Dawn Gathering

Two years ago, we attended the opening of the biennial Ten Days on the Island festival on the beach at Devonport. This year, we gathered just before dawn, on the pataway/Burnie foreshore to celebrate mapali.

Following a Welcome to Country ceremony, Dave manganeer Gough took us on a journey to the beginning of time and the creation of the first palawa or Tasmanian Aborigine. As the beat of Taiko drums bounced off nearby rocks

we learned that moinee, the great creator, came down the sky bridge, the Milky Way to lutruwitta/Tasmania, collected some soil and ochre and took it back into the sky. There, he formed the first palawa and sent him down the sky bridge back to lutruwitta. Unfortunately, he had legs with no knee joints and the tail of a kangaroo and was unable to sit or lie down.

On hearing the pleas from palawa to help him, moinee sent down his brother, drumadeene the star spirit,

who cut off his tail, rubbing animal fat into the wound for healing and gave him knee joints.

There was much rejoicing,

fires were lit

and a trio of dancers performed to the beat of more drums.

A penguin rookery inflated in front of the drummers

and the penguins cavorted on the sand before retreating in fear from the humans.

Another story followed, that of a young warrior, niyakara, who leaves his village to hunt tara/kangaroo. He sees the village women collecting maireener shells at the water’s edge

and three warriors he doesn’t recognise are watching them.

Assuming they are up to no good, niyakara gives chase but their running strides become bounces and the three transform into kangaroos and bound away.

Three large flags, signifying the strong connection of the palawa and tara, fluttered in the light breeze

as the fires diminished and celebrations came to an end.

A few days later, we visited Makers’ Workshop to see the exhibition, Making mapali. Hundreds of artists and collaborators, along with Goldberg Aberline Studio, worked for months to bring the event to life, it was fascinating to see the detail and hours of work involved. Community participants developed abstract sketches inspired by the night sky for the sky bridge lanterns. The drawings were then digitally overlayed in Photoshop to create the unique Milky Way design.

Even the firesticks are a work of art. Made from paperbark, wattle, native grass, eucalypt leaves, banksia nut, moss and reed pods they were used carry fire, see at night and ward off bad spirits.

The inflatable penguin rookery was most impressive with colours of the rocky North West shoreline, reflection of light across Bass Strait, native grasses and penguin feathers representing an abstract interpretation of the coastline. The Goldberg Aberline Studio hand-painted the circular sample fabrics and enlarged penguin feather, then photographed and printed them onto 500 metres of fabric that has been sewn together and hand-finished.

maireener shells, also known as rainbow kelp shells, are used by Tasmanian Aboriginal women to make traditional necklaces.

The tara flags were created using a similar process to the sky bridge lanterns, combining drawings by students from Parklands High School to express the movement of the tara as well as the transformation of tara to palawa.

mapali

Last month, the tenth biennial Ten Days on the Island festival inhabited Tasmania once again. Previously, the program has run throughout the state over the course of ten days. This year, it was split over three weekends, firstly in the northwest, then the northeast and concluding in the south. We  couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience the opening of the festival on the beach at Devonport at sunrise. mapali was a celebration at first light, narrated by David manganeer Gough featuring over a hundred performers from the indigenous community, Slipstream Circus acrobats, Taiko Drummers, school students and a community choir. We didn’t anticipate the crowd and lack of parking, the fires were alight by the time we reached the beach.

1.mapali

David’s voice was clear as he led a Welcome to Country ceremony, acknowledging the significant history of the northwest coastline and local aboriginal communities with the sweeping and smoking of the beach.

3.fires

The kelp gatherers made their way eerily from the shore in the firelight.

2.kelp harvesters

With the rhythmic beat of Taiko drums resounding in the still morning air,

4.Taiko drums

our attention turned to a solitary dark figure suspended in a hoop above the sand.

The drumming ceased while a chorus of ethereal voices harmonised from the balcony.

8.choir

Our senses feasted as a fusion of drums and chorus accompanied the visual spectacle evolving against the peppery hue of nature’s backdrop.

7.Taiko drums & choir9.acrobat

We were next summoned to the village, a representation of a traditional village of the punnilerpanner people who have lived in this area since the beginning of time.

18.the village

On this, International Women’s Day, David spoke in honour of the women who hunted off the coast for shellfish

19.David mangenner Gough

and gathered kelp to clad the huts.

20.kelp hut

He also paid respect to ongoing traditions that the women are passing on to the young, in particular, shell stringing. For thousands of years, Aboriginal women have been collecting maireener shells to make necklaces and bracelets. The shells can only be collected at certain times of the year and each necklace has a unique combination and pattern. Local schoolchildren had made huge effigies of the shells in readiness for this moment.

21.maireener shells

David instructed those positioned around the edge of the village to hold up the rope, a symbol of the twine that binds us together as people, and string on the maireener shells to represent a giant necklace.

22.maireener shells

He then commanded the lighting of patrula, meaning fire in palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aborigines.

With the sunrise ceremony concluded,

the crowd dispersed, the beach resumed its peaceful sublimity

27.Bluff Beach

and we went in search of breakfast.