In 2003, I began the seven year creative journey and process to develop an 80 minute musical theatre show inspired by the stories and memories of my Great-Grandmother, Flora Hoolihan (nee Illin). Little Birung is the traditional name of Flora Hoolihan, however the meaning of the word is lost. Great-Granny Flora was a very special woman in my families lives, living to the grand age of 102. Leaving us in March 2018, her presence, influence and stories are never far from us and we miss her dearly.
Granny Flora's ancestry is Aboriginal Australian and Russian. Granny Flora's mother, Kitty Clark, was Aboriginal woman from the Ngadjonji tribe, Butchers Creek near Malanda. I guess I don't have to get you to read between the lines to figure out who and what Butchers Creek was named after. Granny Flora's father, Leandro Illin, was a Russian man who immigrated with his family to Australia in 1910. Leaving St Petersburg, arriving in Brisbane and then making their way to a place called Malanda, North Queensland.
Kitty and Leandro fought authorities to marry, going to great lengths to keep their family together, during a time when it was illegal in Australia for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people to wed. Leaving their first born with Grandad Illin's family, Kitty and Leandro walked from Mount Bartle Frere on the Atherton Tablelands into the tiny little town of Innisfail to marry in the courthouse. Kitty was pregnant with Granny Flora during this time.
The creative concept of Little Birung was first discussed in 2003 with a group of musicians and artists who travelled to Mount Isa to assist with a Queensland Music Festival Production. We got to talkin' - as you do.
What's your story?
Where are you from?
Doctor Tulp Productions went to work. The process that took seven years; lots of creative development, workshops, talking to people at APAM, showcasing, grant writing, grant acquittals, more grant writing. There is no such thing as overnight success. Blackbird was debuted at the Cairns Indigenous Arts Festival in August 2010. Granny Flora was there for opening night and attended as many shows as she could.
Blackbird underwent some more creative development and a name change. Little Birung opened at The Judith Write Centre in Brisbane 2011 and was part of a regional tour in North West Queensland in 2013. It has helped formed the basis of cultural talks at primary schools, starting proactive and positive conversation about Indigenous Australia and Australian history and has enabled more acting opportunities for me; Belvior Theatre Company and Black Swan Theatre Company's, The Sapphires (2011) and Queensland Theatre Company's, Country Song (2015).
Little Birung deserves it's own page on my website because there is so much to tell, not only the story itself, but impact it's made on audiences as a cultural awareness tool.
Feminism, human rights, social justice, racial justice and equality, plus more, all under pin this work, using a framework of narrative therapy. When collecting these stories, it was a very liberating and empowering feeling. The knowledge of your family history, where you come from, who you come from, the connection to kin and country - this is an extremely important aspect of ones being. It is so important for mental health and well-being. This underpins my world view and my coaching and mentorship work with others.
I give my thanks, appreciation and my gratitude to Leah Cotterell, Sean and Seamus Mee, Jamie Clark, Pearly Black, Brett Cheney, Simon Cook, Gavin MacDonnell, Skye Murphy, Ray Cook and the rest of the Brisbane crew that cooked meals for me, let me sleep on their couches and came to my shows and told their friends to come to my shows.
Big love goes out to John Rodgers. That guy is a genius. And is my mentor.
And all my love goes to Granny Flora and my family.