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Sydney Opera House painted in Aboriginal art

Stunning artworks by leading indigenous artists illuminate the sails of the Sydney Opera House each evening. 

 By Simon Webster
Published: 29 June, 2017

From this week, the Sydney Opera House will be turned into a giant canvas for artworks depicting the ancient stories of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Starting at sunset every day of the year, the seven-minute light animation will see Indigenous artworks projected onto the sails of this iconic building. 

From Songlines to Opera House sails

Badu Gili, Sydney Opera House, New South Wales

For tens of thousands of years before Bennelong Point became the site of the Sydney Opera House, it was a place of feasting and storytelling for the local traditional owners, the Gadigal people. Now, that Gadigal tradition will be reimagined with the daily Badu Gili (meaning ‘Water Light’ in the Gadigal language) experience.

The seven-minute animation, accompanied by music, celebrates the traditional stories of Australia’s indigenous people in a very modern way.

“You’re transported into the ancient experience of the songlines and this important Gadigal piece of land, and at the same time you experience the contemporary vibrancy of First Nations culture,” says Sydney Opera House chief executive officer, Louise Herron AM. “It feels like a very sacred experience.”

Game changer

Badu Gili combines the work of five leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists: Jenuarrie (Judith Warrie), Frances Belle Parker, Alick Tipoti and the late Lin Onus and Minnie Pwerle.

The experience is free, and timed to appear at sunset every day of the year, as well as at 7pm during winter. Herron hopes it will be a “game changer” in terms of making modern indigenous culture more accessible.

“Indigenous culture in Australia is rich and diverse,” she says. “But how do you make it real and present and exciting for people now? This is our attempt to do that. I believe passionately in the importance of this project.”

Herron suspects Badu Gili will become a daily ritual that attracts numerous tourists and locals. “I think it could be very popular,” she says. “Just as the Changing of the Guard [at Buckingham Palace in London] is a quintessentially British experience, this is a quintessentially Australian experience.” 

Part of a bigger picture

Bennelong by Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Opera House, New South Wales

Aboriginal art has illuminated the Opera House sails before: the Songlines installation was a great success at Sydney’s 2016 Vivid festival of light, music and ideas.

But the idea for Badu Gili precedes Vivid. It’s part of the Opera House’s Reconciliation Action Plan, which was established in 2011 to find new ways of honouring and celebrating Australia’s indigenous cultures.

The Opera House’s First Nations program offers a wide range of events, including the annual Homeground festival and the Dance Rites competition. There’s also the Opera House’s celebrated resident indigenous dance company, Bangarra, which is currently performing its much-anticipated Bennelong. The production tells the extraordinary story of Woollarawarre Bennelong, an Aboriginal Eora man after whom the Bennelong site was named. The show runs until July 29 before visiting Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Eat, drink and see more at the Opera House

Bennelong restaurant, Sydney Opera House, New South Wales

As Australia’s most famous building, the Sydney Opera House hosts more than 2000 performances a year – everything from comedy and kids’ shows to theatre, and, yes, opera. And you won’t go hungry. Considering its history as a Gadigal feasting site, the area in and around the Opera House is home to some great dining experiences, including the renowned Bennelong restaurant.

If you have time, join a tour of the Opera House. The Backstage Tour offers an early morning look behind the scenes – culminating with cooked breakfast in the Green Room, alongside crew and performers. It’s a taste of Opera House life not to be missed.