Dancing the story of the black-throated finch

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25 November 2020

This year, St Mary MacKillop Catholic Primary School, Bannockburn, won the Best Raising Awareness Story Award and the National Environment Award in the Wakakirri challenge, Australia’s largest performing arts event for schools.

Wakakirri is an Aboriginal word which means ‘to dance a story’.

Performance arts teacher, Michelle Chambers, led the 90 students in the school production. ‘We told the story of the endangered black-throated finch. These are birds that live only in one little isolated part of Queensland. They were already endangered and then, with the mining industry moving into their habitat, things are looking really bleak for them.’

The title of the school’s production Got My Mine Made Up hints at the impact of the mining industry on the habitat of the black-throated finch. ‘Our story, based on real events, enacts the feverish campaign of a wealthy big business to mine the habitat of Queensland’s endangered black-throated finch’, said the school’s entry.

On the certificate awarded to the school, one of the judges, Petra Glieson, wrote: ‘A beautiful and key story to raise awareness on a local–global issue.’

The Wakakirri challenge has a very strong environmental focus. ‘We basically did everything we could to run the production sustainably’, said Michelle. ‘All our costumes are made from repurposed fabrics, we had a lot of it donated to us, but also from op shops as well. All our sets were made from repurposed materials. All our staff collected soft plastic and we cut that up into the shape of leaves and attached it to old branches that we put into Christmas tree stands to help them stand up, which created the look. Even our make-up was all made from plant-based glitter, from eucalyptus trees. Honestly, anything we could do to run it sustainably we did.’

Not even COVID-19 restrictions could slow them down. ‘The kids all took different characters, in three different groups, which worked perfectly with social distancing and rehearsals’, said Michelle. ‘We had to alter some things along the way, but we managed to pull an amazing story together.’

‘Instead of performing in Melbourne at the Clocktower Centre, we ended up filming it at the Bannockburn nature reserve. It’s maybe 200 meters away from our school and it’s just a beautiful location and it perfectly complemented our story as well.’

For a school that is just three years old ‘it is sensational’, said principal Anthony Drill. ‘They put a lot of work into it and in difficult circumstances. From the outset they were in it to win it and they won two awards. It’s a fantastic achievement for them and for us as a new school, I’m very proud of them.’