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Performing virtually – Mirndiyan Gununa Aboriginal Corporation

The Mornington Island Dance Troupe captivated audiences virtually following the cancellation of their trip to the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair 2020 due to COVID.



Like many others working across the arts sector in 2020, the Mornington Island Dance Troupe’s plans were affected by COVID-19. The dance troupe had previously performed at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) in 2019 in a series of popular public performances and workshops, and DAAF invited the troupe back in 2020. 

The remoteness of the dance troupe’s base at Mornington Island made travel expensive. Even though DAAF provided payment to support travel and performance costs, the troupe still needed additional funding to make their DAAF visit sustainable. However, performing at DAAF was an important opportunity for the Mornington Dance Troupe to maintain their momentum and increase their profile, and the group successfully secured a grant from Arts Queensland.

COVID forced DAAF2020 to recast as an online/virtual event. The cancellation of the physical event in Darwin was unavoidable but a virtual event now meant Mornington Island Dance troupe needed to focus its attention to how to make their performances engaging and ready to watch virtually for DAAF2020. 

The group committed to stream a full performance and then conduct an interactive workshop. By working with an accomplished videographer and creating fabricated costumes, with traditional paint up body markings, the troupe was able to create a culturally stimulating performance. 

Over an hour of high quality usable footage was successfully recorded, which DAAF then edited to a 30-minute segment to fit their program schedule. 

Although the proposed streamed workshop for DAAF was cancelled for logistical reasons due to unreliable connectivity, Mornington Island instead hosted a series of Culture Classes with school students on Mornington Island, developing skills and building capacity.

The performance and the workshops provided momentum and great coverage for the Mornington Island Dance Troupe, and helped the greater Mornington Island community to maintain a strong culture where knowledge and practice is passed on in an appropriate way by recognising and respecting elders and peers. 

The Mornington Island Dance troupe continue to have a strong partnership with DAAF and now have a formal agreement with Mornington Island State School for culture sessions every week of the 2021 school year. 



When and where

5 – 13 August 2020, online as part of DAAF2020 and Mornington Island. 


Key stats

  • A full troupe of 2 Senior Songmen, didgeridoo player, Storyteller/Troupe Leader, six male and 3 female dancers.
  • 7 hours of rehearsals pre-performance. 
  • 30 minute online segment. 
  • 8 Workshop classes
  • 10 IRADF funded activities.
  • 10,000 attendees. 
  • 95% satisfied attendees. 
  • 10 Indigenous artists/cultural workers employed through funded activities. 
  • 10 volunteers involved. 


Arts Queensland investment 

$25,000 supported through Indigenous Regional Arts Development Fund (IRADF), 2019-20. 

IRADF is a part of the Backing Indigenous Arts Initiative, a partnership between the Queensland Government, through Arts Queensland, the Torres Strait Regional Authority and fifteen Aboriginal Councils and host organisations throughout Queensland. 

Cultural Maintenance and Arts Development is the main objectives of IRADF.



  • High quality documentation of rehearsals and performance: There was a total of 7 hours of rehearsals pre-performance. The performance generated over an hour of high quality video documentation that DAAF edited to a 30 minute segment that was streamed during the online event. 
  • Creation of dance costume and dance equipment materials: The dancers and others worked on fabricating their own dance costumes and expanded their knowledge of traditional paint up body markings. Dance skirts, headbands, dance hats, clap sticks, boomerangs, spears etc. were produced by the members of the Troupe and others. 
  • Upgraded video gear: Video gear was outsourced to an accomplished videographer on the island to ensure the best possible audio and video outcomes. Over an hour of high quality usable footage was recorded so that DAAF could edit to the required 30 minute segment for streaming. 
  • Employment for artists and training sudents: A series of 8 workshop classes were conducted with the Mornington Island State School students. A Troupe leader/Storyteller, Songman, 4 male and 2 females dancers carried out a total of 8 Culture classes with approximately 95 students. 


Learnings and reflections

When DAAF2020 had to go online in 2020 due to COVID, the Mornington Island Dance Troupe had to adapt. The team recognised even though their filming of their performance was successful, that having a plan B is always important:

The vagaries of connectivity means that we always have to have a Plan B and a Plan C so we coped well with the issues (because they are constant here).

The inclusion of a good selection of dance/songs, with some really serious Traditional Creation stories balanced by some fun audience participation ones is a good way to keep things flowing – there’s a wealth of stories here and each performance opportunity gives us the chance to rediscover an old dance/song or two.


Feedback and comments 

Having this dance performance available to all the kids at the school was a good way to show them that what they are learning in their culture classes is really important. – Audience member 

I’m always so proud of our dancers – they are really, really serious about keeping our culture alive and sharing it with the world – we’ve been doing this for many years now but this is the first time we’ve gone digital. – Participant (Troupe Leader) 

It’s good to have this all recorded so we have a reference for the future – the proper way to sing and the proper way to dance cane sometimes get lost if things aren’t recorded – Participant 


Tips for others

To create excitement and great morale amongst the audience it is important to have a good selection of dances/songs that have interesting and traditional stories behind them

It is really important to have a good storyteller to introduce and contextualise the dances and songs – also to get audience involvement in the fun bits too.


What next?

After a successful performance, the Mornington Island Dance Troupe has an ongoing relationship/partnership with DAAF. This was strengthened even more by DAAF’s terrific logistical support and acknowledgement of the vagaries of working in very remote communities. 

The success of the workshops has resulted in a formal agreement with the Mornington Island State School for Culture sessions with every class every week of the 2020 school year. This has been contracted and is providing regular casual paid employment for a number of dancers, Songmen, storytellers and artefact crafters. 


Find out more

Mornington Island  Dancers website 

DAAF 2020 cultural performance