Performance review: The Journey Down, WA

A sound and performance journey traversing space, time and cultural connection.

The Journey Down is an epic road trip production travelling across the Kimberley and down the Pilbara and Coral Coasts to Perth. Through an inspired acquisition, an old car wreck will then become part of the Boola Bardip Western Australian Museum collection.

The Journey Down, featuring the sonic sculpture Warnarral Ngoorrngoorrool (Gija for old car), is a multilayered immersive audience experience of music, sound, dance, storytelling and animated projections. It is a journey across time encapsulating the cultural history of Australia.

Through the sonic sculpture of a car wreck, this compelling performance celebrates First Nations’ rich cultural heritage offering opportunity for connection. It also exposes some of the rifts and uneasy discourse of Australia’s colonial interventions.

The car wreck – a waylaid and rusting icon of Australian junkyards and outback roads – has been revitalised as a documentary artefact. In a six-year collaboration, Tura New Music, Gija artists from Warmun and maverick experimental Australian musician, Jon Rose – known for his instrument improvisations and environmental music projects – have resurrected a junkyard car.  

Warnarral Ngoorrngoorrool emerges from the scrap heap as a storytelling device. Through its percussive resonance, as a painting canvas and a screen for animated projections, the old car amplifies a collection of stories told by Gija artists – Gabriel Nodea, Shirley Purdie, Gordon Barney, Lindsay Malay and Charlene Carrington.

Leading audiences through an awareness of a powerful Ngarranggarni (Dreamtime) reality – through childhood memories, a massacre, stories of family, of breakdown and resilience to the regenerative image of a boab tree sending forth new shoots – this is a journey of truth-telling. It is also a voice of hope for ongoing intercultural exchange and understanding.

The Journey Down epitomises the collaborative possibilities for which Tura Artistic Director and CEO, Tos Mahoney has been striving. Tura New Music is a multi award-winning ensemble focused on developing intercultural relationships. For more than 20 years, Tura has facilitated regional and remote community workshops, engaged with local artists, and presented performances inspired by community collaborations.

This focus on intercultural dialogue and community collaboration is profoundly apparent in the concept and performances of The Journey Down. The production opens with a traditional Wangga dance by Gija and Miriwoong performers Andrew “Pelican” Daylight, Chris Griffiths and Preben Ningarmara. Griffiths explains the dance story, the importance of sharing and the value of cultural connection. Throughout the production, the contribution of Gija and Miriwoong collaborators is evident.

From the compelling opening, the cultural storytelling journey of Australia evolves. Projected animations curated by Sohan Ariel Hayes, play across the wreck’s rusted surfaces. Fluctuations of percussive sound with sometimes discordant pitches, and haunting notes created from the bowing of wires stretched across the old car’s engine cavity, add emotive echoes to each artist’s story.

Complemented by performances from Yamatji didgeridoo virtuoso Mark Atkins, Aviva Endean on clarinet, Tristen Parr’s cello, Vanessa Tomlinson’s percussive ingenuity and Griffiths’ compelling voice, The Journey Down creates a mesmerising sound experience.

The reverberating sounds between Warnarral Ngoorrngoorrool and musicians call for audiences to connect.

Read: Exhibition review: Open Borders, John Curtin Gallery

In the finale of The Journey Down, with all performers collaborating to extend the wreck’s percussive possibilities and Atkins’ climactic didgeridoo performance, I felt hope. The voice for a richer, deeper, reconciled and connected future is possible.

If each performance echoes the Kimberley performances, then The Journey Down is a unique experience not to be missed.

The Journey Down, presented in partnership with Tura and the Western Australian Museum, has visited the communities of Kununurra, Warmun, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Broome, Port Hedland, Roebourne, Karratha, Carnarvon and Geraldton, and will arrive in Perth on 16 September, where there will be a special event at the Kings Park next to the Warmun boab tree to welcome Warnarral Ngoorrngoorrool. Find the full performance schedule.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Cathy Cummins is an arts-worker, consultant and emerging writer. She has worked in remote Western Australia supporting community arts and cultural enterprise developments for more than 25 years.