Tweed Aboriginal dance troupe heads to Vegas

10 Jul

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By Rebekah Jones and Chelsey Landford, Bond University journalism students

Tweed indigenous artist Goompi Ugerabah will today (Thursday) swap beaches for bright lights as he boards a plane to Las Vegas.

Mr Ugerabah’s  Bundjalung Kunjiel Dance Troupe has been invited to showcase Aboriginal culture to an international audience in an opportunity to secure a multi-million dollar stage show.

On offer is a year-long contract to perform with Polynesian and Hawaiian dance groups in a theatrical “journey from Hawaii to Australia”.

Mr Ugerabah said the stage show’s future hangs on the success of an initial presentation to potential backers and producers this Saturday.

“We’re right on the verge of signing [a contract], but it relies heavily on our ability to sell ourselves this weekend,” he said.

“People need to know that they’re investing in something that will make a profit.”

Mr Ugerabah said the troupe’s performance would be the first of its kind to hit Vegas.

“This is a huge accolade both for us individually, and for the wider Aboriginal community,” he said.

“We have travelled the world passing on our unique traditions, and America is the final stop in a 17-year-long journey to generate exposure for indigenous Australian culture.”

He said if successful, Bundjalung Kunjiel would be awarded with a star on the city’s ‘Walk of Fame’, alongside names like Elton John and Elvis Presley.

But the road to international recognition has not been easy.

Mr Ugerabah said the group had incurred financial obstacles and had relied on the sale of his renowned Dreamtime paintings to fund the trip.

“We needed $6000 for plane tickets and were very limited in the time we had to raise it,” he said.

“Fortunately, over the years I’ve seen an amazing response to my artwork and developed a high-profile clientele base, so I was confident it could get us there.”

Mr Ugerabah’s past paintings have gained support from significant figures including Princess Benedicta of Denmark, but he turned his fundraising focus to the local community by selling artwork at discounted rates at Coolangatta beach.

“I’ve done a lot of hard work in the past six months and we’ve all gone without,” he said.

“However the positive reaction and support for our cause has been overwhelming – it makes it worth it.”

The trip coincides with National Aboriginal and Islander Observant Committee (NAIDOC) Week.

“That’s what my job is, that’s the point of all this: to pass on the culture.”

Nyombile Centre Indigenous Support Officer Narelle Urquhart said the week celebrated and reflected on past and present Aboriginal culture.

“NAIDOC opens the eyes of the non-Indigenous population to who we are,” she said.

“It’s as much an opportunity to work to close a gap between our cultures, as it is a celebration.

“What we have now is a young generation of Australians who are far more eager to accept and learn from indigenous culture, and people like Goompi who want to go out and educate others.”

Mr Ugerabah said he hoped to make his Stradbroke Island elders proud.

“My Elders taught me it’s not enough for the new generation to read about us in textbooks,” he said.

“Travelling the world and passing Aboriginal culture on face-to-face, from my mouth and from their mouths, will go further than any book can.

“That’s what my job is, that’s the point of all this: to pass on the culture.”

Caption: Tweed artist Goompi Ugerabah will today fly to Vegas to promote aboriginal culture.

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