Biw a Githalay

Told through puppetry, story, dance and song, this work introduces children to the language, culture and people of Saibai Island of the Torres Strait.

BIW A GITHALAY (The Crab and the Mangrove Tree) is a universal and interactive theatrical experience for children aged five and over.

BIW A GITHALAY tells a culturally significant story that is shared across the diaspora of Saibai communities in Cairns, Brisbane, Bamaga and Thursday Island. It is a children’s bedtime story told in two Torres Strait language translations of Kalaw Kawaw Ya and Torres Strait Creole, about the need for balance and harmony within the natural world. This story has been shared for generations but holds a powerful contemporary relevance with increasing climate change.

The work is a project for Community, driven and made by Community. How the project develops at every stage is decided by the Community with Cultural accountability from Elders. The project is guided by a strong community of Saibai Island mothers, aunties and grandmothers in collaboration with First Peoples theatre industry professionals.



While the project is still in development it is the strategic ambition of the community that the work tours widely following the development. The final part will culminate in workshop presentations within the Saibai Island communities, and based on anticipated successful outcomes, ILBIJERRI already has interest from significant cultural institutions nationally and internationally.

Stage 1: February 2019 – Project planning – completed
Stage 2: February 2021 – Community engagement – completed
Stage 3: August 2021 onwards - Creative development on Country on Saibai Island – in progress via zoom and on Country, focused on Community engagement, writing and linguistics, puppetry workshops, Cultural Protocol and Engagement training, design meetings and script development
Stage 4: 2025 – Creative development and workshop presentations with four Saibai Communities in Cairns, Brisbane, Bamaga and Thursday Island
Stage 5: 2025 - Rehearsal, premiere and national tour, followed by an international tour

The Process

BIW A GITHALAY has gone through an extensive period of cultural consultation and creative development with cultural mentors, linguists, community and the professional creative team to establish cultural protocols, process development, concept, design and script structure. A culturally safe, deep listening process is integral to the work.  Creative development and consultation is currently underway via zoom and on country, focused on community engagement, writing and linguistics, puppetry workshops, Cultural Protocol and Engagement training, design meetings and script development.

During the next development process, the creative and cultural team will spend a week with each of the Saibai communities in Cairns, Brisbane, Bamaga, and Thursday Island. They will work with teachers, children and community members to workshop and present a performance of BIW A GITHALAY. This process will include supporting the teaching staff to assist in curriculum engagement to integrate the school learning process with cultural learnings and creative expression. The resulting workshop performance will be presented publicly for the local community. 

Project Impact

This project will have a lasting and tangible impact on communities leaving a legacy of language, skills and true pride within the Saibai community. There is an unmet and growing demand for First Nations work for children. ILBIJERRI productions often tour for a decade or more regionally, nationally and internationally.

This project will:

  • Bring a remote cultural story to life and create a platform for knowledge sharing using traditional methods of storytelling through art, weaving, song, dance, puppetry and music
  • Create a multi-disciplinary creative experience that maintains, preserves and celebrates Saibai Island culture and language, leaving a lasting impact on audiences
  • Share this dynamic work broadly to audiences from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander  communities across Queensland and Torres Strait, and following this, to international arts audiences in major cities across Australia
  • Support teachers to adapt and enrich their teaching practice with protocol appropriate First Nations content
  • Offer mentoring and attachment opportunities for First Nations artists, teaching practical theatre skills, building confidence and expanding arts connections, and addressing the skill shortage in the First Nations performing arts sector 
  • Offer an opportunity for trans-generational knowledge sharing through the experience of creating theatre

BIW A GITHALAY is supported by the Australian Government through the Indigenous Languages and Arts Program, Arts Queensland, Bamaga Productions, the Playking Foundation, and Annamila. QPAC is also a proud supporter of Biw a Githalay in supporting the development of the work for the past year.


Story Holders Seven Clans of Saibai Island

Senior Cultural Consultant & Co-writer  Milton Walit

Senior Cultural Consultant MacRose Elu

Co-Writer John Harvey

Director/Facilitator Rachael Maza AO

Senior Language Consultant Mariana Babia

Brisbane Location Facilitator Nancy Bamaga

Bamaga Location & Language Consultant  Leonora Adidi

Puppet/Costume Co-Designer  Sedrick Waia

Sound Designer/Producer  Mayella Koroi

Producer Joel Stevens

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