Brisbane. Thursday, 10.10pm
Sometimes, people do things which are so beautiful, it makes you cry. Sure, people often do things that make you want to cry, but I’m talking good cry, not bad cry.
An hour ago, I was sitting in a comfortable seat, next to a beautiful woman who likes me, drinking a glass of South Australian shiraz. That was lovely, but it wasn’t that which made me cry. The crying thing was that the comfortable seat was in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and I was experiencing Bangarra Dance Theatre. (‘Watching’ isn’t really the right word.)
That made me cry. Good cry; not bad cry. It was not a wailing sort of crying, not even a sobbing cry – I may be sensitive, but I’m still a man – it was a subtle tear-in-the-eye crying. (No-one noticed. I wiped my eyes on the back of my hands, as if I was stretching.)
Bangarra, for those who don’t know, is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing arts organisation – they dance. Tonight’s performance was inspired by the book Dark Emu, written by an Aboriginal bloke, Bruce Pascoe, a few years ago. It’s a revealing book, using notes from Australia’s first European explorers to show what Australia was really like in 1788. It should be in all Australian schools. And in Parliament.
Australia, then, was a healthy, fertile place maintained and improved by the best land managers the planet has seen. The first Australians were not primitive nomads subsisting on nature’s handouts, subject to its whims; no, they were sophisticated people who shaped the land, and where abundance, not subsistence, was the norm. There were fish farms, grain fields, permanent villages and an advanced broadacre agriculture that didn’t just maintain the country but improved it. These Australians didn’t work eight hours a day to pay off their house. Their youth didn’t kill themselves. They had a place in their tribe, in their universe. They had purpose beyond acquisition and consumption. They danced. (But they didn’t have iPhones and trips to Bali…)
Of course, a country with no people, terra nullius, wouldn’t have such hallmarks of civilisation, so Australia’s history was buried, along with the wisdom and the bodies. But now, we new Australians are just starting to understand, as the original people do, that we have a heritage bigger and more inspiring than that bloke from Snowy River, Ned Kelly or those poor bastards at Gallipoli.
Combining contemporary Western and traditional Aboriginal dancing into a unique style, Bangarra’s Dark Emu highlighted inherent human grace, celebrated all life, and honoured the land as the source of that life. It was beautiful.
Here and now, I’m sipping Asahi beer in a Japanese joint in West End I chanced upon after the show. Opposite me is the (beautiful) woman I sat next to during the Bangarra show. She drinks Asahi too.
She touches the menu iPad on the table.
‘What did you order?’ I ask.
‘You’ll find out,’ she says.
I’m still emotional from the performance – which may explain why the chicken karaage I’ve just eaten moved me so. I’ve had chicken karaage before, but never like this. It was, yes, beautiful. I suppose the Bangarra performance has shut the door on my cynicism for the night. I’m just loving the tasty artworks coming from the Japanese chef. He waves at me when I look across to the kitchen.
Bangarra has made me happy; happy to be human, happy to be in this great southern land where knowledge dances through the ages. It has opened me up to humanity, despite the cruelty of the times.
The kimonoed waitress arrives, smiling, bearing gifts: bowls of black sesame seed (nuri goma) ice cream.
Oh yeah. Beautiful.