Arts and island life: Thoughts from the IOT tour

Arts and island life: Thoughts from the IOT tour

Hannah Chambers

On a postcard you can easily see Christmas & Cocos Islands have stunning views and clear blue oceans, but what you might not capture in that scenic picture is the rich cultural lives of the islands’ residents and their honest hunger for the arts.

Both Christmas and Cocos Islands are thriving for creative practitioners in all art forms to visit the Islands, as professional development opportunities are very limited. It is expensive for individuals to leave the island and fly back to Perth, so any artist that comes to the islands is a huge asset for locals to learn from – an opportunity which is quickly pounced upon.

Jens Altheimer performs his show “Loose Ends” to a West Island audience.

I was fortunate along with Vinisha Mulani from Community Arts Network to travel to the Indian Ocean Territories to connect with organisations and individuals to discuss their visions and dreams. Vinisha and I met with Community Organisations, Shires, and the Director of IOT, Schools and Individuals and discussed the possibility of art projects that they wish to see happen on the islands. The fieldtrip concluded with the Indian Ocean Territories tour of Loose Ends supported by The Australian Government.

The organisations and individuals that we met with were all very enthused about the possibility of arts programs coming to the islands. Cocos (Keeling) Islands in particular Home Island are very interested in capturing and documenting their culture heritage so it can be passed on from the older generation to the youth. You can take a look at some of Arts and Culture Christmas Island’s work to bridge that gap with their Instagram account @EverydayChristmasIsland.

On Cocos Islands we learnt about Cocos Malay Weddings; the tradition of Elders making the wedding outfits by hand and how they are a weeklong spectacular celebration involving majority of the community. Home Island is a tiny island with a population of 450, but Cocos Malay Weddings have been viewed over 20,000 times on YouTube. This isn’t the only part of Home Island life that ends up online, teenagers on Home Island love to fish, so they film their fishing trips and upload them to YouTube as well. In a situation that echoes some other areas of regional WA, late teenagers and young adults (aged 16-21) can find that there’s not much to do on the islands that really grabs their interest (especially if they’re not into diving). The community is very interested in filling this gap and embracing this existing interest in film making is one way they are looking to do that.

We were fortunate to watch two Loose Ends performance on Christmas Island and Home Island and while everyone loved the show Loose Ends Producer Jens Altheimer found the Home Island audience’s sense of comedic timing a bit challenging – as they laughed at unexpected moments throughout the performance. We later learnt that slap stick comedy is huge on Home Island.

Jens Altheimer helps local kids on Home Island learn a few tricks at the workshops. Picture by Janie Davidson.

The Loose Ends performances and workshops were well received as the children thrive on learning new skills.  A child during the workshops on West Island was able to juggle on their first attempt; which Jens told us was extremely rare. Children stayed behind after school where Jens taught techniques involving  one to stand on top of another person’s shoulders, the students got real sense of achievement.

Clearly there’s a big appetite for more creative practitioners to visit!

Take a look at some of the feedback Loose Ends got on the islands:

“This was an amazing show; it provoked thinking, made us wonder and loved the magic! Thank you for coming to Christmas Island.”

– Christmas Island audience

“Good fun, lovely to see performances on Christmas Island. Really loved the audience interaction.”

– Christmas Island audience

“Awesome, one man show. Kept kids and adults entertained alike. Great props. Great message. Great character. Great fun!”

– Cocos Islands audience

“The energy in the room was extremely high with activity. I really enjoyed the show and I’m looking forward to seeing more shows similar to Loose Ends! Well done!”

– Cocos Islands audience

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