5 reasons why you need to see Spirits of the Red Sand
They say there’s nothing new under the sun. Well, whoever ‘they’ are, they’ve clearly not been in the audience for Spirits of the Red Sand, an innovative, genre-defying cultural theatre show that’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.
Based on true Aboriginal and Colonial historical events that occurred at the turn of the twentieth century, this is an immersive and emotionally raw piece of theatre that deals with weighty themes in a sensitive yet unflinching way.
Part historical reenactment, part gritty docudrama, it’s a potent mix that checks a whole lot of boxes:
- Powerful storytelling rich with conflict, drama and emotion? Tick.
- Authentic sets and dynamic, atmospheric staging that place you at the centre of the action? You betcha.
- A thought-provoking subject matter you’ll still be thinking and talking about for days afterwards? Yep, it’s got that too.
Here are five reasons why you must add the Spirits of the Red Sand to your bucket-list:
1. It’s history, but not as we know it
Whether you’re a born-and-bred Aussie or just visiting, we guarantee you’ll learn something new – and leave the evening with a new, woke perspective on how Western colonisation impacted the First Australians.
Spirits of the Red Sand tells the story of the clash of cultures that occurred when Australia was colonised in the 1800s and the settlers claimed Aboriginal lands as their own, depriving the Aboriginal people of their traditional hunting grounds. Forced to either starve or become dependent on the settlers for survival, Aboriginal people were on the verge of becoming, as one cast member puts it, “lost in their own land”.
This tragic historical narrative is retold through a fictional lens, chronicling the tale of three Aboriginal brothers who have opposing ideas about how to deal with the colonial threat. We view the conflict through the eyes of the middle brother and central protagonist Jarrah, which allows you to get a deeper, more personal sense of how Aboriginal families were affected – and in many cases torn apart – by the events of the time.
2. It’s rewriting the rules on immersive theatre
Did we mention that the interactive show is set in the grounds of Beenleigh Historical Village, a perfect replica of a colonial-era Australian village complete with a tiny, 19th-century wooden church and traditional schoolhouse? You won’t find any cardboard sets or painted backdrops here – the story takes shape all around you as you’re led by the show’s mysterious and extravagantly-costumed Storyteller on a journey through the open-air performance space.
Each of the seven “chapters” is set in a series of meticulously-reconstructed historical locations, including an authentic Aboriginal village (which you’ll hear and smell before you see, thanks to the sound of clapsticks and aromatic smell of woodsmoke).
Clever ambient lighting (the show begins at nightfall) adds an extra injection of atmosphere as you’ll wind your way along darkened paths lined with rainforest foliage. It all adds up to one powerful, immersive show that places the audience right at the heart of the action.
3. Getting there couldn’t be easier
Located halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, the venue is about as accessible as it gets. If you’re self-driving, hop on the freeway from either city and you’ll be there within half an hour. Alternatively, the lovely folk at the venue offer nightly return shuttle transfers from select hotels in Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast and Brisbane.
4. It’s a feast for all the senses – literally
The food. Oh, do we need to talk about the food. After the cast take their final bow, the audience is invited to pile their plates high at a bush tucker-inspired barbecue feast bursting with unique Indigenous flavours.
Think piping hot damper with dipping oils and wild finger lime and macadamia nut bush dukkah, tasting skewers of char-grilled kangaroo, emu and crocodile (spoiler alert: it tastes just like chicken) – and that’s just the starter.
The char-grilled beef, lamb and chicken (infused with an Indigenous bush rub, natch) are a carnivore’s dream, while the homemade lemon myrtle cheesecake made by cast member and co-founder Shannon Ruska’s talented sister could give dessert queen Maggie Beer a run for her money.
5. It’ll leave you with a powerful and uplifting message you won’t forget in a hurry
Spirits of the Red Sand retells a confronting period of history that marks the beginning of the end of traditional life for the First Australians. But while the central story is a tragic one, the people behind the production are determined that their guests leave on a positive, uplifting note.
At dinner, the audience is joined by the cast members and encouraged to chat to and ask questions of the cast, all of whom have ancestors affected by the events retold in the evening’s performance. It’s here that we’re given an insight into contemporary Aboriginal experience and a better understanding of what it means to be Aboriginal today.
The evening wraps with a stirring traditional yuwai (farewell) song and dance performance, along with a powerful message from Ruska. In closing, he reminds us of the value of acceptance, tolerance and understanding – so that, despite the solemn subject matter, we can’t help but leave with a lightness in our step and gratitude in our hearts.