Posted June 18, 2015

Rising talent leads the way for Indigenous artists

Rising arts talent, Bebe Backhouse from Derby in Western Australia, is showing the way for young Indigenous artists as Assistant Producer of Fed Square’s major program The Light in Winter.

Bebe came to work on The Light in Winter as a mentee in the City of Melbourne’s Indigenous Arts Mentorship Program. The program aims to provide Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artists and arts workers with an opportunity to gain on-the-job mentoring in arts administration, production management or creative practice.


From managing filming production, coordinating installations, liaising with multiple artists and even taking a ride in a giant hand-knitted egg, Bebe has thrown himself into The Light in Winter through a breadth of artistic projects.

We sat down with Bebe to get his take on moving to Melbourne, breaking into the arts industry and his time at Fed Square.

Tell us a little about your background.  
I’m from the Bardi people of the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome in Western Australia. My hometown of Derby is just north of there. Even though it was incredibly remote, it was a great place to grow up, we could always find something to do. Although I didn’t live in a culturally strong household, but we always acknowledged and were proud of our heritage.

Have you always been interested in the arts?
Yes, I took up the piano when I was nine years old, by the time I was 12 I was composing, I was teaching others piano by 16. When I was 18 I met Debra Cheetham, who was running a talent search for Australia’s first Indigenous opera. Working with Debra I learnt how to conduct and vocal coaching. I then starting working at an Indigenous media company and that’s how I became interested in arts administration and management, in comparison to performance.

How did you end up in Melbourne?
My dad is from Melbourne, so that sparked the general interest in the city from a young age and when I was around 10 years old I said to mum and dad that I wanted to live in Melbourne when I grew up. Eventually I felt that I’d achieved as much as I could in WA, there aren’t a lot of options there and I needed more experience in the arts on a national and international level. That’s how I made the decision to move.

Why did you choose to work at Fed Square?
I felt that with the calibre of the work and events that Fed Square produces meant there would be a plethora of opportunities here. I wanted to walk away from this experience feeling like I’d been exposed to lots of different artists and art forms and I saw the opportunity to be involved in producing the works of both indigenous and non-indigenous artists through The Light in Winter program. Coming to Fed Square also sort of felt like coming home as Fed Square’s cobblestones are coloured Kimberley sandstone from Mt Jowlaenga – the country of traditional owners from the Kimberley.

What’s been the most interesting part of your time here?
What has really stood out over my 2 ½ months here is the people, whether it’s the artists or stakeholders, and their stories. I’ve gained so much from hearing about why they perform and the ways they want to drive change. It’s also really satisfying to watch projects evolve from conception to production and be part of the journey.

What do you hope to gain from this program?
I want to continue learning from emerging artists and about new art forms. The more I know, the more I can share with others. I want to be able to educate the wider community on Indigenous culture through the arts, and help the Indigenous community achieve success in the industry as well.

Tell us about some of the artists and the projects you worked on.
I worked closely with filmmaker, Jim Arneman to create films about the Square of Light artists. A lot of it was production management type work – applying for filming permits, creating production schedules, coordinating artists etc. But working on film a great interest of mine, I liked being part of the creative process, figuring out how to capture the artists stories and creating emotional films that will engage people.

I helped coordinate the Luminous Intervention installation, which involved visiting the artists’ lab at Victoria University. I found that really interesting because it was my first time being exposed to installation work, I liked learning about a different form of art and how the artists combine mechanics and science with design.

Some other artists I worked with were Richard Allen and Pippa Willison on Lala Lullaby, the Hip Hop Rock Orchestra, Mohamed Nur on Today I Saw, Yumi Umiumare on Luminious Lunas and Uncle Larry Walsh. Uncle Larry has such an amazing way of looking at the world, he holds so much knowledge and I really admire his passion for change. You could call him a hub of indigenous culture.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’ve always wanted to be someone who can give opportunities to Indigenous artists. I want to continue to work with youth, share my knowledge, perform and advocate for the recognition and achievements of all Indigenous artists. I hope that in 10 years’ time I have succeeded in educating on Indigenous culture and that I’m still working towards Indigenous equality and striving for change.