Q&A with Rhoda Roberts

Rhoda Roberts is a co-devisor and director of Three Brothers, a contemporary NORPA work in development inspired by a Bundjalung creation story. Rhoda is a NORPA Board Member.

She is an Australian journalist, broadcaster, actor, producer, director, writer, arts advisor, and artistic director. She is a significant force on the Australian arts scene and was recently awarded an Order of Australia.

What is your connection to the Northern Rivers NSW?
I have long family connection to the Northern Rivers for two thousand five hundred generations. It’s always been our home, it’s where I grew up, heard the stories of the past, went to school. It’s where I belong as a Widjabul woman, it is the waters and the mountains of my ancestors. It’s where my family gave…. me the pride to stand tall while at the same time to remember to feel the country beneath us and to always be generous of heart and mind.

It’s a place that has such a diverse population, it found a new voice in the 1970’s with a group of people who came for a festival (Aquarius) and stayed. They questioned development and saved our ancient rainforests. As my children walk this land I will be forever grateful that the tree trunks continue to remain solid in the earth as they have for all my grandmothers and grandfathers.

Why did you want to work with NORPA?
As child we had little exposure to the broader sector of the arts. The most we got was the occasional pantomime that came to the Star Court Theatre in Lismore. There was simply nothing that reflected my world.

Then NORPA came along with the adaptation of the Cars That Ate Paris. It was the music that struck a chord, I had not heard anything like it before. The production was staged outdoors. My dad spoke so highly of this man Lyndon Terracini, I remember thinking he was a bit of a hippy!

But it was watching one of Australia’s classic’s, a Jack Davies play, performed on the riverbank in Lismore that made me think what a joy it would be to work with this humble company in my hometown. A number of decades later and here I am…but not as a performer as I imagined but as one of the creative team, devising a universal story with the echo of my ancestors voices…on country. But what an honour to also be asked to serve NORPA as a board member. I hope I serve our industry well and embed as much of our Bundjalung culture and that of first nations into the dialogue of this unique company.

What are the challenges and joys of creating Three Brothers?
It’s such a joy to reimagine in the ‘now’, our long-time stories and their relevance in our society. If one Bundjalung girl comes along and witnesses elements of her life held up, celebrated and discussed, then we have achieved great theatre. The production enables us to physically remove the invisibility we feel as a clan, as a people, as nations within a nation, as the first peoples, as a sovereign people.

It’s a joy mirroring, not the white mission man’s stories or the dominant society’s assumptions, but our story with all its complexities. The Three Brothers creative team is a collaboration and what a joy to have the trust, support and the questioning of your peers and colleagues. It’s a joy to unpack, drill down, discuss, argue and revisit our fears. We are refining what could become a new way of storytelling and that is incredibly exciting, frightening and a risk but what a joy to have such a space and time.

There are many challenges –  the very nature of Three Brothers being a group devised project; ensuring this is a local story celebrated on a universal level that enables the Bundjalung a voice on country, on and off the stage; to reflect the diversity and continuous nature of an ever adapting culture; to ensure there is excellence in industry standards and respect; to ensure there is life after a regional showing of Three Brothers.

The real personal challenge is ensuring we capture the authenticity and authorship of our perspectives while  reflecting and incorporating the appropriate nuances of our creation stories, those of the local regions that make up the Bundjalung Nation. It is crucial to keep the discussion open with our community, warts and all. To enable those that are so disenfranchised but to also respect that we are theatre makers, this is our craft and skill and our livelihood.

What would you like to see in the future for regional theatre?
Theatre is theatre is Theatre. Art is art is The Arts. Culture is culture and Culture. We all have something to offer. It does not just happen in the cities, it lives across the nation and the world.

Our leaders and the government need to express the importance to all Australians of experiencing vibrant arts and culture. It’s important for our well being, for pride and nationhood building. As leaders across the sciences, education and cultural areas WE all need to nurture and support art, just as we worship our sporting culture.

Our local stories take us beyond the everyday and they are breathing life back into regional Australia. There are a number of regional centres that are hitting their stride and others are still developing essential support and staffing. There is a positive economic impact when regional arts centres are activated and engaged. We all need to be more inclusive, develop access to diverse sectors and re-imagine the program. While we continue to build capacity, box office, local audiences, financial stakeholders and partners, and strive to work sustainably – we must never forget why we come together.

As history has documented we all want to gather, we all want a sense of purpose. Be it through the sciences, ideas, dialogue, education, health or craft making – we need a place to create, we need the vitality of a hub. The future for our regional art centres will be the village that radiates for the child in us all. It’s the creative learning centre, the language nest, the gathering place to yarn, yearn, laugh and learn. It’s the ancient crafts reimagined, it’s the home for truth, it’s the place to make us feel alive and connected.

If we are inclusive, we all will get to know what true country is. Let’s be open.