When I read in the paper that The Giants were coming to Perth, Western Australia, I got really excited. At long last, some Culture and Art for this long-neglected backwater part of Australia. And for Free too. These things usually miss Perth by a few thousand miles, and end up being enjoyed by Sydneysiders and Melbournians, but this time Perth had managed a coup.
“The Giants” is the name given to a set of giant marionettes and props, by street performing company Royal De Luxe. More information on the company can be found on their website here and also on Wikipedia.
Nothing like this had ever come to Perth before, this would be the biggest free public arts event in Western Australia. It’s part of the Perth International Arts Festival.
The story being re-enacted by The Giants this year is based on real life events, that of a little girl in a lighthouse on Breaksea Island, who used Morse Code to signal soldiers leaving for Gallipoli. Hers was their last contact with Australia. Soon after, letters began arriving from these soldiers asking about the “Little Girl on Breaksea Island”. Jean-Luc Courcoult, the founder and director of Royal De Luxe, further romanticised and modified the story to fit in Aboriginal elements. Here is his take on the story (taken from the Perth International Arts Festival page):
In the south-west corner of Western Australia, there were Aboriginal communities full of mysteries, one of these mysteries was a boat that had come up from out of the sand, only the prow could be seen, the rest was imprisoned in the ground.
One day, the Little Girl Giant, busy with her travels, fell into one of the Aboriginal communities of the Noongar Nation, into one of those families who are in love with the barrab (sky), the boodja (earth), the yorgam (trees) and keap (water).
She was so welcomed that she decided to stay with them for a long time.
She then witnessed the evolution and change of these inhabitants in the face of the transformation of the Australian continent. She lived there as though it were a beelya (river), full of dreams that jumped like fish.
One day, one of the community’s children brought her an old book full of drawings. It was dog-eared, crumpled, aged. It told the story of a little girl in a lighthouse full of love and sorrow, who watched soldiers leaving Australia on ships, carrying hope into lost battles. It was 1915 on the beaches of Gallipoli where the sand, reddened by the blood of men, frightened the moon. Through the book, the Little Girl Giant, as she looked at the sky, saw the past, the present and even the future.
Her gaze plunged into the centre of the battle, and she could see men disappearing, like being suddenly wiped from the earth as an eraser would rub out on a drawing. She also saw a boat sink, snatched by a gust stronger than a cathedral and laid down on the bottom of the ocean, then an Australian diver, sent to find survivors, stuck in air bubbles. As he could not see a living soul on the seabed, he decided to stay there. Miraculously and without knowing it, he started walking and this removed the tubes and the air that filled his lungs. As he turned his head, he saw dozens of boats lying in the sand. Methodically, he entered each ship and brought dead men out of them. He dug the ground to bury each one and he continued, his muscles toned by an infernal will, so much so that around each sunken boat, there was a graveyard, like small heaps of sand without crosses, only small bellies emerging from the dust. There were hundreds like this around each boat, peaceful. With a madness which cannot be named, he continued his work. But from graveyard to graveyard, his body grew thicker, denser and without realising it, one day he was able to overturn the ships. He had monumental strength. He had quite simply grown like a child in a bath who suddenly realises that his feet are touching the taps. It was simply the story of a Giant who became big at the bottom of the sea.
In the Noongar country, the Little Girl Giant closed the last page of the book. The little Aboriginal child, his eyes full of colours, was sad then, in his gaze a rainbow flew away to the clouds.
He understood then that the Little Girl Giant had to leave to re-join her family, and when the sun lifted the horizon, he hurried to fetch his father. Whilst the stars hid in the sky, lying behind the morning light, all the people of the Noongar Nation saw a tear come from the Little Girl Giant’s eyelid. As it touched the ground, a small puddle was swallowed up by the soil. In this very spot, a tree could be seen growing in the space of two hours. From a small and barely awoken sprout, a trunk developed, full of branches with leaves that the wind enjoyed moving. It was just a tree in the boodja (country).
Then she thought that the buried boat could sail the earth to find the diver. The Aboriginals began digging and within ten days, the ship was ready on the ground. The Little Girl Giant climbed onto it and the Noongars began to sing the rain. Accompanied by the sound of the boomerangs, she crossed Western Australia. The sand made waves, the boodja filling with water. In short, she arrived in Minang boodja (Albany) from where she sent a hot air balloon, like a moon over the ocean, to call the diver. Then she headed to Whadjuk boodja (Perth).
Upon her arrival in the big city, she placed her head underwater and blew bubbles which echoed at the bottom of the ocean. Everyone knows that whales can hear sounds from 5,000 kilometres away when they call each other and that the sound of people’s footsteps on pavements reverberates to the centre of the earth.
The air bubbles that were pushed by the tide floated around the Giant Diver. With their large, small or tiny shapes, they followed one another like a convoy of boats and one after the other, they exploded in front of the Giant’s eyes. They expressed signals like Morse code: a point, a line, two points then nothing and again two lines and a point. It was a language the man of the sea knew well. He could then read sentences in which each message ended with ‘come’. No sooner had he understood he was surrounded by a tornado of fishes. They circled him faster and faster so that the swirl of force became a gust of wind. On the surface, the agitated fog started to cough so hard that a storm swallowed the bottom of the water, throwing the diver into the sky all the way into the clouds. Then, like a lost body, he fell down unconscious in Perth. The earth trembled and suddenly a great spray of water burst out of the ground between two buildings. A geyser was born, as if to greet through space the arrival of the Giants.
The show took place over 3 days from 12-14 February 2015. Click here to access a map of the Giants journey from day to day.
The Kid and I went on the 2nd day, Valentine’s Day, hoping to catch both the Diver and the Little Girl Giants. We chose a spot along the route where both Giants would be walking, perhaps even coinciding. However, best laid plans and all…as it turned out, the Diver, after spending the night sleeping at Perth railway station, woke up late and threw his schedule out the window. He decided to look around the area and interact with the public first before setting off on his long walk. Meanwhile, the Little Girl had walked much faster than we’d anticipated, so that by the time we got to our vantage point, she’d already walked past.
So we ended up having to chase the Little Girl up and down the streets of Perth. At our second point of enquiry, we were told that the Little Girl had just gone round the corner, and true enough, as we walked through the streets of Northbridge, we spotted her walking in the distance. We managed to catch up with her a few streets down, where she had thankfully stopped at an intersection for a breather and did some exercises.
And here is a short video I shot of the Little Girl Giant doing her exercises.