Rehearsals Begin for Australia's First Aboriginal Opera



Rehearsals are underway for Australia's first indigenous opera. "Pecan Summer" tells the story of a historic Aboriginal protest in the late 1930s. Over the years Aboriginal performers have been drawn to rock music as well as reggae and hip hop but few have been attracted to opera.
"Pecan Summer" tells the story of a demonstration at the Cummeragunja Mission, which was part of a system to house and assimilate Aborigines.
Many indigenous people resented the missions and demanded their own land. Colonial administrators responded by setting up special reserves for Aborigines.
In 1939, a large group of indigenous Australians walked off the reserve at Cummeragunja in protest at their squalid living conditions and the treatment they endured at the hands of European settlers.
They had complained of shortages of food and of widespread disease.
The story is now being told through dramatic art.
Rehearsals have started under the guidance of Deborah Cheetham, who for the past decade has been Australia's only professional Aboriginal opera singer.
She says this type of creative expression is a perfect way to explain indigenous history.
"Opera, if you think about it, is just storytelling through music, drama and dance and singing, and we've been doing that for thousands of years as well so it made sense to me that to find other opera singers perhaps I'd have to create a vehicle for them and that's 'Pecan Summer,' said Cheetham."
Historians consider the Cummeragunja protest to be the first mass strike by Australia's Aborigines, which sparked a nationwide movement for basic rights.
"We must raise our expectations for indigenous people because if we raise our expectations we will change the outcomes," she said.
Indigenous communities suffer high rates of unemployment, imprisonment and ill-health. Aborigines have a life expectancy 17 years below that of most other Australians.
"Pecan Summer" is due to open in the southern city of Melbourne late next year.

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