Jannawi Dance Clan

Instagram: @jannawidanceclan

Jannawi Dance Clan is an Aboriginal dance company that centres on Indigenous storytelling through dance and performance. Our name Jannawi means ‘with me, with you’ in Darug language. As a dance collective we celebrate the strength, resilience and stories of Aboriginal people in NSW. Community, identity and culture are strong values in our practice with a larger commitment to revitalise language and heighten the voices of Darug peoples and histories.

Original Action


This week we will take you behind the scenes of our recent performance, skullduggery, commissioned by Artspace in response to Judy Watson’s work of the same name in the exhibition djillong dumularra, Carol McGregor and Judy Watson.

Peta Strachan, Booroberongal clan Dharug nation
Jasmine Gulash, Kabi Kabi
Katie Leslie, Mandandanji, Gamilaroi
Yolanda Lowatta, Geidei
Dubs Yunupingu, Gumatj clan Arnhem Land and Booroberongal clan Dharug nation


Jannawi Dance Clan

Commissioned by Artspace, Sydney for djillong dumularra, Carol McGregor and Judy Watson, 16 January – 5 April, 2021

Peta Strachan, Booroberongal clan Dharug nation
Jasmine Gulash, Kabi Kabi
Katie Leslie, Mandandanji, Gamilaroi
Yolanda Lowatta, Geidei
Dubs Yunupingu, Gumatj clan Arnhem Land and Booroberongal clan Dharug nation

Soundtrack: Amy Flannery
Nyapillilngu (Spirit Lady) by Rrwaun Maymuru and Nick Wales

Cinematographer: Nino Tamburri
Editor: Daniel Jameison

Developed at Murama Healing Space, Sydney Olympic Park

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.


This performance directly responds to Judy Watson’s work of the same title, skullduggery, which exposes 1930s correspondence between Matron Agnes Kerr from Burketown Hospital in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (now Wellcome Collection), London London trading Australian Aboriginal ancestral remains.

In the opening section we embody Matron Kerr and other women like her, who dressed and acted so dignified but were involved in one of the most inhumane practices – unearthing and trading ancestral Aboriginal remains.

It is everyone’s right to be buried and left to rest in peace. After hearing that mothers in northwest Queensland in the 1930s were involved in evil actions violating this right, we wanted to show through dance how disgusting and sinister the acts of these women were. Masked in their proper clothing, hats and gloves, underneath they were clinical and unfeeling. The women of this era were just as sinister as the men. Matron Kerr clearly states in her correspondence that she would ‘love to go skull hunting’ herself.

We wanted to depict how they too went out gravedigging and raiding Aboriginal sacred grave sites.

Judy Watson showed us an archival photo of Matron Kerr in the Volunteer Sisterhood. We couldn't believe it – they definitely didn't deserve that name. They played a huge role in enabling Aboriginal bones to be stolen and sent away from grieving families without regard or feeling.


Here we become bones. Displaced, disconnected, ripped from mother earth, sent to a foreign land. Fractured clans all mixed up and put on display. Cold dark clinical spaces. Spirits trying to reconnect.

We mourn the loss, theft and disappearance of our ancestors and familial remains.


We are all connected…
Our creator,
Our land and all that comes from it,
Our flesh
Our bones and our spirit –
Are all connected
We are all one
Even in death –
We are all connected…

When remains of human people’s bones
Are stolen and removed
From their resting places
And dug out of the earth
There is certainly interference
With a spiritual process that should
Be rightfully given to the deceased person

A culturally practised process
With particular ways of managing
And maintaining various cultural values
And sustaining cultural practice and lore (l-o-r-e)
Much unlike colonisers law (l-a-w)…

What a spirit must feel –
After their bones or skull are stolen
From their land
Our bones and our spirit stay
Even in death, we are all connected.

What their people feel – who knew then
And know now – that helpless sadness,
Disconnect, disturbance, longing and

Educating and truth telling
Australia’s history.
Ill treatment and lack of respect
For a dignified and proud people
And their way of being

Since colonisation
Reminding – telling – retelling
History here doesn’t start in 1788
It’s more than beyond a westernised concept…

Healing owners of a land
Helps heal the land itself
All connected.

- Katie Leslie (extract)

Extract from Jannawi Dance Clan, skullduggery, 25 mins. Commissioned for djillong dumularra, Artspace, Sydney, 2021. 


Some of our loved ones’ remains have returned. We have a ceremony to smoke and cleanse, to cry for our people, and to bury our loved ones back on Country. There are still so many clans waiting for the return of their own people’s remains.

We dance to comfort our families still waiting. We dance to evoke hope and faith that the rest of our people’s remains will return to Country and to their families. We dance to nurture, uplift and show lost spirits the light to journey into their dreaming and into their rightful place of rest in the afterlife.


The soundtrack for skullduggery was created by Jannawi Dance Clan member Amy Flannery @amyflannery. The final sequence is performed to Nyapillilngu (Spirit Lady), a unique collaboration between Yolngu Songman Rrawun Maymuru and Sydney composer Nick Wales.

Nyapillilngu is the spirit lady that protects the passage between the Earth and Milky Way. She looks after this land and the spirit of this land from Earth to the Milky Way to ensure safe passage between both dimensions. Her totem is the Guwak, a type of scrub turkey who links her to the clans Managalili. Ritharrngu , Gupabuyngu and Gumatj and carries her messages to them. Rrawun Maymuru is a descendant of these clans.