Territory musicians' unique role in cultural landscape 

Adrian Walter, convener of the Creative Citizenship symposium

Creating the cultural landscape of the Northern Territory was reliant on its own citizens taking a major role, says Adrian Walter, the convener of the Creative Citizenship symposium.

In providing a case study of the Northern Territory’s biennial Darwin International Guitar Festival, Mr Walter said that such events would not be possible without the participation of musicians drawn from the local community.

He said the isolation of the Territory meant mainstream arts touring groups did not come very often, leaving the community to develop its own arts practice.

“In this environment cultural production by the citizens becomes just as significant as cultural consumption,” Mr Walter said.

“Community interaction was one of the key drivers of the Darwin International Guitar Festival Arts, whose aim is to facilitate collaborative projects with international and national performers and local musicians.”

The festival, which began in 1993, was successful in its aim of attracting big-name composers and performers to participate, with new compositions specially written by eminent composers such as Peter Sculthorpe and Ross Edwards.

Performers such as John Williams and Karin Schaupp were also enticed to the Top End to play in the festival’s concerts with the community musicians in exotic locations.

Mr Walter was speaking on the second day of the symposium, expanding on the theme of community involvement in the arts laid out in a related case study on the first day by Martin Jarvis, founder of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra.

Associate professor Jarvis related how the DSO had moved ‘out of the box’ of the conventional music auditorium to bring symphony concerts to audiences in picturesque Northern Territory locations that were not always easy to access in logistical terms.

To play at Katherine Gorge for instance, required the intervention of the army which laid down special pontoon bridges as the ‘stage’ on the water for the musicians.

Both speakers showed slides of concerts in which they had taken part in locations as enchantingly different as Katherine Gorge, Nourlangie Rock, the Territory Wildlife Park, Darwin’s casino and its Supreme Court and Kununurra in the East Kimberley.

Mr Walter concluded that concerts with large orchestras in exotic locations were far too expensive to stage with professional orchestras from other parts of Australia. The Territory was unique in its ability to stage such concerts with the DSO.