Brisbaneâ€™s Kangaroo Point was once the land of the Turrbal people. Today, it is where you will find the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts (ACPA).
Now in its sixteenth year, the institute has earned itself an enviable reputation within the industry as one of Australiaâ€™s most respected indigenous creative hubs. Its success is underpinned by a clear vision that sees both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture celebrated through contemporary performing arts.
Training Director Rob Doran and Artistic Director Leah Purcell lead the way; they are supported by a dedicated team of staff.
Included among them is Rosemary Walker, a local industry veteran who has now worked with ACPA for several years.
â€œItâ€™s fantastic,â€ she enthuses, â€œI love watch them (the students).â€
The centre is, at its heart, a place of learning. Indigenous men and women are trained in acting, music and dance throughout their time with the school.
Formal lessons are complemented by a rich public performance program. Walker says it is not uncommon for these shows to sell out. Students recently performed at the first inaugural Clansestry festival.
Pupils come to the institute from across the country. Each year, ACPA staff travel throughout Queensland and Western Australia on the search for raw indigenous talent.
â€œWe (then) have auditions towards the end of the year to see how they will go,â€ Walker explains.
In 2013, the centre will mentor around 70 students. Many will go on to have successful careers both in Australia and abroad.
â€œWeâ€™ve got two dancers currently with Bangarra (Dance Theatre),â€ says Walker proudly. Â ACPA graduates have also gone on to work for Circus OZ, Expressions Dance Company and the highly-respected Leigh Warren Dancers. In 2010-11, the centreâ€™s retention rate was an impressive 80%.
The results are particularly remarkable given the challenging personal circumstances often faced by the students prior to their arrival. They range from eighteen up to thirty in age. Many will have already lived a seeming lifetime before they begin their journey with the institute; most have little or no formal performance experience.
â€œBeing indigenous, and Torres Strait Islander, they are just naturalâ€ says Walker by way of explanation.
For some, coming to ACPA must seem like a second chance. Performers who are fortunate enough to earn a coveted position are given the opportunity to earn a formal qualification up to the Advanced Diploma level.
Yet the centre takes a holistic approach to nurturing the talent of those who step through its doors. Accommodation support is offered to students, as is access to literacy and numeracy tutoring. An emphasis is also placed on studentsâ€™ spiritual wellbeing.
According to Walker, aboriginal guides encourage pupils to connect directly and deeply with their indigenous culture.
â€œThey teach them about their ancestors, they teach them all about the aboriginal historyâ€¦ where the songs come from.â€
The lessons are an important facet of the centreâ€™s overarching program. Funded by the Australia Council and Arts Queensland, ACPA is fostering the future leaders of Australiaâ€™s indigenous arts industry.
Its reach stretches far beyond the preservation of aboriginal culture. The institute provides a model to be embraced in other parts of the country; a special way of introducing aboriginal culture to mainstream audiences and enriching the lives of all Australians.
Surely, that is worth making a song and dance about?
What? Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts
Where? 59-69 Shafston Avenue, Kangaroo Point
Contact? 07 3392 4420
Find out more? Visit the ACPA website.