Yaegl Bundjalung man, Mitch King, is a man with a story to tell. Mitch and long-term collaborator and musician Blake Rhodes, have been creating Flow for almost a year. Flow is Mitch telling his story, inspired by community, Country and the first native title claim on a body of water in Yamba. Mandy Nolan interviewed Mitch in the lead-up to the show’s debut in July.
The First Nations view of Country is so different to the colonial approach, we have this idea of real estate and ownership, can you explain what custodianship is and how that relates, in your show, to the native title claim on a body of water in Yamba?
To me custodianship means that language, song and dance are being maintained through respect, connection and communication with traditional knowledge holders.
Our traditional owners’ rights and interests have been recognised through native title, so as a Yaegl person it’s especially important. It took over 20 years for the native title claim to be granted. Some of the elders who started the claim were too old or had passed away, so it was a hard long journey for our people.
Water is life. The importance of connecting to, not only the land, but also the water is a strong theme throughout Flow.
How do you weave stories of eldership with the interests of young people? Do they always stay connected in ancestral stories?
Flow is all about strengthening the respect for eldership and also engaging the young people in our living traditions and ancestral stories. We’ve layered the storytelling within the show to represent the knowledge and stories of both elders and emerging leaders within the Yaegl community.
In Flow, we use a variety of contemporary mediums such as poetry, rap, music, dance and multimedia components as tools for storytelling. Our ancestors and our culture have beautiful stories and we have to keep telling them in different forms, while keeping respect for cultural tradition.
Working with NORPA on Flow has given myself, Blake and the whole team the opportunity to spend time with our senior leaders and custodians who have passed on knowledge. It’s been a great experience and has made us realise that theatre is an important means of continuing their knowledge. We’re so proud that they trusted us with this story.
As a Yaegl Bundjalung man did you always know your story and the story of your country? Or was that something that broadened with age?
I grew up close to culture and was brought up listening to stories from uncles and aunties as a kid.
Over the years I gained a deeper understanding of the importance of our culture and the stories, and their connection to the land and water of the region. My interest has definitely broadened with age, as I’ve become more of a leader to my brothers, sisters and cousins.
How important is water to Yaegl? What is the significance of the Clarence?
The Clarence River is central to the lives of Yaegl people. It’s a place we always return to – swimming, fishing, hanging out on the riverbanks. For me, as an adult, I love coming back and connecting with the river in my own way. When I see the river, I’m home.
Water is embedded into our bloodline as Yaegl descendants, and for families who grew up on the island, it was one of the major food sources. It’s so important that current and future generations know and understand the importance of water. If the water gets sick, we’re all in trouble.
How did you work with community to develop your story?
We spent a lot of time on Country during the development, speaking to Elders of the community and the native title group to collaborate on how to share the story in a theatre context. We’ve got a great designer on the creative team in Mic Gruchy who has cleverly weaved the elders and emerging leaders and their stories into the production.
Can you tell me one of the stories you tell in Flow?
As young people we connected to storytelling through sitting around our elders and yarning.
In Flow we tell the story of the Dirrangan. This is an opportunity to continue our eons of oral storytelling through a new medium and next generation. We stick to the authenticity of the original story and themes of greed vs identity and belonging. In today’s world it’s an important story to be reminded of, our ancient resources that connect us to Country and the damage that greed can do, specifically with water.
Who are your collaborators?
My main creative partner is Blake Rhodes, who I met about ten years ago. Blake is the composer and he’s on stage with me doing the music live instead of using his work as a pre-recorded soundtrack.
Our producer, Letila Mitchell, is a Pacific Islander, the Director, Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, is of Indonesian heritage, and Bundjalung woman, Rhoda Roberts is adding her wisdom to the whole process. So our core team is First Nations people from the Asia/Pacific region.
What should we expect from Flow?
A multi-faceted, charismatic performance with humour, high energy and intimate moments and sharing of stories.
Flow, A NORPA Premiere. Thursday 1, Friday 2, Saturday 3 July, 7.30pm. Friday 2 July, 11am matinee. NORPA at Lismore City Hall. Tickets $25–$49
Bookings: www.norpa.org.au. Recommended for ages 12+