First On The Ladder a three-year victory

“The greatest growth (for the kids) is that of trust and bravery. While it might seem natural that kids will develop new skills as they get older, it’s probably more telling that their confidence and self-awareness grew week on week. A phrase I heard a few times from parents and carers was along the lines of “these kids don’t get this chance at school or anywhere else in this town” and I think what that meant was that this was a unique chance for these kids to be at the centre of activity.” Dan Koop, facilitator – Scavenger Hunt (2018) and Rumba Radio (2019).

First On The Ladder was a three-year, art-meets-sport collaboration between Polyglot Theatre and Beyond Empathy, in partnership with Rumbalara Football Netball Club in Shepparton, Victoria and the Moree Boomerangs in New South Wales. The project centred on the young people from these two Indigenous sports clubs – celebrating their culture and achievements through a range of creative experiences. These included making large-scale street art exhibits, hand-drawn zines and stop-motion animation, developing songs and dances to create video clips, creative play workshops and radio broadcasting.

2019 was the third and final year of the project, and its focus was both to explore and reflect on the deep ties built between Polyglot, Beyond Empathy, and the communities of Rumbalara and the Boomerangs. These vibrant Aboriginal-led organisations welcomed us in, and without this, our work would not have been possible. The strength of family and culture in each, and their far-reaching engagement across sport, health and education opened up new ways of thinking about the role that art plays, and its impact, within a community.

In Shepparton, 2019 saw 168 children and young people engage in nine creative play workshops where they designed, constructed and furnished their own miniature Dream Houses. 50 houses were made and placed into a reimagined neighbourhood called Rumba Town – an interactive exhibition for everyone to engage with. 100 people attended on the day. “We’re really proud of what the kids have done. They’ve been supported in their imagination of Rumba Town with Polyglot.” Paul Briggs, President of Rumbalara Football Netball Club.

97 young people engaged in seven live Rumba Radio broadcasts facilitated by Jaimie-Lee Hindmarsh, Dan Koop and Ian Pidd. The radio station was an opportunity for young people to share stories, discuss their passions and play their favourite songs. Kids engaged with the responsibilities of radio presentation, created their own segments and stings, and had great conversations with their Elders during interviews.

To mark the final year of the project, First On The Ladder showcased the collective artworks created during the project in two exhibitions as part of Shepparton Festival 2019 and YIRRAMBOI Festival 2019. First On The Ladder: Shopfront transformed vacant spaces in the centre of Shepparton and the Melbourne CBD into beautifully curated exhibitions of art, video and sound work, celebrating the kids and their Club. First On The Ladder: Shopfront enabled the works of children and young people to reach wider communities beyond Rumbalara Football Netball Club, and provide greater awareness of the Club and community in Shepparton and Melbourne.

Belinda Briggs from Rumbalara Football Netball Club reflects, “It’s been great to tune into and express who we are, our culture and values. The idea of learning through creation, participation and watching others to see what you do next is part of Aboriginal pedagogy. This enables us (Rumba) to maintain, sustain and safeguard aspects of our culture and identity.”

In Moree, 72 young people were engaged in seven Boomerangs Broadcast Corporation (BBC) radio workshops with Jerome Smith, Blayne Welsh and Ian Pidd. During NAIDOC Week, rock legends Fitzroy Xpress stopped by the BBC to be interviewed on the radio by local kids. 243 young people were engaged in seven creative play workshops with a large-scale fence weaving project taking centre stage throughout the workshops. Aunty Paula Duncan says of the play workshops, “Over the three years I’ve seen 50 or 60 kids go through the program. If we didn’t have programs like this in this town, these kids’d be lost. You might start out with five or so kids then BAM, you’ve got 30 or 40 and they go away happy because they’ve made something with their hands.”

A special First On The Ladder Retrospective exhibition was held at Dhiiyaan Aboriginal Centre, where the resulting work from three years of play workshops was transformed into a showcase of photographs, sculptures, a play space, paintings and artworks. The exhibition was open for three months.

Polyglot hosted development sessions at each Club to provide training, skill development and employment opportunities to local community leaders in creative play and radio broadcasting. The focus of the workshops was the transfer of skills from Polyglot’s professional artists to new local facilitators to run creative play workshops and radio broadcast sessions during the 2019 season and beyond. Having the time to build a relationship with these new facilitators also created a collaborative space for new ideas to emerge for the project.

First On The Ladder ran from 2017-2019, and was managed by Project Director Ian Pidd and Project Producer Simone Ruggiero.

First On The Ladder was supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

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