Creative Cry from Country

It is ironic that poet and actor Michelle Murray stands in an historic witness box at the South Coast Regional ArtsCentre – once the Goolwa court house, to spin her mythical story of  The Black Wedding Dress.

It is a strange, rivetting tale, a mix of universal myth and self-discovery, although her voice is that of Ana, a half-cast child, named Ana, born of a white mother and Aboriginal father,  who was abandoned and lost between two cultures before transformation.

A graduate from the Centre for Performing Arts,  Michelle Murray performs against a dramatic backdrop on the rear white wall behind her – an artwork by local artist Yvonne East of a charcoal on paper life-sized naked woman hanging from her wrists bound by rope.

It is one of a handful of  artworks in this extraordinary art, poetry and performance collaboration, which reflect not only themes in women’s lives – men, marriage, child birth and responsibility – but also mythical symbolism which defines cultures.

The room – with its historic prisoner’s box in another corner, is adorned with artworks by Nyorie Bungey, Michael Bryant
and Barbary O’Brien, whereby the regional arts centre invited renowned local artists to interpret Murray’s script.

However, the iconic artwork is a black wedding dress, set in the centre of a small room alongside. It is striking, yet clearly  a rag dress.  A 19th century-style bodice fits over   a skirt made of strips of black cotton fabric which trail as a train into dust.
The whole magnificent work is adorned with bones, rusted metal, shells and buttons.

The extraordinary piece, entitled Abandoned Dress, is the interpretation of local artist Annabelle Collette, who has symbolised the pain and anguish of Ana as she searches through myth and reality to find herself.

As Murray tells her poetic prose, images are flashed onto the naked body art on the back wall, conjuring up notions of country, home, church, pregnancy and loss, death, abandonment and renewal through a search for love. Afterwards, Michelle Murray, who lives close by in Mt Compass, says there are many points of autobiography in her narrative as well as reference to the indigenous people of the Wangkangurra/Yarliyandi country.

“The story originates from the country around Birdsville because my uncle, Kym Fort was the publican of the Birdsville Hotel in the 1980s and 90s,’’ says Mrs Murray.  We all went up there from time to time as teenagers to help out with waitressing or whatever,’’ she recalls. “I met my husband, Francis Murray, an Aboriginal man and I learnt a lot about country. We lived in a caravan behind a shed.’’ “There are lots and lots of personal references woven through the story,’’ she admits.

However, she says the myths were not specifically Aboriginal, but universal, and she had borrowed wisdom from Joseph  Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. “He pulls out all the myths from different cultures and points out their similarities,’’ she says. “His work is presented as the universal myth: It is used as the Bible for the hero stories of Hollywood. “We bring in our own myths in order to meet another culture and you can then engage with it. “For instance, Ana is swallowed by a s erpent, which is borrowing from the Biblical story of  Jonah being swallowed by the whale.’’

Her intriguing narrative presents a spiritual journey and her words, images and references of lost souls carry notions of the deep spirituality of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ tome, Women Who Run With the Wolves. One is left wondering of her own life and if she married in a black wedding: “There are lots and lots of personal references woven through the story,’’ she admits.

“My dress was a very dark green, so dark it could have been black…and I was married barefoot and five months pregnant.’’

The Black Dress reveals an intriguing talent and one chapter is to be published by Islet, while her first, unrelated poetic publication is a short story, The Welcome, published by Meanjin.

A young mother of two, Murray hopes her performance will be accepted as a Country Arts Tours Exhibition.


Be Sociable, Share!

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply