Woman behind art project that's gaining a global audience
THIS winter, the image of Australia to the world has been Badu Gili, a First Nations arts program 'painting' the sails of the Sydney Opera House, curated by the Northern Rivers' Rhoda Roberts AO.
Showcased during NAIDOC week, her curating work reached people around the world.
A proud Wiyebal woman (Bundjalung nation), Roberts was one of the recipients of the 2017 Centenary Sue Nattrass Award, part of the Helpmann Awards family, a lifetime achievement award that recognises outstanding service to the live performance industry in a field which may not enjoy a high public profile.
The name Rhoda Roberts has become associated with the best aboriginal art in Australia, and she has also helped showcase local artists at a national and international level.
Besides living on the Northern Rivers for decades, Rhoda Roberts has been an associate artist with NORPA and is the curator of Boomerang, the First Nations cultural festival currently being held as part of Bluesfest Byron Bay every year.
Roberts is hard to pin down for an interview. Speaking from Sydney getting in and out of lifts and board rooms, she said she was grateful for the recent acknowledgement she received.
"It has been a wonderful surprise to be honoured and recognised with a Helpmann Award," she said.
"First Nations' arts need to be in the forefront of this country's artistic profile, and anything I can do to improve that from my role at the Sydney Opera House (where she is Head of First Nations Programming) means that our culture is not just alive but celebrated and embraced.
"Tourists coming to Australia are very clear on their feedback: they want to have that true cultural Australian experience linked to our First Nations, out ancient culture, why not offer it to them?"
For that to happen, Roberts explained, governments and organisations have to see First Nations culture as a pivotal part of the country's legacy to the world.
Her role at the Sydney Opera House is linked to the building's Reconciliation Action Plan, which committed in 2011 to a range of "actions and initiatives that aim to safeguard our traditions and adapting cultures for future generations".
Despite this, Roberts said, funding to develop cultural experiences has not been allocated by government and private organisations as they should.
"(Bluesfest director) Peter Noble is committed to Boomerang Festival, but we have been unable to gain support from government to help develop the concept into a more successful endeavour, so for now Bluesfest audiences can enjoy a cultural experience at Boomerang, but there is no reason why we cannot have a premium cultural festival in this area, that is not just fun and creative but also a great showcase of First Nations culture," she said.
- Rhoda Roberts is a proud member of Bundjalung Nation, Wiyebal Clan of northern NSW and southeast Queensland.
- She is currently Head of First Nations Programming for the Sydney Opera House, Creative Director of the Parrtjima Festival in Alice Springs, Director of the Boomerang Festival and associate artist of the Northern Rivers Performing Arts.
- She was the Founder and Director of the Festival of Dreaming 1995 -2009.
- She has written, produced and directed some of Australia's most important public productions and has also been involved with large-scale events including as the Creative Director for the Awakening Segment Sydney Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, the opening of the Musee Du Quai Branly in Paris, the Athens Olympics handover ceremony, World Youth Day and as director of the Garma Festival, produced by the Yothu Yindi Foundation.
- Ms Roberts co-founded Australia's first national Aboriginal theatre company, the Aboriginal Nation Theatre Trust (ANTT) and has worked on programs for SBS, ABC TV and Radio and commercial television.
- She has also been a board member for Indigenous Tourism Australia, Playwriting Australia and the Australian International Cultural Council (AICC) and in 2016 received an Order of Australia.