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'Weeping Cloud' tells Stolen Generation Story Through Song

Since its development and first performances, the musical Weeping Cloud, has not only touched audiences but has proven to be transformative for the community of Menindee and in particular the students of Menindee Central School.

Described as a ‘beautiful and constantly evolving stage production’, Weeping Cloud tells the story of Barkindji Elder from the ‘people of the river’, Isobel Bennett, who was taken from her family as a 12 year old in 1945. She eventually ended up at Garden Point, Melville Island.

In 2013 a number of performances were staged, including three separate performances for Lindfield East School, Charles Sturt University and Killara High School students.

Last year the presentation of Weeping Cloud continued to be a focus for Menindee Central School performing arts and was presented to a range of audiences. The cast was extended with students from the primary school and high school, as well as members of the Menindee Community Choir.

This year, with a grant of $14,500 to West Darling Arts and Menindee Central School from Arts NSW through the NSW Government’s Aboriginal Arts and Cultural Strategy fund, the production is touring to remote communities.

West Darling Arts Aboriginal Arts Officer, Kathy Graham, said it was important for Isobel’s story to be shared, especially in the river towns of Bourke, Menindee, Wilcannia and Wentworth where her relatives still live.

‘Every time the musical is performed it has a profound effect on the audience,’ Kathy said.

Future performances are in Bourke, Monday 2 November 6pm and Tuesday 3 November 9:30am; Coomealla, Monday 9 November (times to be confirmed) and Wilcannia, Monday 19 November (times to be confirmed). To register attendance and for enquiries Kathy on 08 80879035 or  0428 145 814.

‘An amazing story in an unfortunate situation’

In an interview with ABC OPEN Broken Hill’s Jenia Ratcliffe, Menindee Central School’s performing arts teacher, Will Mafi, said he was captivated by Isobel’s story and had to produce the play.

‘I thought, we need people to hear this because it’s an amazing story in an unfortunate situation,’ Will said.

Will was well qualified to bring the production to life. While his work within the school and the community was known, his work as a performer and for charity organisations was something he had managed to keep quiet until it was brought to the school and wider community’s attention in the school newsletter.

He featured as the international artist on the cruise liner circuit and when not touring and prior to joining the staff at Menindee Central School donated much of his time to charity work in Sydney. This included coordinating and directing fundraising events last year in the aftermath of Cyclone Ian that devastated parts of Tonga. The events featured many international artists of Tongan heritage.

In recognition of his charity work and for his efforts in ‘service to others’ he was awarded a Paul Harris Fellow.

Postscript – Isobel Bennett’s Voice Continues to be Heard

While Isobel’s story of her 20 years away from Menindee is being told on stage, she is giving voice to her rediscovery of her traditional language, Paakantyi. Banned from speaking the language on the Menindee Mission, Isobel is relearning it with Kayleen Kerwin and the Paakantyi language class from Menindee Central School who meet with her weekly at the home. Isobel’s voice, along with Kayleen’s will be heard on the iPad app developed by teacher, Jonathan Smith. It is available from the App store.

Isobel’s involvement with the project was the subject of a report by Margaret Paul for the ABC’s ‘AM’ program.

 

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