Tag Archives: Gapingaru

Robert Mate Mate and Reconciliation

For a number of years  I had the privilege of working  with Robert Mate Mate, an Indigenous elder from Woorabinda with strong connections to Palm Island.

Our creative journey started in 1993 when Robert invited me to accompany him to Palm Island,  a closed Indigenous community 57 km off the coast of Townsville.

He was invited to attend an official celebration on Palm Island for the Year of Reconciliation which was also attended by Robert Tickner the Indigenous Affairs minister at that time.

Behind the scenes Robert Mate Mate was also invited to perform a spirit releasing ceremony for a young Palm Islander named Wangung who died 120 years prior. and who’s remains had been returned to his place of birth.

In the 1890’s Wangung was lured away  and made to perform in a travelling circus. His remains were discovered in Cleveland, Ohio.

Our party consisted of Robert, myself, his 11 year old son Free and Dalmazio Babare who was then percussionist with the MSO. We stayed on the beach of Mundi Bay, a remote and uninhabited part of the Island where Wangung grew up.  It was a magnificent and powerful place and the experience was very transformative.

In 1994 – 95 under the working title “Woorabinda Berrigaba Dreamtime Aboriginal Productions”, Robert and I went on to produced three cultural theatre productions that combined story telling and myths with music and dance.

A number of  years prior to 1993,  Robert Mate Mate was released from prison where he had spent over 15 years behind bars, 10 years in the cages of Queensland’[s notorious Boggo Road prison. 

During his incarceration the Aboriginal myths and stories he learnt as a child led him to  study genealogy, Greek mythology, Druidism,  Astronomy, Carl Jung and the Bible.

At the end of his life aged 42, Robert Mate Mate was an accomplished  storyteller, teacher and messenger with an enormous capacity to inspire and educate people from all cultures.

In memory and celebration of Robert Mate Mate also know as Gapingaru (crescent moon).

Robert Mate Mate at Theatre Works in St Kilda as part of his first theatre production 'Tirlpa'. Photo by Russell Cooper
Robert Mate Mate at Theatre Works in St Kilda as part of his first theatre production ‘Tirlpa’. Photo by Russell Cooper.