Keeping the Home Fires Burning Through Outreach and the Celebration of Culture by Christine Leonard (née Wall)
Having grown up on Bougainville I keep in touch with Bougainvillean expat friends living in Brisbane, and one of the stand-outs in promoting Bougainville’s profile and culture is Veronica Kirin Henderson, president of the Brisbane Bougainville Community Group (BBCG). Recently we chatted about ‘home’, events in the Autonomous Region and the lead up to the referendum and the activities of the BBCG.
BEFORE THE BBCG formally registered as an incorporated group in 2013, a few stalwarts such as Monica Larcombe, Lucy Beagrie Junker and Veronica ‘Vero’ with the support of their families held regular get-togethers in their homes where fellow Bougainvilleans and their families came together in friendship to share traditional food and news from home, and do some fundraising to support people back home.
A key focus of the BBCG has been to support health services especially since the re-establishment of Arawa Hospital. With the assistance of Rotary International, Australians with a heart for Bougainville, the Royal Brisbane Hospital, PNG Ports Corporation in Lae and others, the group has successfully sent twelve shipping containers of hospital equipment, beds, even a dental chair and other needed goods to benefit areas throughout Bougainville.
The health centres in Buin and Haku (on Buka Island) have each received a container, five have been sent to Arawa and five to Buka. Bougainville’s Rotary Club with branches in Arawa and Buka have facilitated the distribution of the donated goods ensuring they end up where intended.
The group receives all manner of requests, such as travelling mass kits to enable priests to offer Holy Communion in Bougainville’s remote bush settings. The BBCG has provided two mass kits each costing A$650. Recently, the group answered a call from Bougainville’s Haus Stori for a filing system which cost A$990. All up, apart from donated goods and equipment, Vero estimates the group has raised and spent at least A$60,000 to procure and ship much needed items for communities in Bougainville.
Fundraising is hard work but for Vero and her ever supportive husband, Les and the Bougainville community in Brisbane, there is no better way than through dance and sharing traditional foods at public events. The real pay-off for the community elders has been that by involving the young ones in promoting their culture they have witnessed how it has captured and inspired their imagination.
Audiences will see dancers from eight years upwards backed by enthusiastic and talented young men in the bamboo band. The men will dance too on occasion.
The performers include women, girls, boys and men, school age, university students and young professionals, some who haven’t been able to return to the land of their birth for years. But, by coming together to plan, rehearse and perform, their culture lives on. Under the tutelage of Augusta Lokea dances represent the traditions of Bougainville’s north and south. Musical instruments include bamboo pipes, Kaur flute pipes, the conch shell and garamut.
The BBCG dancers and musicians have found their profile raised in recent years through their performances at Brisbane’s Queensland Cultural Precinct and in the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) at events associated with the 8th and 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) in 2015 and 2019.
The BBCG’s role wasn’t limited to performing but they provided important support to artists from Bougainville and PNG as part of their continued close engagement with the wider PNG community in Brisbane.
From April to July this year the group found themselves in the forefront again during the QAG’s hosting of the Women’s Wealth project.
‘Women’s Wealth is a collaboration between the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) and three Buka women: co-curator Sana Balai and artists Taloi and Marilyn Havini. The project reconnects Bougainville women with artists from the nearby Solomon Islands.’