Bennelong: a story of leadership, encounter, culture and loss

Rebecca Vassarotti MLA 4 August 2017


His story is one of the few Aboriginal stories I learned at school. Even as a primary school student I was fascinated by a story of a man who was a leader of his people, was there at the time of contact with the First Fleet and seemed to live his life between two cultures.

Bangarra Dance Theatres latest offering re-imagines the life of Bennelong, and provides an extraordinary interpretation through contemporary dance. This work aims to present this story from an Indigenous perspective, even though most accounts of the man with five names (Woollarawarre Bennelong, Baneelon, Wogultroway, Wolarrabarrey, Boinba, Bundebunda) are from a European perspective.

This is a work that explores the life of the Wongal man of the Eora nation prior to European contact. It imagines the visceral experience of first contact and its devastating consequences including smallpox, massacre, and death. It explores the relationship between Bennelong and Captain Phillip and the extraordinary visit to London that ended in tragedy with the death of his cousin. It follows Bennelong back to Australia and the sadness that accompanied him as he tried to live between two cultures.

The arts can entertain and educate us. They can allow us to learn more about ourselves and our history and the artistic director Stephen Page has created a work that does this in a way that is moving and profound.

We are extremely privileged to have Bangarra Dance Company bring their performances to the Canberra Theatre each year. This short season that runs until Saturday 5 August. If you are able to get to the show, it is an experience well worth it.


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