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JUTE keeps Indigenous storytelling alive

Cast members of JUTE. Image source: jute.com.au

Storytelling is a vital part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, allowing beliefs and concepts to be passed on through generations. Just Us Theatre Ensemble (JUTE) uses theatre performance and workshop participation to present professional role models and positive stories about a range of Indigenous experiences and possible futures.


Founded in Cairns in 1992, JUTE helps Indigenous students feel valued and connected, by letting them see their cultures and stories represented on stage. There are also longer-term benefits in employment and post-school options for young Indigenous people.


Since the beginning of its Dare to Dream program, JUTE has impacted over 6,000 young people and community members in remote parts of North Queensland with more than 3,600 young people taking part in skills development workshops.

Dare to Dream workshop. Image source: jute.com.au


With the support of a $15,000 ANZ Seeds of Renewal grant, JUTE was able to take its 2019 show, The Longest Minute, to 10 North Queensland schools in Lockhart River, Bamaga, Mapoon, Mossman, Ravenshoe, Yarrabah, Mt Isa, Doomadgee and Cloncurry – all very remote locations with significant numbers of Indigenous students. The Longest Minute is a story about the 2015 National Rugby League Grand Final, won by local heroes, North Queensland Cowboys in a nail-biting finish.


The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) has just announced the 21 community groups that will share in $250,000 in grants through the ANZ Seeds of Renewal Program.


The program helps to ensure the ongoing prosperity of regional Australia by providing grants to help build vibrant and sustainable rural communities.


ANZ has contributed $250,000 in funds and in addition, its technology partner Lenovo has contributed more than $16,000 in IT equipment to four community groups. These grants will go towards building vibrant and sustainable rural communities and ensure regional Australia’s ongoing prosperity.


·         This is the 17th year of the program and ANZ’s involvement with FRRR.

·         Grant applicants can request grants of up to $15k or IT equipment from Lenovo.

·         Since 2003, the program has received more than 3,720 applications.

·         It has provided 833 grants and granted $4,817,138 in total for local community projects across regional and rural Australia.

Refer to ANZ Seeds of Renewal for more information.


The funding helped JUTE refine its school program to meet a broad range of needs across artists and facilitators, community, schools and students.


"It was fantastic," said one of the Mapoon teachers. "The acting was incredible, and it offered our students an opportunity to see successful Indigenous people who are proud of their identity performing at their best. This is something we don't have easy access to, being so remote."


Mark Shepperd, JUTE cast member and facilitator with Jeff Schrale, ANZ Regional Executive, Cairns. Image source: JUTE.


Over a week, young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from grades 6-10 participated in drama and storytelling workshops. At the end of the week, students were invited to share what they had created with the broader community.


Importantly, as JUTE returned to locations its previously visited, the program is helping create consistent connections to community, with First Nations artists delivering opportunities for Indigenous young people to build their self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as their skills in teamwork, writing and performance. By learning from performing arts professionals, students also learn about the arts – an area that most teachers have little capacity to teach.


Another Mapoon teacher said "Children who were hesitant to join in were more outgoing and willing to put themselves in the spotlight. They were more confidant of 'having a go' and willing to get out of their comfort zones."


The kids were highly-engaged, leaning into the story from the first moments the actors came on stage. A Yarrabah Elder, reported that The Longest Minute was the exact story of his granddaughter's experience of wanting to play professional football, so the community could all connect with the story.


The students loved the comical moments in the play, and the teachers and community members were sometimes laughing at how much the kids were laughing.


When the young people were asked whether they enjoyed the show, the most common response was "Eyah Uncle, that be deadly."



Story courtesy of The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR).



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