Jill Orr: A Prayer (2007)

Jill Orr

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Performed for Interpositions at 24hr art, August 2007, Darwin Festival This performance is a response to the Interpositions brief of unannounced performances located in public spaces. A background. A Prayer is a direct response to the Prime Minister John Howard’s recent directive to send the police and army into Aboriginal communities in an attempt to stop child abuse. There is fear that this move is a guise for a federal government land grab because most Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory sits on uranium, mined or otherwise. Howard’s vision to embrace uranium as the clean green fuel of the future ensuring Australian economic growth through international sales depends on government control of this land. A ninety-nine year lease of Aboriginal land is proposed by the government that would enable subleasing. The worry is that this will be subleased to uranium mining companies. Another aspect is that uranium mines will take at least fifteen to twenty years to become productive with the uranium reserves only lasting thirty to fifty years. A very short-term solution. Where time, in terms of urgency is of the essence to begin to stem green house gasses. Australia is abundant in alternate fuel possibilities that don’t leave dangerous wastes buried for hundreds of years, as uranium will do. So if this scenario plays out at the end of ninety-nine years the land is returned permanently poisoned. A great deal! The social cost for Aboriginal people starting with colonisation through to the present is ongoing. It is currently felt in Aboriginal communities through the lack of education, health and economic status. Initiatives like the community development employment programs that are working well in some communities are threatened with dismantling under this action. Some of the art centres where Aboriginal communities produce their paintings of both cultural and economic significance as well as some health centres have already had the funding stopped several years ago by this government. These custom-built buildings stand locked up and unused. This is a complex issue that I cannot pretend to know all the answers, particularly coming as a middle class white outsider from Melbourne.My information is dependent on mediated sites and it does not include that which is suppressed. It is the articulation of fears and anxieties amongst solid facts that inform my reading as a reflection of social and environmental concern.

Earlier in 2007 I created the collaborative work, The Crossing (see these details with that work). This was about overlapping cultural relations to place One character in The Crossing was the missionary nun that I performed but my focus was directing the overall work and so this character that historically had a direct and often fraught involvement with Aboriginal people was under developed. The Nun was the vehicle for A Prayer which is spoken from her perspective both as an instrument from the colonial past whose initial Christian mission was to convert ‘the natives’. The missions provided food, clothing, education, and taught girls for example to be maids in the service of the large station owners. In exchange their Aboriginal charges would convert to Christianity. This for some had positive outcomes like an education but for many it served to alienate them from their land and culture that as we now know is a source of illness and dissociation. Although A Prayer is about an act of reconciliation with the indigenous people and in particular with the Larrakia people on whose land the work took place, A Prayer speaks as much about the current crumbling of belief systems in the face of the all consuming materialism that is the global stage.