Personally I really connect with the whole theme of ‘saltwater country’ because I am a person of the saltwater. It’s different when I am swimming in the lake or creek in the freshwater; it’s different from the sea because we believe that is our medicine, that is our supermarket, that’s who we are. So all my works are all connected in many ways to the sea – it’s basically all about the sea.
My understanding of sacred is that there are sacred performances and actions only for men at sacred places. To me the masks that I make, they are almost like flirting with sacred, but they are not sacred – simply because they are fibreglass; they are not made out of turtle–shell. The masks that are in the museums, they are sacred because they have been touched by sacred hands. I am not a sacred person. I revive those songs, but I don’t expose the deeper stuff.
Every time I go to Sydney I visit Professor Jeremy Beckett. He did field work in the Torres Strait in the late ’50s and early 1960s. We actually use some of the chants that he recorded from Badu Island and I just choreographed the introductions. I compose and choreograph my own songs and I know ancient ones from my Dad. They are the exact songs that Jeremy recorded. Dad was born around 1935, so Jeremy was recording songs from Dad’s uncles in the late ’50s. I got obsessed with ancient songs a long time ago. So the aim of my dancing is to revive those ancient songs.
It is not just about dancing for the sake of dancing. It is not just because it is an ancient culture that I want to share. I don’t know if I want to share that much. Not because it is sacred, but because it is my culture. But then again, people would like to see this, so you share some of your culture and practices. It is very protocol based. No women or children to touch the mask or get involved in singing. I always flag things with elders back home.