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Episode 13: Conservation, Community & Collective Voices: A Conversation with Jaime Jackett
[00:00:00] Maya Haviland: Hi folks. Maya Haviland here with a special episode of Collaboratory Conversations, which we’re releasing a little out of sync from our new monthly release schedule. Because there is a new moon in Australia on May 20th, and we wanted this conversation to come out just before it. You might ask what the phase of the moon has to do with a podcast about co-creativity. Well, you’ll just have to listen right to the end of the episode to find out exactly why, but I’ll give you a couple of clues.
We’re gonna be talking with Broome-based musician and collaborative artist, Jaime Jackett about conservation community, and of course, co-creativity. The town of Broome in north-western Australia is located on the edge of Roebuck Bay, which is a massive tidal, mud-flat home to a huge number of migratory shorebirds.
We’re gonna hear about a unique community arts project which puts these special birds front and centre in the Broome community in a musical puppet show called “Shorebird Quest”. We’re also gonna learn a little about Jaime Jackett’s co-created musical practice and her passion for the power of singing.
I recorded this conversation back in 2021 when I made a call out to my friends for music to include in this new podcast I was making about co-creativity, and Jaime was introduced to me by our mutual friend Bex. And while two years might seem like an awfully long time to wait to put this conversation out in the world, it turns out that like so many great co-creative. Things life has cycled back around, and this month is the perfect time to share it as the Broome community is about to rest stage the Shorebird Quest production. Most of us won’t be there to see it in action so I offer this episode as a bit of a consolation prize for those of us who won’t get to experience this awesome co-creative theatre show in person, and also as a chance to reflect on the power of community, passion, and song to bring joy to our lives.
[00:02:11] Jaime Jackett: My name is Jaime Jackett and I am a multi hat-wearing person in music and the arts in Broome in north-west Australia. And I, as you can hear from my accent, originally Canadian. I immigrated to Australia in 2009 and I wasn’t totally intending on staying longer than a year. But yeah, my husband and I have found ourselves in Broome to work for the Broome Bird Observatory in 2000, and what would that be? 2015?
[00:02:45] Maya Haviland: So we wanted to learn about the Shorebird Quest project, and you mentioned that you were at a Broome, bird observatory. So where does the story of this project begin?
[00:03:00] Jaime Jackett: It begins in 2015. We took on the job, Nigel and I, my husband, at the Broome Bird Observatory as the wardens, which is to say on-ground management. There’s a volunteer committee that sits above the wardens in terms in the structure of the not-for-profit, but you are in charge of basically everything on the ground and it’s an old establishment. It’s been there since 1988. There’s not really, you know, there’s no training manual. So he took on the job and Nigel’s got a background in wildlife biology. That’s, that’s what he is. He’s an incredibly talented field biologist. So he kind of knew roughly what was going on, and I was just a little bit flabbergasted. I’ve got background, obviously in hospitality, what Musician doesn’t, and that’s a huge part of that role out there. But I was just trying to get my head around it. It was just 30 years of it being in existence and also being in Broome where there’s there’s a lot of big interested parties and groups of humans in Broome with a huge, long, long history that I still am learning and won’t understand probably in this lifetime.
I was trying to kind of get my head around it a little bit, and I was digging through the filing cabinet, took it all, looked at everything I possibly could, and then I went to the shipping container, which had stacks and stacks and stacks of boxes, and I found these old photograph albums. In these photo albums, there were some, um, pictures from Mimi McDonald’s production “Wader Bird Odyssey”, which similar to Shorebird Quest took place at Town Beach and it was giant, giant, curly puppet and. I was just really captured by that.
[00:04:50] Maya Haviland: Can you describe, before we go on, what is amazing about Broome and birds? Why does the bird observatory exist and what can you see out there? Yeah,
[00:05:00] Jaime Jackett: So, Roebuck Bay has 175 square kilometres of essentially pristine mud-flat at low tide, and it attracts over a hundred thousand shorebirds in the summer season. In the, in the wet season, chock full of benthic invertebrates, which the Shorebirds feed on, and so literally 120,000 birds come through here every single year and use the spot to fuel up and feed up and get fat, as fat as they possibly can for their migration north of here. And from Broome you can actually see them and the numbers build and build and build in the wet season until they leave to fly north.
And when they leave to fly north, you can watch it happening from the north shore where the bird observatory is. You stand out there and you watch them make lines on the mud and um, get very excited and jump about and flap their wings and get ready for their massive migrations. And they’ll take off and they might do a couple of false starts. You know, jump up, fly around and decide to come back down to the mud. But eventually they will take off and then they will fly overhead in formation. And you know that when they do that, those birds are probably not gonna set foot on ground for five or six days.
They don’t glide, they flap the entire way. They don’t eat, they don’t drink, they don’t sleep, they just go. And it’s just incredible to see. And there’s really nowhere else in Australia that you can see it. To the degree that you can here, they’re leaving the continent. It’s unreal. It’s very cool. And then such huge numbers.
[00:06:42] Maya Haviland: So you went out and you were a little perplexed at the mixed engagement that some people were very engaged with this place, but lots of people who were long-time Broome locals didn’t particularly know about it. And in the back of your mind there was a kind of question about how do we actually, how do we change this a little so it isn’t just a tourist stop for twitches?
[00:07:05] Jaime Jackett: Yeah, that’s right and how do we engage the Broome public in a new way? So part of our role at the observatory was to do the Saturday market. And so you go into town and you’ve got your table set up and you’re interacting with people. And the number of times that people would come up to the table and say, “I’ve lived in Broome 20 years and I’ve never been out there”. Or even people who would drop in sometimes would say, “oh, I haven’t been here for 30 years. I’ve never seen this place. Don’t even, like, I come to Crab Creek, go fishing. I always just drive past”.
It was really interesting to me and I kind of was thinking there’s gotta be, you know, a better way of getting into people’s consciousness. So, when I saw those photographs in the album, I was thinking, “oh, I wonder if we can find one of those puppets and then put it in the Shinju Matsuri parade so that we’ve got some kind of point of engagement with just the general populace who might not have any interest in shorebirds at all”.
I went on a hunt and I maybe possibly found somebody who has one of them, but it’s so old and kind of crumbling and certainly not up to being in a parade. And I brought the idea to Bernadette Trench Thiedeman, Gwen Knox, and I said, “look, I really wanna build a shorebird puppet. Is there any way, like we could, weave it into your work at all with Bernadette and the Keep puppets. And we’re just sitting over coffee and explaining these shorebirds to these two women, brilliant, brilliant artists.
You know, Bernie was instantly on board and Gwen said, you know, if you’re gonna go through the trouble of building these giant puppets, then you, you kind of have to do a production. So it just turned, it just kind of went from there. I found it really neat in Broome that if you’re the type of person to have off the cuff ideas, what ends up happening is the town kind of seems to grab a hold of it and magnify it and turn it into something there’s no way you would’ve ever come up with on your own, but it just like, it just blew up. I just went the whisper of the word shorebird puppet, and it just went “kaboom”. Shorebird Quest, it just became this massive collaborative piece.
[00:09:19] Maya Haviland: So gimme the pitch version of what Shorebird Quest became.
[00:09:23] Jaime Jackett: Yeah. So it’s a collaboratively written production. Shorebird Quest is the story of Curtis the Curlew, who is a heavily anthropomorphized eastern curlew. And the script was written collaboratively with Yawuru rangers and country managers and artists. And we sat down, we nutted out what we wanted the script to be, and then I wrote music with, um, Hayden Kuhtze in response to the script and taught it in the schools essentially at the same time. And then it was, it was showed on, um, May 4th in 2019 down at Town Beach.
[00:10:00] Maya Haviland: So from your point of view, as an artist and a musician. What was unique about this project for you? Was this something you’d, you’d done something like this before, or?
[00:10:11] Jaime Jackett: Nope. Never done anything like it before in my life. Wow. What was unique about it? I guess working responsibly to a script like that was really cool. It became a rom-com which nobody had planned, and there’s this scene between the two main curlews Curtis and Carrie. Curtis is trying to flirt with Carrie. He picks up a worm and hands it to her, and she kind of takes it and then drops it and goes, “oh no baby, you’re moving way too fast”. That’s like, “this kind of stuff doesn’t happen until we’re on the Arctic Tundra”. And so we wrote this song in response to that, that we would never have written, just thinking about how shorebirds are. You wouldn’t, that’s not something that I would’ve thought to write.
[00:10:54] Maya Haviland: What’s the song that came out of that?
[00:10:56] Jaime Jackett: Moving Too Fast.
[00:11:11] Maya Haviland: Can you talk a little bit about the process of scripting that?
[00:11:22] Jaime Jackett: I think the first goal was to tell the story that the rangers wanted to tell about Roebuck Bay via the shorebirds. And also to tell the story of these incredible animals because it’s the story that grabs people. They’re mostly endangered or critically endangered species. They are under massive threat and massive pressure, especially in our flyway. And it takes an international collaboration and communication to conserve them. We have to work together as people, across cultures. So it was really important to us to represent, I guess, as many of the cultures and the flyways we could. We did that by using airline voiceovers.
When the birds would leave a place, we would do the airline voiceover in the language in the place in which they were leaving or going to, and then have it translated into English as well. So, we had them in Russian, in Korean, in Mandarin, and in Yawuru. It was so neat to see that, because it’s this like, you know, they’re flying 10,000 kilometres. North to go to breed, and then they’re flying the same back again, at least the same back again. And they’re going in their lifetimes, you know, they live to be into their twenties, so in their lifetimes they’re flying the distance equivalent to the moon and then part of the way back again. It’s madness.
And people don’t connect to them typically because they hang out on giant smelly mud flats and they’re sort of greyish-brown birds and people see them and they sort of dismiss them. But once they hear the story, everybody’s just absolutely gobsmacked. So the importance, I guess, in the project was to tell that story so that it could be accessible to people who weren’t biologists, who might not have an interest in wildlife.
It’s a story for everybody and it has something in it for everybody, and that’s what’s so exciting about their story. And if you can tell that and have people connect emotionally to it. Then you have a chance at actually pulling heartstrings to a point where people might actually take action on the things that are causing problems.
You know, we had some really neat feedback happen. Almost immediately following the show. Somebody in a bottle shop actually was raving about the production. They weren’t the type of person stereotypically who would be interested in wildlife even at all, they might have had the facts a little bit askewed, but they were so excited about what they just saw and they’re just like, “mate, like these birds, they fly 10,000 kilometers! 10,000 kilometers without eating and drinking! It’s insane!”
[00:14:13] Maya Haviland: So you also worked with school kids?
[00:14:16] Jaime Jackett: Yes.
[00:14:16] Maya Haviland: What was one of the songs where Kids’ voices appear?
[00:14:18] Jaime Jackett: Yeah, so the kids’ voices were on like pretty much everything. But comes to mind for me. First of all, two things. ‘Concrete, concrete’ or the ‘Yellow Sea Theme’ and the ‘Mozzie Mash. I love the Mozzie Mash. It’s quite hilarious cause the chorus is “Zzz, z, zzzz…Zzz, z, zzzz…” Which is quite weak if there’s one person singing it. But when you have a whole choir of children singing it, it comes across as a plague of mosquitoes, and that’s what the shorebirds are eating when they’re first hatching on the tundra. There’s a plague proportions of blood sucking insects in the Arctic at that time of year, and they almost basically just have to open their mouths and there’s food for them. So they’re eating mosquitoes up there. It’s quite neat.
There’s so much of that show that I had almost nothing to do with because it was highly collaborative. So I would love to tell you all about the puppets, but I can’t, cause I wasn’t there building the puppets. You’d have to talk to Karen Hethey or to Bernadette Trench Theideman about that, or Eduardo Maher, who’s one of the rangers from Shorebird Quest has become really quite enthusiastic about puppets. You’d have to talk to people who are on the ground in that particular aspect of the show.
It’s kind of a beautiful thing actually. I keep meeting people who are involved in the show and I had no idea that they were involved in the show, because there were, you know, over 150 school children and there were, you know, all of these different components that came together to make this incredible thing. But there was no one person pulling every string.
[00:16:19] Maya Haviland: So I’d wanna ask you a different question about choirs and collaboration, because I know that in this project you involved young people and in a kind of choir in some way to sing parts of that. But I’m interested in your experience of what does it take to turn a whole bunch of individual people into a collaborative sound.
[00:16:43] Jaime Jackett: Enthusiasm, and passion. And just like encouragement that they can actually do it. I make a fairly bold statement with my teaching, and it that is simply that you have a right to sing. And that sometimes makes people a bit uncomfortable, but no, no, if you, you are a human being, then you have a right to sing. It’s a part of your biology. It’s a part of who you are as a species. Singing.
It’s really quite amazing and really quite uniquely human and that people get scared off of it really, really bothers me because for me it’s medicine. Singing for me has been the thing that has kept me alive and going. It’s vital. And having situations where you are singing with other human beings just lifts the spirit so much. And that’s not just from a hippie artist’s perspective. “Amen. We gonna sing together. This is gonna make us happy, our hearts will connect, et cetera, et cetera.” You know?
It’s like, yes, all that, but also it’s scientifically documented to make you happier. Like it’s a thing. It’s actually a well-researched fact that group singing makes us happier. So, I think like when you have a group of individuals, regardless of their ability as individual singers, they can all do it. And we can all do it. There’s a very, very, very limited number of people who are actually tone deaf. If you’re tone deaf, you can’t tell the difference between two people’s voices. You know, obviously there’s work to do in pitch matching. If it wasn’t something part of your early childhood, you might have to work a little bit harder. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. It just means that your brain’s decided how it sings and it just needs to kind of be rewired a little bit.
I’m in a collaborative band as well. You know, my collaborations run deep here. It’s like my band is internationally collaborative. The other two members live in Canada and the fourth lives in Perth. So we don’t see each other except for when we’re on tour and that chemistry that we have on stage when our voices are blending. And the feeling that we get from that, but then also the feeling that the audiences get from that and then express back to us. It’s so hard to explain how powerful that is to people who haven’t experienced it, but you can experience it if you sing in a group like it’s, it’s the coolest thing.
[00:19:03] Maya Haviland: You sent me this song that you and your band made in the collaboration in Tasmania. Can you just tell me like, you know, the short version of what that song is an expression of? Like, it’s the end of a process.
[00:19:19] Jaime Jackett: Yeah, so “Cradle to Caves”. So because our band is internationally collaborative, we’re very expensive to tour. So before we even start, we have to drop ten grand essentially on flights. So, we have always had to find alternative sort of gigs for ourselves, and that particular project was a collaboration with Tasmania Parks and Wildlife, and we pitched to them that we were gonna write a song for the Tasmanian wilderness, and we came up with a chorus, or Marina came up with a chorus. It came to her in her sleep, actually, which is amazing.
So we took a chorus to three national parks and we did workshops with average everyday park visitors where we sang them the chorus that we had for the song and said, “we want you to write these metaphor exercises responsibly to the environment that you’re in. So tell us how this park makes you feel. What does the Tasmanian wilderness, what does that mean to you? What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? What does it taste like? (Don’t eat anything poisonous). And we had them really delve into that and just free write on paper. And we collected all those and then we sang them the chorus a few times and we practiced singing the chorus altogether and then we would just set up a Zoom mic and we recorded them all singing along to the chorus with us.
And we did that at all three parks and then also at a church in Franklin, a very old church just by Frank’s Cider there, and all of those recordings then got woven into the final product. So those voices are all, there’s over 50 people singing on that track. And the metaphors themselves, we then took all of that together and we sat and we read through them and circled lines and found things that really resonated with us and we wove those into the verses. So it’s co-written essentially by a lot of people had input into that song. Sort of had of a mind of its own, that song. It’s really cool.
[00:21:32] Maya Haviland: It’s a beautiful song. I liked it a lot.
[00:21:34] Jaime Jackett: Thank you.
[00:21:35] Maya Haviland: So we’re asking everybody that we talk to who are, co-creative practitioners, you know, people who do collaborative creative work, to say what you think are the key sort of skills and capacities that are essential to the work that you do.
[00:21:53] Jaime Jackett: I think probably two things come to mind. The first is this idea that any idea that you have can be done. It might not work out the way you think it’s going to work out, but you can do it. You can figure it out. You’ll be able to figure out how to do that thing in some format or another, even if it doesn’t look like what you originally intended.
The second thing is in the same vein of that, and that’s flexibility. Because if you’re too stuck in this is how it’s going to go, then you won’t notice that beautiful shining road going slightly off to the other side and twisting off into the distance that’s gonna lead you to something else that’s shinier than nothing that you were so doggedly trying to pursue. So I guess, yeah, it’s a combination of, you know, a positive outlook and being open to the outcome being whatever it’s going to be.
[00:22:53] Maya Haviland: A nice answer. And what is the future life of Shorebird Quests?
[00:23:00] Jaime Jackett: Ooh, it is purported to be happening again. If the funding gods smile upon us properly, that is what our aim in target is, that it should take place again, and it will be on the first dark moon of May. It’s a beautiful thing with this production as well, and I love is that it’s not timed to our calendar. Because it can’t be, because it’s a tide dependent production.
So, it’s based on the moon. And the moon happens when the moon happens and it doesn’t care if it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday night. That’s when it has to be, cause that’s when the tide is appropriate. And I love that we don’t have control over that. It makes me very kind of happy in a sort of funny way.
Well, thank you. It’s really wonderful to learn about this project and I look forward to picking some of the music to include.
Shorebird Quests is being remounted at Town Beach in Broome on May 20th, 2023. You can find information on the production and music featured in this episode in the show notes and you can download the Shorebird Quest songs from the original Broome musical album with songs composed by Jaime Jackett and Hayden Kuhtze on Bandcamp, as well as the music of Jaime’s band, the Belle Miners.
[00:24:52] Maya Haviland: Our closing music in this episode is the song Jaime spoke about called “Cradle to Caves”, written and performed in collaboration with her band and visitors to a number of Tasmanian national parks.
Collaboratory is written, edited, and produced by me, Maya Havilland, with production and editorial assistance from Nicole Deen. Audio engineering by Nick McCorriston. Music made especially for us by Seprock. Additional research and production support by Yichen Li. Collaboratory is produced on the lands of the Ngunawal, Ngambri, and Ngunnawal people. We pay our respects and ongoing gratitude to the custodians past, present, and future of the lands on which we work and of the knowledges from which we learn.
Collaboratory is a production of the Scaffolding Cultural Co-Creativity Project hosted by the Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Funding is generously provided by the Australian National University Translational Fellowship scheme.