A play telling the story of Wiradjuri tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley has made its on-stage debut at the Yarruwala Wiradjuri Cultural Festival in Griffith, New South Wales.

Running since August until the end of October, Yarruwala honours Wiradjuri heritage and culture with a line-up showcasing performances, exhibitions, workshops, films and cultural experiences throughout Western Riverina.

Griffith City Council Regional Arts and Museum Manager, Raina Savage, said it was important to have the Aboriginal community’s input and participation leading up to and during the festival.

“[Sunshine Super Girl] centred Evonne as a proud Wiradjuri woman from this area. As a theatre production, there was a limited extent to which the community could be directly involved. It needed to have a broader engagement,” she said.

“The festival allowed for the content to be developed, driven and delivered by First Nations people, which was important.”

The festival includes cultural tours and workshops that encourage an exchange of Wiradjuri art practice and storytelling with Aboriginal community members and their counterparts.

Savage said the festival was a great opportunity to bring the community together.

“It was great to see community members that have never been to theatre shows in the audience and to have people comment they didn’t know theatre could be like this, that they’re excited to come back. The festival really did bring the community together,” Savage said.

“Everyone loved that regional towns had the opportunity to hold an event like this. We don’t often get to show who we are and what we can do.”

“To be a part of something like this from beginning to end and to be able to involve Elders, young people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. It was an amazing experience.”

With Yarruwala given the go-ahead to continue in years to come, Savage said the celebration of culture is an opportunity for healing and relationship building across Western Riverina.

“This is where the real connection at a local level happens. When we are sitting around having personal conversations, telling and listening to stories, making art. It’s important to have those experiences as a broader community to learn from and with local First Nations people,” Savage said.

“I think that is how we build connections and build understanding. To be able to cross paths and start creating healthy healing networks within our community.”

Yarruwala Wiradjuri Cultural Festival was made possible by Griffith City Council and the Wiradjuri Community, with partners Burrundi Theatre for Performing Arts and Western Riverina Arts.

By Darby Ingram