Arnhem Land 1988
Nanjing ProjectsJuggling the Data

The Big Crowd at Yirrkala

Flying out of Groote Eylandt on Sunday morning, 10 July 1988, the company headed for Yirrkala, a community in the East Arnhem region. Then they spent the rest of the day enjoying the lush natural beauty of the surrounding country and connecting with the local community. That night they lodged in the local school.

The next day they set up on the Yirrkala football oval, with a fine view of the Arafura Sea behind them. At first, the local kids were a bit miffed because they wanted to play football, but all was well when after the company invited them onto the mats and showed them some tumbling.

That evening they performed for the largest audience on the Arnhem Land tour, with many coming down from the nearby mining town of Nhulunbuy. On this tour, Circus Oz used a triple trapeze rig with two poles guyed off. The show was a stripped-back version of the show developed for the company’s tenth anniversary celebrations, directed by Emil Wolk and legendary company founding member Robin Laurie. The acts performed on the Arnhem Land tour included a very successful acrobatic act with a lawn bowls theme. This routine, performed against a background of red earth and scrub, suggested a gentle parody of the colonial explorer in pith helmet and white suit.

Lawn bowls act (1988). Credit Ponch Hawkes. Theatre and Dance Platform
Review of Yirrkala show for The Arnhem Courier, published on 15 July 1988. Theatre and Dance Platform.

There was also Teresa Blake’s cloudswing, a group-bike trick, hoop diving, an extraordinary cello duet played on the one instrument by Teresa Blake and Julie McInnes, the Inspector Smith trampoline routine and a Chinese pole trick with an ensemble of seven dressed in distinctive red-and-black uniforms designed by Laurel Frank.

The Arnhem Land show needed to be flexible enough to fit into different kinds of spaces. They performed on sports grounds, behind schools, in clearings and car parks. Arriving in town in the morning, the company would look for the flattest bit of ground with the least amount of stones.

Local kids would often practice their own tumbling routines on the company’s mats and mini tramp before and after the show. In Yirrkala, a writer for The Arnhem Courier reported that during the interval Guy Hooper led a trail of children after him on a guided tour of the area, pointing out such exciting things as a dog, a red chair, a pram and a patch of ground. And at every community there were impromptu workshops with local children before and after the show.