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'Road Open': The Kimberley DVD

A sharing of culture

'Road Open' is an interactive DVD recorded at 13 communities in the Kimberley. Sandra Brogden is Director of the Catholic Education Office in Broome and Alan Pigram is a musician (a member of the well-known Pigram Brothers band) and coproducer of the DVD. They discuss the project.


Where did the original idea come from?

Sandra:

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Sandra Brogden

It probably came from both of us. I had originally thought that maybe we could do a video. You see little kids watching the Wiggles and things like that where there's music and dance, some little songs, and I was thinking about something like that, but based in the Kimberley. I phoned Alan and talked to him and he had his own ideas...


Alan:

Yes, I'd had some ideas like that too. I'd just starting to talk to this bloke who's a cameraman and film director and he was doing Russell Crowe's DVD in New York. So he'd given me this DVD technology and I was analysing it in terms of the learning power that I could see within the interactive side of it. Like the way there could be so many levels and ways of organising it. And I saw that as a good learning tool.

He's done Pigram Brothers video clips before so we had a working relationship and I was able to ask him to help. He was willing and so we thought 'why use video when we can use the DVD technology?' You've got to go and get the raw footage anyway, but the difference is that when you think DVD you can do much more.


Sandra:

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Alan Pigram

We'd been doing a little bit with music in the early years and we originally put this up as a proposal to the CEO as part of IESIP funding. It came out of a consultative forum and it was an early childhood thing. We wanted music and dance that was based in the Kimberley and that children could do and succeed at. And also something where parents could be involved in schools in a non-threatening way. But what we've actually got is something much bigger than that.


Alan:

In the early part, I was thinking more in terms of the stories that are in each place. I was thinking of a cartoon character, where the Elders tell a story and then it's depicted by a cartoon character. So there would be a character involved, a story, the animals and the linking of the whole lot back to the dreaming. That was what was running through my mind. But then we thought it would be better to depict real people so, we would have an Elder as a kind of icon to introduce every different place. And that gave it more body because people could be part of it.


What happens when you play the DVD?

Alan:

The first thing you get is a cultural warning. You can't bypass that. Then you go into the map of the Kimberley, with all the school icons and as you go to each school or community, you are then welcomed. Again, you can't bypass that. Every time you go back there, even if you go in and out, you have to go back through the Elders' welcome in their language and/or English. And then you get a menu. First, we've got our song and dance. You can see the words and if you click certain things you can get further in there. Like, you can have the music without the words, so it's karaoke version as well. And there's a documentary about each community in there as well. The songs actually make sense after you've watched that.


What was the initial contact with communities?

Sandra:

We did a pre-visit to every community just to talk to and get permission from the Elders, to see if they wanted it, too. We explained what the idea was behind it and every place was open-hearted to it. And I think that the success of it came from the fact that it was Aboriginal people consulting with Aboriginal people. We sent people who had links into all of those communities.


Alan:

Yes, that community thing behind it was major. There was one place I went to, I started talking for about two minutes and this Elder from the community he started telling me exactly what I wanted to do. So I knew I was on the right track. And I said that's exactly what I want to do and it's what I want to come back for. That really boosted me up in terms of knowing I was on the right track.

Some of these communities are pretty vulnerable. You know, in the past they've spoken to someone, showed them a painting and then they see their painting on the TV. And they didn't know, they didn't give permission. With the stories, you're not dealing with just the person telling you some words, you're dealing with the existence of those people, which stands for a long time to come. So you've got to treat that with respect. But they've learned. At first, they want to know 'Why are you asking these questions?', 'Why do you want that information?' So we had to take it easy and talk with the right people.


Sandra:

What came out of the communities in the end was a lot more than what we expected. They wanted to show us everything and tell stories and I think they hadn't had the opportunity in that sort of manner to do that before.


What was the process of shooting?

Alan:

When it was all agreed we went to shoot in the 13 communities. The whole thing was done in three days in each community, that was to shoot all the footage, get all the stories from the community as well as to write the song and create the dance.

We tried to involve the Aboriginal teachers' aides in each community, to get some communication happening with the kids. The first step in this whole thing was to write the song. Then we can add the dance after that. Because I was trying to get an inside out view rather than do it as someone from outside, I wanted a lot to come from the kids. So when you sing the words you know it's about that community.

So in each school I just did a big storyboard kind of workshop, with about eight or nine questions. Each school got the same questions. Some of them were 'How important are the old people?', 'How important are kids?', 'What's your favourite things to do in your community?', 'What special things would you show everyone in the world about this place?' So it got deep into what they felt. Not what other people feel, or what you hear about the place.

Then I'd have 10 or 12 boards full of all these ideas and language words. And I'd have just one night to write the song! Because then the dancers would come and the time frame was very clear and couldn't be changed. But I'd tried to absorb all the little things the kids had told me and the pressure of it was blanked out because it was exciting and important.

I tried to make the melodies out of the way people spoke at the community, and phrase words that way as well. And I asked people what sort of music they liked and tried to get a feel for that as well.

The dance was always the same couple, Naomi and Trevor. They interpreted little specific moves within each community's dance feel and used the way the kids move as well. And we consulted the Elders closely because a lot of the stuff we weren't sure about. We didn't know any of their particular rules or anything but when we got in there, we soon found them out because we consulted with them. We had to make sure the dancers were doing it just right. And we wanted to have something relevant for Kimberley kids, to have a dance that makes more sense to them.


What happened next?

Sandra:

We took it back to the communities after the first lot was finished, to get approval to use it, and to keep going. And they said they were so proud of it. I went to one of the communities and the people were just buzzing, you know, 'when are we going to get this DVD?', That's what they wanted to talk about. And the principal, all she wanted to do was know how she was going to teach the music and dance. An old man was talking to me after we had just had a certificate presentation for some kids. He said you don't have to explain two-way learning any more. Just show them that. And that really summed it up for me.

We've had lots of positives from the principals as well. When we first showed them the first cuts of a few of the songs and a few of the documentaries some of them were crying. Because they didn't imagine it would come up as quite such a sharing of culture. That's what it was all about, a sharing of culture.


How will the DVD be used in the schools?

Sandra:

We're hoping that through music we can teach literacy and numeracy, that it can be a starting point for literacy and numeracy. We'll be working with teachers to see how they can use it like that.


Alan:

The power of it (and this is the feedback I'm getting now from people who've seen it) is that there are 13 communities within the Kimberley and you can access any one at any time. The power of that is that instead of people in one community having their own little world and kids being in a kind of bubble, they can see out of that bubble. All of a sudden kids who are in the desert can go straight to another community which might be by the sea. A totally different place, different outlook, and they might say, well, I have to act, to do things. Not to be as good as anyone else but for yourself. It's an uplifting kind of feel.


Sandra:

But even in our schools down south we will be able to use this for Aboriginal studies programs and cross-cultural programs. It could be used right across the country, really.

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