In the spirit of Reconciliation, Sydney Festival has partnered with BridgeClimb Sydney to create an Indigenous-centred storytelling climb.

Burrawa, meaning “above or “upwards” in local language, sees climbers experience the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and its view through an Indigenous perspective, with the sharing of history and Dreaming stories by Aboriginal storytellers.

Two years in the making, the inspiration of Burrawa rose from conversations in Bayala, free language classes facilitated by Sydney Festival in previous years.

Working with BridgeClimb Owner David Hammon, Sydney Festival artistic director Wesley Enoch created Burrawa.

“We thought that these lessons need a bigger platform. What was amazing was that David and the BridgeClimb mob were keen on this idea about how more people come back and see things differently, particularly within [a] COVID environment,” Enoch said.

In creating Burrawa, Enoch hoped to elevate Indigenous voices through the colonial structure of the bridge.

“I feel like, personally, my whole practice as an artist has been more like a pirate,” laughed Enoch.

“You jump on other structures, take them over and make them your own.

“The idea that people are open to those experiences is so important. BridgeClimb is open to it and it’s come at the right time for them … in terms of thinking about their identity.”

Sydney Festival artistic director Wesley Enoch and BridgeClimb Owner Owner David Hammon take on Burrawa. Photo Credit Yaya Stempler.

Burrawa shares the stories of historic Aboriginal figures Bennelong, Barangaroo and Patyegarang, following who they were, where they walked and the legacy they left. It also shares the Dreaming story of Me-Mel which was requested by Metro Local Aboriginal Land Council.

“It was great speaking to Metro Land Council, they were very adamant when we were speaking to them about Me-Mel and the eye of the eel. That story is so important,” said Enoch.

“It’s on public record that Bennelong was talking to Phillip and saying that that is our estate. They used that word, our estate that no one else should own.

“That is a very interesting idea, that even from the early days of the colony, they said if you stay there that’s okay, but this is sacred, this is important to us.”

Alongside working with Metro Local Aboriginal Land Council, Burrawa was supported by Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation and in particular, CEO Shane Phillips. Each ticket sold for the Burrawa Climb will see $10 donated to the corporation.

Wiradjuri woman Mia Makin is one of the three Aboriginal storytellers leading the climb.

Makin got involved with the desire to share Indigenous history.

“I think most people don’t think about that history, they don’t think to ask or to learn. I think having this opportunity to teach people will let them see that,” she said.

“Letting them see Sydney in a new light, from new vantage points and ideas that they’ve never thought about before.”

“You see the light in their eyes when they’re learning, and they get it. You turn around and you see how interested they are and how they want to learn more about how our people lived.”

Makin said this experience, in the wake of the anthem, pushes for Reconciliation. 

“I think this, along with the change to our anthem from ‘young and free’ to ‘one and free‘ I think it is a step for Australia. We are coming forward, we are including people … we’re understanding culture,” she said.

Enoch shared Makin’s sentiments regarding the anthem change, but recommended Australia should not be satisfied with small changes.

“Every step is a step but when the journey is so long, those little steps, we should not overload them and think they are the most amazing thing ever. We shouldn’t feel so much gratitude that we don’t take the next step afterwards,” he said.

“I think the thinking behind the word change is more important than the word change itself and I want that thinking to start to influence a whole lot of conversations — particularly the Voice to Parliament.

“That is the big issue right now … in many ways we are moving beyond Reconciliation and talking more about sovereignty and Treaty.

“Ways of looking at sovereignty, even in things like this where we say understand the story, understand where First Nations peoples come from and then beyond that how do we, as First Nations people, influence the decision-making of the nation — because we may be able to do things differently.”

Burrawa Climbs will take place each Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the Sydney Festival. The Sydney Festival will run from January 6 to 26.

For more information or to book a Burrawa Climb, visit: https://www.sydneyfestival.org.au/events/burrawa.

By Rachael Knowles