Nati Frinj 2019: opening parade

A poem by D’Arcy Molan


Black Hole Theatre, Mary French

and Wotjobaluk Elder Uncle Ron Marks

animate the opening parade surge

with an array of Les Medus puppets

electrified by volunteers-

Here they come! leads and launches

the 2019 Nati Frinj festival

on a muggy Friday afternoon


Tchingal the giant emu heads first

and stares at the crowd on both sides,

ember-eyes point and enquire-

Food? Friend? Foe?


Tchingal sways and extends his neck,

while to the side, coarse three-toed feet land

on Natimuk Main Street service road


the wings of Bunjil expand

beyond the bitumen,

the blue-glow vision of the wedge-tailed eagle

track Tchingal’s wake


Waa the crow

flies behind

calling out at a safe distance.

The Wotjobaluk community

use their hands, feet

and cultural grip

to manoeuvre these ancestral beings

and interact with the streams

of onlookers

at play


via the Listen up! audio tour

Uncle Ron and Aunty Nancy Harrison tell us

Natimuk[1] is a Jadwadjali word

said to translate

as ‘little lake’


further back

luminous Jellyfish lick and dance the air

their tentacles fresh with sting,

the umbrella-swing and agile steps below

propel the 500-million-year-old swarm

into the Wimmera Mail-Times

online edition


a school of fish appears

to float on by-

they’ve escaped identification

from the Nati lake dry-

a day release with no intention

to return

until water conditions summon

a rainbow trout revival


the theme of pollination attracts

children, adults, dogs-

look, there’s a ute with a bee-woman

reclining on the slow-moving bonnet-

all wear black and gold clothes, or hold designs,

signs, or material puppets in line

with Rae Howell’s Bee-sharp honeybee

silo show theme


there are prams,

zimmer frames,

wigs and paint,

roller-skates and bright clothes


a pair dress in black leather masks

and add belts, buckles, and trinkets,

their style suggesting a masquerade ball

with bondage overtones

and a side-serve of nuclear fall-out


the Real Hot Bitches are in town

with sequin banner and blush-reserves,

these lycra-clad and shoulder-pad ambassadors

for 80s lip-sync and thrust

embodying an elegance

beyond wordplay


Thomas & Wells glide on like a botanic circus

in a flower-strewn bicycle and cab,

the ringmaster and mime of Cyclo Illuminato

graft tunes and pitch-shift commentary from a speaker-

meeting the adult crowd as a playdough-master would

their carpal tunnel relatives,

and the kids as contemporary relics


young performers in the Jillian Pearce-led

Styckx Theatre playground shows-





float on a length of bamboo,

these playmakers balance and ride the saggy-strength

slung across taut shoulders and the legacy

of Bambuco’s Simon Barley,

his Styckx Theatre design

assembled for Frinj

by local workers

on Nati Primary School’s oval


(the Styckx structure is a self-seeded

rhetorical question-

its material, curve, shapes, height

present a pliant amphitheatre

of possibility-

aerial choreography, movement, sounds from bamboo hits-

with WorkSafe rope rigging compliance

from the Y Space performance company


in the lead-up months to Frinj

Styckx drips with workshops, rehearsals

precipitous community conversation

and skills development-

terrestrial minds

climb the bamboo exoskeleton

and frame the Milky Way

light-years closer

to the Wimmera



after the Styckx contingent pass

we are met by the clipboard-apparition

of Elaine Uebergang-

registration marshal and volunteer coordinator-

who populates the time and space continuum

with disregard for the laws

of physics


Anthony Pelchen weaves the median strip.

Camera close,

he remarks on the public Saxual healing I must commit

to meet the festival program

artistic obligations,

then drifts ahead

while permission forms dance

with bureaucratic submission.


I join the parade

with my three-year-old niece


offering a comment

on ukulele and saxophone,

grammar which requires

the use of a colon:

to amplify the musical quote,

and address the acoustic height differential


she strums joyful open chords

until the Uke is hurled

into the nectar wave of callistemon

singers, near the community garden bed.

Tilda holds my hand for a year

and then returns to sister Anna

in the gathered crowd.

Mum receives a bee-sting opportunity

from Mary French

and wings-in for photo ops,

while Mary saves the projectile Ukulele

from the sticky throng of thongs


the humidity rises

and thunder is heard west

over Dyurrite/Mount Arapiles


here we come

towards the NC²* building

for a welcome to country

and smoking ceremony

by Uncle Ron Marks


Ron uses firelighters

to ensure swift and constant

eucalyptus ignition,

with a Jiffy-grin he claims the ancestors

have long used this method


a long line passes through

the smoke

with rapid hand movements

and breath control


festival director Hannah French

speaks to the Frinj Republic-

artists, volunteers, attendees-

and her personal support crew


the Nati brass band silently

wait for their turn

to blow,

their blue uniforms and gold tassels flutter

in the barometric pressure


local members and other representatives

add their voice

to the concrete steps

of NC²


the talk ends,

the brass band begins


the rain starts,

the crowd evaporates


the brass band flee their tunics and regiment position

their embouchure not yet wet


the Frinj has a way

of ending droughts



[1] Listen Up! 2019, audio guide,  Black Hole Theatre & Uncle Ron Marks & Tracey Rigney, Nati Frinj festival.

* Natimuk Community Centre