Thousands of people made the most of a packed 10 days of artistic entertainment in Karratha ranging from drama to music, dance and acrobatics at the 2018 Red Earth Arts Festival.

After a busy launch on August 31 involving music, rides, market stalls and awe-inspiring trampolining show Highly Strung by Sydney performance company Legs on the Wall, the festival started in earnest.

Legs on the Wall performer Johnas Liu. Picture: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera
Legs on the Wall performers Jacob Hunt and Liam Lind perform Highly Sprung. Picture: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera

One of the biggest hits of the festival was the locally developed production Tjaabi: Flood Country, which drew hundreds of people to the amphitheatre of Roebourne’s Ngurin Cultural Centre on the Tuesday night to watch a powerhouse performance by Ngarluma man Patrick Churnside under the stars.

The Big hART show, which interweaves stories about Churnside’s life and the history of Roebourne through Pilbara Aboriginal cultural songs called tjaabi, has been significantly developed since its 2016 performance for Roebourne’s 150th town anniversary in the hopes it will begin touring the country in coming months.

Local Ngarluma man Patrick Churnside gives a powerful performance about indigenous culture and country in Tjaabi: Flood Country. Picture: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera
Patrick Churnside in Tjaabi: Flood Country at the Ngurin Cultural Centre amphitheatre. Picture: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera

“Big hART is deeply grateful for the immense support of the community and elders in the development of the production, so it was important to us that the Roebourne community are the first in Australia to experience the new show,” Big hART producer Angela Prior said.

“It is a great privilege to have Flood Country as part of the national Performing Arts Conference, and it is hoped the show will be picked up and toured, promoting a positive image of Roebourne nationally.”

Another high-profile performance was famous Australian comedy duo the Umbilical Brothers, who had crowds at their Karratha and Wickham shows in stitches with their high-energy slapstick performances.

The slapstick comedy of the Umbilical Brothers, David Collins and Shane Dundas, had audiences in Wickham and Karratha in stitches. Picture: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera
The Umbilical Brothers perform at the Red Earth Arts Precinct. Picture: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera

Umbilical Brothers comedian David Collins said they were glad to be in Karratha and always enjoyed performing in regional parts of the country.

“Because they’re bypassed on most Australian tours, regional audiences are always more giving,” he said.

“We’re working on a new show so we’re going to try some of those gags and see how they go down.”

Black Swan State Theatre Company also returned to Karratha with its fantastical and heartfelt play Skylab, developed in partnership with the Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, which was inspired by the landing of NASA’s Skylab space station near Esperance in 1979.

Benjamin Narkle, Juliette Laylan and Liani Dalgetty bring TV show Monkey Magic to life in Skylab. Picture: Dana Weeks
A scene from Skylab. Picture: Dana Weeks

Black Swan executive director Natalie Jenkins said it was a very different type of show for the company to share with Karratha.

“We have welcomed and attracted new and diverse audiences because of the production and look forward to performing in Karratha again and bringing another unique WA story, a sci-fi comedy, to the Pilbara,” she said.

Other events that were part of REAF included Legs on the Wall trampolining workshops for children, musical performances by all-Aboriginal band the Narlis and the Modern Maori Quartet, the Perth Theatre Trust’s cross-cultural play Bali, and uplifting solo show The Orchid and The Crow.

Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs in a scene from Bali. Picture: Daniel James Grant

The festival ended with Dance Fusion — a massive dance concert featuring local students from Dance FX, Dance KIX, Lea Cullen Performing Arts and Terre Rouge Ballet on Sunday.

This year’s festival was the first to include Karratha’s new cultural centre the Red Earth Arts Precinct as a venue. It was also held alongside the Performing Arts Connections Australia conference, which brought hundreds of delegates from the performing arts industry to town.