dhagun at the State Library of Queensland.

Reflections attracted audiences that offered laughter, tears, applause and standing ovations in a packed out theatre. Its success resulted in a second season the following year. Both the 2007 and 2008 productions were sold out shows and remain a significant moment for Indigenous theatre in Brisbane.