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20 September, 2021

"I have never before experienced such a powerful moment of silence at The Tivoli"

Restless Dream was a special, one hour show about the Repatriation of Aboriginal Ancestral Remains—incorporating stunning film, William Barton’s didgeridoo, and the powerful truth-telling of Kamilaroi elder Uncle Bob Weatherall.

Originally recorded in 2016, Restless Dream is an album that combines story and song to narrate the challenges of finding and returning secret, sacred objects, and the dead, to the place of their origin.

The 2021 Brisbane Festival program included a special world premiere event that brought Restless Dream to The Tivoli stage.

The live performance blended the spoken word, song, dance, live music and film, to tell the story of the Repatriation of Aboriginal Ancestral Remains.

Uncle Bob has spent much of the last 50 years ‘campaigning for Aboriginal rights of self-determination, human rights, land rights, cultural rights and cultural survival’ — work which has included seeking ‘to expedite the return of Aboriginal ancestral human remains and cultural property to Aboriginal ownership, care and management’.

In the Tivoli show, Uncle Bob Weatherall spoke of this work as a ‘calling,’ and an ‘honoured mission.’

Truth-telling is a vital but often painful process—presented on stage before a backdrop of often stunning film of the dancers on country.

The program included Delmae Barton’s poetic and moving gratitude offered to ‘the father of repatriation,’ and the fabulous didgeridoo playing of William Barton.

But the event was dominated by the impressively calm determination of Uncle Bob Weatherall, driven by the ‘restless dream’ of ancestors who are denied traditional last rights and the entitlement to rest in peace.

I found the gradual renaming of the ‘museum drawers’ particularly moving—as we listened to Uncle Bob talking about the process of finding and reclaiming ancestors.

No longer a catalogue number but again a father, mother, uncle, aunty, brother or sister.

The most poignant moment in the show, for me, was when the music stopped and Uncle Bob Weatherall spoke in language and then directly in English to the audience about the need ‘to honour the rites of our ancestors, and to lay them to rest.’

I have never before experienced such a powerful moment of silence at The Tivoli.

Congratulations to Brisbane band Halfway, Digi Youth Arts, Kamilaroi dancers, and Alethea Beetson for their roles in bringing Uncle Bob Weatherall’s stories to broader audiences.

And respectful thanks to Uncle Bob Weatherall, Delmae Barton and William Barton.

I hope that this show may be used to inspire the production of a film, using some of the music and video material as a backdrop to interviews with Uncle Bob Weatherall (perhaps complemented with contemporary footage of the international work and return of remains).

Such stories need to be recorded and shared, as a means to continue the truth-telling and truth-listening and to inspire the future leaders to continue this important work.