How We Made the Trees Speak
It stole the hearts and minds of more than 200,000 people this year, as they experienced this unique journey through Kings Park.
Returning from its debut in the 2017 Perth Festival, the nocturnal wonderland made an overwhelming impact on the Perth community – its message remaining as powerful now as it was then.
The concept for Boorna Waanginy began in early 2015 after Nigel Jamieson (Boorna Waanginy Director) and Wendy Martin (Perth Festival Artistic Director 2016 - 2019) went on a walk around Kings Park guided by Dr Richard Walley, Walley highlighting the Six Seasons and the Noongar relationship with plant species in the park.
That connection inspired an event to highlight an appreciation of Noongar wisdom and knowledge of Country, to celebrate the biodiversity of the southwest, and the need to protect our precious environment.
The Seed is Planted
The following year in 2016 the Boorna Waanginy creative team of Nigel, Zoe Atkinson (Artistic Associate and Designer), Sohan Ariel Hayes (Media Artist) and Richard (Artistic Associate and Cultural Advisor) presented the 2016 Festival opening Home, beginning to conceptualise Boorna Waanginy shortly after.
Boorna Waanginy producer, Anna Kosky, has been a part of the work from its formation in 2016. Anna said that along with the strong climate crisis message, Noongar culture was to be celebrated and highlighted. It came together within eight months, from concept creation to final work, with many conversations along the way with artists, botanists, scientists and more, with the overall idea and development having countless amounts of influence.
In that time, there were four weeks of testing, two months of structuring the work, and various concentrated periods of intense work time (due to busy artists and schedules!). On top of this was the physical creation of the work, with Anna saying its development was hugely time-consuming. It took Sohan and Zoe six months to draw every detail of the 40 minutes of film, plus involve key artists in composing the unique sound and lighting design to complement the visual elements.
Six months out from the main event, the risk management structure was established and a trial put in place in August 2016 to see if it would all come together in time, and for the most part, if the projections would look good on the trees.
“The challenge with any newly commissioned event, is that you’ve never done it before,” Anna said.
“You have a theory, but you never know what it will be like.
“You work on the best guess, taking into account audience behaviour.”
With the concept never existing before in Western Australia, Audience Services Manager Fiona Smith said for her team, the true test of the event was to ask people to walk through 2.5 kilometres in the dark to experience the work.
“Trip hazards are considered, anticipating how people would move through the space – it is quite a challenge,” she said.
Kosky said something that was artistically challenging in the conception of the work, was how to communicate the experience.
“We put a lot of trust and faith in the audience – we knew they were up to it,” she said.
“You take a gamble that the audience will be ok strapping on shoes and a backpack, and taking part in the journey.”
Revisiting Old Roots
Back by popular demand in 2019, Anna said there was something so special and moving for the people who saw it in its original incarnation that making it accessible for more people seemed necessary.
“It’s so relevant in a time of climate action, calling people to action and creating hope,” she said.
In the 2019 reincarnation, Fiona said it operationally took 50 Front of House staff, 70 volunteers, 30 site crew and 20 specialised staff, thousands of school children who took part in the Seeds of Change project, plus all the artists who invested in the project to bring it to life across four spectacular nights.
Fiona said like all events, it was the sense of accomplishment seeing the event be brought to life, both then and now, which made it worthwhile.
“It’s why we work in festivals," she said.
Anna said all who were involved were the best of the best in Perth, which was reflected in the audience experience.
For her, it was the legacy of the event that stayed with her, seeing the people of Perth engage and embrace the content, embodying a true sense of ownership with it.