Banner, painting on silk with bag, 'Billabong cloth', silk/aluminium/glitter/nylon, designed by Eamon D'Arcy, made by Ceremonies Workshop, used in 'Nature' segment of Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, Sydney 2000
This 'Billabong cloth' has significance in material culture due to its role in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games, an important event in the social history of Sydney and NSW. It has the potential to communicate in exhibitions and publications about the Sydney Olympic Games and has historical significance in its design, making, use and in the cultural meanings ascribed to it.
Described by the NSW premier Bob Carr as 'the greatest spectacle Australia has produced', the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games took place at Stadium Australia, Homebush Bay on Friday 15 September 2000.
The opening ceremony was the subject of much public expectation. After years of controversy and insecurity around issues like Ric Birch's infamous kangaroos on bicycles (from the Atlanta closing ceremony) and the recruitment of American musicians in a proposed marching band for Sydney's opening ceremony, it was perceived as a test of Australia's cultural competence. Could Australia deliver a modern, sophisticated performance or were we to embarrass ourselves?
The overwhelmingly positive public response to the opening ceremony inspired a sense of relief among Sydneysiders. In the upsurge of goodwill and excitement (which began when the torch relay arrived in Sydney) the media dropped its negative attacks on the Games' organisers and embraced the extraordinary spirit that had gripped the city. The public had finally claimed ownership of the Games. Cynicism melted away for two weeks as locals revelled in the rare carnival atmosphere.
The opening ceremony had anthems, speeches, oaths, flags, a marching band, pop singers and a parade of the athletes from 199 competing nations. However the daring conceptual sequences ('Deep Sea Dreaming', 'Awakening', 'Nature', 'Tin Symphony', 'Arrivals' and 'Eternity') will be remembered as the ceremony's great imaginative works. Each segment commenced without interruption, following on from the last to form an overall narrative. The purpose was to project a national image to a worldwide audience, to form the world's vision of Australian culture. This image embraced tolerance, social progress, multiculturalism and reconciliation, as well as nature, history and creativity. Designed to stimulate emotional responses from the audience, these segments delivered a refreshing mixture of youth, naivety and larrikinism.
The creative team comprised 13,000 artists and performers, including designers, choreographers, circus artists, costume makers, set builders and painters, singers, composers, writers, arrangers, dancers, musicians. Even more than the high quality costume design, choreography and music, the props were talking points, with the Endeavour tricycle and the Ned Kelly horse attracting the most attention.
This is one of the several billabong cloths that appeared in the 'Nature' segment, which followed the 'Deep Sea Dreaming', 'Awakening' and 'Fire' segments. After 'Fire', the process of regeneration of the charred earth after rain was the basis of the colourful 'Nature' segment, directed by Peter Wilson. With the rain, the billabongs filled with water, and a remarkable effect of water rippling and swelling was achieved by the handlers. Fresh green shoots appeared, plants began to bloom, leaves grew along the branches of the eucalypt trees, as desert, bush and rivers came alive to the laugh of the kookaburra and the screeching of parrots. Dominant among the budding, swelling, ultimately blooming flowers were red waratahs, red and black Sturt's Desert peas, pink waterlilies and yellow banksias. Following them came pink and purple honey- myrtles, blue wildflowers and swamp daisies. As the lakes and waterholes of the inland filled, flocks of birds arrived to breed, and then Australia's unique animals came to visit, among them the kangaroo, platypus, echidna and goanna.
Through creative choreography and puppetry, and sequence after sequence of fresh new images, and a continuing fusion of colour, the stadium took on the look of a beautiful living garden. Through this great flowering landscape walked the Songman Djakapurra, stopping at a giant waratah to collect the Hero Girl, who was still dreaming.
Eamon Darcy, Sydney NSW, 1999 The early billabong cloths were much larger in size. Early testing showed the large cloths much too big to handle and to achieve the effect of water rippling. The other issue arising from handling such a large cloth was how to create the effect of water collecting during the rain as planned. A smaller cloth was much easier to handle and to feed from the carry bag, simulating water collecting on the ground.
Trying to determine how to collect the cloth at the end of the segment also brought about some design issues that were tried but proved unsuccessful. Eventually the smaller cloths could be easily gathered by the handlers as they exited. The cloths were pre-packed in the bag with all the handles fed through a 'feed' ring that allowed the 'Billabong' to appear to grow in the rain. When pulled in all directions through the aluminium ring, the billabong grew till all the cloth was stretched and the ring and bag remained under the surface, out of sight.
Olympic ceremonies workshop, Eveleigh, Redfern, NSW 1999-2000 The fabric for the billabongs were sewn into kidney shapes with handles at the perimeter. The fabric chosen has a reflective quality to simulate water ripping when moved by performers. The bag was sewn to the underside of the cloth and therefore could not be lost or left behind when striking the cloths. The 12mm aluminium tubular ring of 600mm diameter that was part of this cloth is missing.