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A community fights back

Virginia Baxter: FUNPARK

Reanne Shephard, The Social Revolutionaries, Mt Druitt Press Conference, FUNPARK Reanne Shephard, The Social Revolutionaries, Mt Druitt Press Conference, FUNPARK
photo Heidrun Löhr
I may not have paid such attention to the item on ABC News on Friday night (Feb 7) featuring NSW Community Services Minister Pru Goward had it not been for the fact that we’d recently visited the suburb that was the subject of the grim report in which the solution to perceived problems of welfare dependency involved the threat to deprive people of their homes.

Bidwill was the location for FUNPARK, one of Sydney Festival’s projects in Western Sydney. Creative Director Karen Therese, herself a sometime local, brought together a team of city and Western Sydney artists with Indigenous and other elders to celebrate what is, contrary to reports, a vibrant local community.

Entering the car park of the mostly disused Bidwill Park Shopping Plaza we choose from a menu of events. At one end of this arena a queue is forming for Harley Davidson Wild Trike rides. Meanwhile, groups of young Indigenous boys and girls cautiously follow the directions of a senior dancer from Bangarra. Bunny Hoopster leading her team of Hoopaholics segues into an explosive dance display from Lucky and Afro Contemporary followed by a choreographic parkour portrait of the area from Team9Lives.

Team9Lives, FUNPARK Team9Lives, FUNPARK
photo Heidrun Löhr
FUNPARK is the latest in a series of creative ventures in Western Sydney that provoke communities to elaborate on their lives, in turn introducing the wider community to the particular pleasures and anxieties of living there. Recent works such as Rosie Dennis’ Driven to New Pastures (2011; RT101) deal directly with the sense of displacement in relocation as the NSW Government enacts its plans to overhaul the public housing estate. Other works such as Campbelltown Art Centre’s Temporary Democracies (2013; RT117) built on this, inviting artists to work with locals to mark the dislocating sense of being forced to up stakes and move from a nurturing local community to an unfamiliar, more fragmented one.

In a large tent erected in the centre of the car park Darug elders gathered to discuss the history of the area, deeply concerned about education, one recalling when he was a boy there was a shed for Aboriginal kids alongside the school and separate tanks for drinking water.

In the local church hall, seven fired-up local teenagers presented the Mt Druitt Press Conference (directors Karen Therese, Katia Molino). Calling themselves The Social Revolutionaries, these young people—confident, socially engaged and talented—have grown up dealing with prejudices about Bidwill and therefore themselves. Seated at a long table and speaking in turn about their lives they seamlessly shift gear into beautiful singing, rousing speechmaking, re-enactments (singing with mum while housecleaning), dancing (a girl demonstrates a style from her South American heritage, the movement pausing moment to moment as her male partner speaks of his life) and role-playing (how to deal with a dance floor rejection when the girl learns you’re from Bidwill). Far from downhearted, the Social Revolutionaries demand equitable treatment, “a revolution” even. Caught in Sydney’s blind-spot they deplore being “surrounded by ignorance.”

Natalie Rose & Shaun Millwood, Girls Light Up, FUNPARK Natalie Rose & Shaun Millwood, Girls Light Up, FUNPARK
photo Heidrun Löhr
As well as its revolutionary and celebratory aspects, FUNPARK took some lateral turns to highlight specific local issues. In Cuppa Tea with Therese, a number of us visited a long-term local resident in her neat Housing NSW bungalow and heard about her years of community involvement in the area and her concerns for the future. I imagine Therese rolling her eyes at these latest media reports with their focus on littered streets and upended shopping trolleys to characterise her home suburb. Local Indigenous elders who are already run off their feet are no doubt preparing for another onslaught. The sense of a media beat-up is reminiscent of the so-called ‘Bidwill Riot’ of 1981, reprised in Girls Light Up, a raucous ‘rock opera’ led by post’s Natalie Rose and a team of collaborators from the community. The Bidwill Riot in reality involved a fight over a boy between a couple of girls that somehow attracted the attention of the media and police who eventually turned it into a full-scale TV catastrophe.

Minister John Dacey, The Occult of Bidwill, FUNPARK Minister John Dacey, The Occult of Bidwill, FUNPARK
photo Heidrun Löhr
I also took the tour enticingly titled “The Occult of Bidwill” led by Minister John Dacey from the Uniting Church. This turned out to be a journey of discovery into the many ‘hidden’ instances of misguided bureaucracy that have gradually seen the local supermarket rendered an empty shell. Owned by the Department of Housing who decided in 1997 to dispose of it as “non core,” the building has been the subject of multiple reports and worthy proposals for remodelling, none of which has ever materialised. And so it sits, ghostly, inhabited by one lonely kebab shop, while locals go without a convenient local shopping centre. Hardy souls venture into the bottle shop across the car park to pick up their bread and milk.

Finally we gather in the evening on the banks of the nearby underpass to watch a video (Darrin Baker, Vic McEwan, Philip Jopson) projected onto a screen over the entrance. We hear from people who may represent some of the targets of Minister Goward’s report—people, for various reasons, reliant on the social welfare system who are nevertheless productive and positive about their role in this place that Karen Therese suggests is “without a voice.”

Understandably, many locals see the government as the architects of dysfunction when it comes to some of the recurring issues in this area. Projects like FUNPARK go some way towards restoring the community’s faith in itself, giving it the strength to fight the easy stereotyping to imagine all manner of possibilities.

Sydney Festival, Karen Therese and the Community of Bidwill, FUNPARK, creative producer Karen Therese; creative team included Boris Bagatini, post, The Social Revolutionaries (Daisy Montalvo, Scott Johnathon, Cianter, Rvee Dela Cruz, Jithin Matthew, Reanne Shephard, Andrew Llamas & BJ Barnes), Bangarra Dance Theatre, Blacktown Art Centre, Clytie Smith, Bunny Hoopstar, Nick Rathbone Hogan, Team9Lives, David Capra, Jodie Whalen, Applespiel, Province, Darrin Baker, Katia Molino, Therese Wilson and many members of the Bidwill community. Bidwill Shopping Centre Plaza, 18-19 Jan

RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 pg. 15

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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