Indigenous heritage on show in Jakarta

This article has photo gallery Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author), Mr Graham Crouch (photographer)

Location(s): Jakarta, Indonesia

Members of the Royal Australian Navy’s Bungaree Indigenous Performance Group (from L to R) ABBM Arthur Bagie, ABBM Jiorde Lenroy, (back) ABBM Thomas Fuji and ABBM Alan Patterson conduct a welcome dance in front of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, during the opening ceremony for the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The Bungaree dancers have just completed a week-long visit to Jakarta, performing at several high profile events (photo: Graham Crouch)
Members of the Royal Australian Navy’s Bungaree Indigenous Performance Group (from L to R) ABBM Arthur Bagie, ABBM Jiorde Lenroy, (back) ABBM Thomas Fuji and ABBM Alan Patterson conduct a welcome dance in front of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, during the opening ceremony for the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Bungaree dancers have just completed a week-long visit to Jakarta, performing at several high profile events

Navy’s Bungaree Dancers have recently completed a week-long visit to Jakarta, performing at several high profile events.

Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Alan Patterson is always first to take the stage. He admits to nerves at first but they don’t last. 

“Once I come out and sit down, the nerves go away when I begin to play," Able Seaman Patterson said.  

A proud member of the Yarrabah Community from North Queensland, Able Seaman Patterson is a didgeridoo player with the Royal Australian Navy’s Bungaree Indigenous Performance Group, which took Jakarta by storm during a recent visit to Indonesia.

The group of three Torres Strait Islanders and four Indigenous sailors played a key role in the opening of Australia’s new embassy – the largest Australian mission in the world. 

Adding to the pressure, they were performing in front of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who was also there to officially open the new building. Despite the daunting setting, Able Seaman Patterson and his group took it in their stride. 

"At events like this we do the welcoming dance or 'Karju'," Able Seaman Patterson said.

Originating from the Doonooch tribe from Nowra on the New South Wales South Coast, the performance lasts about 10 minutes and involves the dusting of the ground and the throwing of leaves as a symbolic welcome to country. The feedback from their audience was immediate. 

"We had the Embassy staff come up to tell us how much they appreciated what we did," Able Seaman Patterson said.

"They told us that it felt like they were back home."

The Bungaree dancers received a similar response a few days later, when they performed at the Indonesian Naval Staff College the Sekolah Staf Dan Komando Angkatan Laut (SESKOAL). For this crowd, it was the first time any of them had witnessed an Australian Indigenous performance and the response was also enthusiastic. 

"That was probably one of our better performances," Able Seaman Patterson said.

"The students and staff really loved it. We were asked a lot of questions about where the dance originated from and where we all came from as well."

Bungaree’s third major performance was for higher ranking Indonesian officers at a dinner celebrating the fifth anniversary of Australia’s Indonesian military Almuni network ‘Ikahan.’ The Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, was among the high profile guests who approached Able Seaman Patterson and his dance mates to congratulate them on another fine performance.

Able Seaman Patterson is one of as many as 35 trained male and female dancers with Bungaree. With 200 indigenous members in the Royal Australian Navy, that number is growing quickly.