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Case Studies

Message Sticks, Sydney Opera House’s annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts festival, underwent a major expansion in 2012 to include live performances, talks, debates and a photography exhibition.

In 2012, the Message Sticks festival was expanded under the guidance of Rhoda
Roberts, Sydney Opera House’s newly appointed Head of Indigenous Programming, attracting over 10,000 attendees. The appointment of this senior position was supported by significant funding from Arts NSW for the initial two years.
In recent years, Message Sticks was principally the Indigenous film festival curated by Rachel Perkins and Darren Dale of Blackfella Films. The 2012 festival was broadened to include free film screenings and talks, a music performance by the Black Arm Band Company and outdoor dance performances in a sand circle on the Western Broadwalk titled Dancestry. The festival marked 40 years of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and this was celebrated by a photography exhibition in the Western Foyers. Message Sticks closed with the performance Dirtsong by The Black Arm Band Company, an event of music and images featuring artists Archie Roach, Dan Sultan, Lou Bennett, Emma Donovan and special guest Tim Rogers.

Further expansion and development is planned for 2013 with the goal to present a range of outstanding performances to foster audience development and to create partnerships and philanthropic support for the festival.


Piloted in 2011, Sydney Opera House’s Indigenous Work Experience Program is an interactive vocational learning program that gave twelve students the opportunity to work for a week at an international performing arts centre.

Sydney Opera House piloted an Indigenous Work Experience Program in partnership with the Aboriginal Education Unit of the Department of Education and Training. Twelve Indigenous high school students interested in pursuing careers in the arts, from a range of schools in the Sydney region took part in the Program.

Over the week the students took part in a vocational learning program designed to expose them to a variety of roles and departments across Sydney Opera House. These included Stage Managers, Sound/AV and Lighting Technicians, Front of House, Customer Service and Box Office, Producers, Designers and Marketers, Commercial and Tourism staff and Production staff and performers from Bangarra Dance Theatre. The students also attended rehearsals and performances by Sydney Symphony, Opera Australia and Babies Proms and finished their week with afternoon tea in the CEO’s office where they shared and evaluated their experiences.

This program established a solid working relationship between Sydney Opera House
and the Department of Education and Training’s Aboriginal Education Unit and it is hoped that collaboration on future projects will continue. A database of Indigenous students who are interested in future opportunities at the House has since been created and Sydney Opera House is now developing methods and protocols for working with young people on work experience programs. One of the students, Simone Armstrong, has been selected as a member of the Sydney Opera House Youth Advisory Committee. The Indigenous Work Experience Program will continue as a full five day program in 2012/13.


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