A yarn with YIRRAMBOI Blak Critic Bryan Andy (originally published on the Yirramboi Facebook page)
Who your mob? Where you from?
I’m a Yorta Yorta man, born on Boonwurrung country and raised largely at Cummeragunja on the Murray River, my Mother’s country. Going back, my Grandmother is Wiradjuri (central NSW), and my Grandfather’s Mother was Wemba Wemba (south NSW). If I had a decent singing voice I might take a leaf out of Uncle Jimmy Little’s book and sing, ‘I’m a Koori, and I come from Cummeragunja, where my People and my Dreaming all began, some day I know I’ll be returning, like the legend of my tribal boomerang…”. Such a shame I can’t sing.
In three words describe for us your country…
Dhungala Dharnya Woka
Yorta Yorta life-force exists in Dhungala (aka the Murray River) and it is central to our Dreaming stories and our ongoing survival as First Nations people. Yorta Yorta country is home to the world’s largest River Red Gum (Dharnya) forest – now often referred to as the Barmah National Park and Murray Valley National Park. Dharnya is a beautiful hard wood that has an almost silver exterior and a red, blood-like interior. The trees grow to become ancient, stocky, gnarled beings that thrive in wetlands, or through seasonal flooding. The word for ‘land’ in Yorta Yorta is woka.
What made you apply for the YIRRAMBOI Blak Critics Program?
I love the arts. Unlike sport, sport I have never understood. Being Aboriginal always meant having a football flung my way with the expectation I was going to do something ‘magical’ with it. I never did; invariably the football would clock me on the head or bound around me like an enthusiastic pooch wanting to play. But the art has enriched my life in so many ways. Art has allowed me to see beauty, gain insight, understand, celebrate, empathise, laugh, cry, suspend disbelief, see the world, witness magic, create magic. Its a world I’m comfortable in; and I acknowledge it is also a vital forum for our survival as Aboriginal Peoples. Aboriginal Peoples have endured and survived attempted genocide – let’s call a spade a spade – and the arts offers a space where we can own our culture and identity in one long continuum and maintain our agency, authority and voice. There’s something deliciously exciting about that. That’s why I applied to be a Blak Critic, that’s why I am a Blak Critic.
You’ve had a series of workshops with Luke Pearson and Jack Latimore from IndigenousX and Guardian Masterclasses led by Jane Howard (theatre/dance), Luke Buckmaster (film), Kate Hennessy (music), Van Badhamn (critical review & opinion writing) and Miles Martignoni (podcasting), give us an insight into some of the highlights
What’s impressed me most with the masterclasses and mentoring is the generosity of those conducting the sessions.
They know their content, they have lived experience, they’re passionate and there’s a sincerity when they say they want to see our views, opinions and voices in print.
I was particularly impressed by Kate Hennessy. She is an exquisite writer, the kind who offers beautifully dense sentences that make you stop, look up from the screen, exhale, and savour the insight. What’s more, she’s proudly feminist and I found that particularly inspiring as a Blak and gay man. What I loved most about her masterclass was she had thought about us as Blak Critics and how we might learn from her teachings, but also how our skill and expertise as Aboriginal people might best be employed. To do this she asked us to review a review she’d written on an Aboriginal musician and the resulting discussion was like witnessing fireworks. We acknowledged the difference between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal perspectives and the baggage we each have (yep, white mob have baggage too); how the arts can often be seen as a space for both solidarity and division; how the arts was still bound by a non-Indigenous agenda that upheld another imposing paradigm as the benchmark, to the detriment of Aboriginal art & culture in some respects; we discussed Reconciliation and its political and social shortcomings; and the role of Aboriginal artists, multicultural audiences and reviewers in creating a dialogue; we discussed values. All from a simple yet considered exercise that empowered all of us, including Kate.
What about the other participants selected for the workshop, how have you found them?
They’re all forthright, gun-ho and empowering. Discussions are never dull, in fact they’re highly competitive, so much so I have regressed to that primary school tactic of raising my hand in the hope of getting a word in. They’re all thoughtful, enthusiastic, driven, smart, strong, humble; and each and every one of us has tried to draw a laugh out of the rest of the cohort at some point which is proppa Blak and proper beautiful. True.
What do you hope to gain from your involvement in the Blak Critics stream of the YIRRAMBOI Festival?
I feel as though I’ve lost my voice in the past few years, I hope to find it again. That and to see some amazing First Nations arts – YIRRAMBOI is going to be amazing, unlike anything Melbourne has ever seen before – so brace yourselves, prepare, as they say, ‘for a city-wide BLAK OUT’.
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