The Opera House - established according to its 1961 Act to not only promote excellence and achievement in the arts, but as a meeting place for matters of local, national and international importance – carries out that function to this day through a year-long program that celebrates the rich vitality of First Nations culture.
The highlight of that Indigenous program is Homeground, an immersive two-day annual festival that showcases the greatest Indigenous artists from across Australia and the globe. Homeground continues the tradition established by the Opera House’s pioneering Message Sticks festival.
In November 2015, a new national Indigenous dance competition, Dance Rites, premiered as part of Homeground. Dance Rites has helped revitalise fast-vanishing Indigenous cultural leadership and practices – including language, dance, traditional instruments and skin markings – by creating a contemporary and competitive forum for performance by communities.
In 2016, the Sydney Opera House’s Head of First Nations Programming, Rhoda Roberts, curated the annual lighting of the sails, transforming the building into a vast animated canvas by the work of six indigenous artists: Karla Dickens, Djon Mundine, Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi, Reko Rennie, Donny Woolagoodja and the late Gulumbu Yunupingu.
Titled Songlines, the work conflated time and space, weaving history lines and trade routes into a pattern of sharing systems. As the first time the Opera House’s sails had been used as a canvas exclusively for Aboriginal artists it marked an historic moment on the land that for tens of thousands of years had been known as Tubowgule by its custodians, the Gadigal people.
On 29 May, 2016, Songlines was webcast on Facebook Live. Within weeks it had reached more than 8 million people, taking the energy of Tubowgule, and the vibrancy and brilliance of the world’s oldest living culture, writing it across the sails and then spreading it across the seas.