Before my personal visit to Spirits of the Red Sands, an outdoor reenactment of a heart wrenching story about three brothers as they came face to face with the British arrival in the 1800's, I read Laura Walls article, Storytellers of The Red Sand.
It was a moving read, and I braced myself for what I may take away from the experience of witnessing this performance first hand.
You see, I was born in Australia, and raised just down the street from the Beenleigh Historical District, right where Spirits of the Red Sands has now created their home. This article, along with what we captured for our television series, Aboard With Didiayer, is a story that MUST be shared, so that people from all walks of life can gain a deeper understanding of the brave and beloved culture of aboriginal people.
A personal review by Laura Walls
When I was invited to be part of the audience for Spirits of the Red Sand, I
wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It’s billed as an interactive cultural theatre show based on true Aboriginal and British historical events, but that description doesn’t really do it justice. In some ways, this experience defies description - because there’s nothing else like it in Australia. Part historical reenactment, part gritty docudrama, this is an immersive and emotionally raw piece of theatre that deals with weighty themes in a sensitive yet unflinching way, inviting the audience themselves to become part of the story.
It’s a potent mix that checks a whole lot of boxes. Powerful storytelling rich with conflict, drama and emotion? Tick. Authentic sets and dynamic, atmospheric staging that place you at the centre of the action? You betcha. Thought-provoking subject matter you’ll still be thinking and talking about for days afterwards? It’s got that too.
Spirits of the Red Sand tells the story of the clash of cultures that occurred when the British arrived in Australia in the 1800s, claiming Aboriginal lands as their own and depriving the local people of their traditional hunting grounds. Forced to either starve or become dependent on theBritish for survival, Aboriginal people were on the verge of becoming, as one cast member puts it, “lost in their own land”.This tragic historical narrative is retold through a fictional lens, chronicling the tale of three Aboriginal brothers who live at the turn of the century and have opposing ideas about how to deal with the colonial threat.
We view the conflict through the eyes of middle brother and central protagonist Jarrah as we’re led by the show’s mysterious and extravagantly-costumed Storyteller on a journey through the open air performance space. Each of the seven “chapters” is set in a series of meticulously-reconstructed historical locations - from an authentic Aboriginal village complete with the sound of clapsticks and smell of woodsmoke to a tiny, 19th century wooden church. Inside tip: don’t be shy about grabbing a front row seat – the closer to the action you are, the better (and audience participation isn’t required!) Clever ambient lighting (the show begins at nightfall) adds an extra injection of atmosphere as we wind our way along darkened paths lined with rainforest foliage.
It’s a confronting tale that marks the beginning of the end of traditional life for Australia’s Aboriginal peoples. But while the central story is a tragic one, the people behind Spirits of the Red Sand are determined that their guests leave on a positive, uplifting note. In a much-needed change of tempo, after the cast take their final bow they join us for dinner: a delicious bush tucker-inspired barbecue feast. Here, we’re encouraged to chat and ask questions of the cast, all of whom have ancestors affected by the events retold in the evening’s performance, and get an understanding of what it means to be Aboriginal today.
Our evening wraps up with a stirring traditional yuwai (farewell) song and dance performance, along with a powerful message from cast member and experience co-founder Shannon Ruska. In closing, he reminds us of the value of acceptance, tolerance and understanding - so that, despite the solemn subject matter, we can’t help but leave with a lightness in our step and gratitude in our hearts.
Thank you, for taking the time to read this article, and for wanting to learn more about the Aboriginal culture and history. We look forward to sharing more about this remarkable story in our third season of our program, Abroad With Didiayer.