As your grandparents will delight in telling you, life for children in Australia before the advent of television, computer gaming and the Internet was radically different to what it is now.
Just how different, and what we may have lost in the digital transformation of our lives, is part and parcel of Junk, an imaginative acrobatic showcase centred on a modern-day boy who slips back in time to a world where children play on the street unsupervised and free of adult interference.
“We say the suggested age range for the show audience is 5-100-years-old,” says Jodie Farrugia, who created Junk for the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. “Kids love it and a lot of parents have told us it’s a great conversations starter, but we’ve also had really beautiful feedback from our older citizens.”
For example, when Junk played at the Sydney Opera House in 2017, the show was recorded, which allowed a lot of elderly people in nursing homes to see it. “It felt like magic to them to see the costumes and the music of their childhood and images of kids they could really relate to,” Farrugia says. “There’s a lot of nostalgia and emotion attached to this show.”
Junk was inspired by conversations Farrugia had with people who grew up in the Albury-Wodonga region in the 1930s and 1940s. “We had eight elders who really helped us storyboard the show and a lot of the images and the ideas are their actual stories,” she says. “They all came and saw the show and they still talk about it now when I go to visit them.”
The Flying Fruit Fly Circus – Australia’s national youth circus – celebrates its 40th birthday in 2019. The company began as a six-week school holiday program created for the 1979 International Year of the Child. The company’s name was a cheeky nod to the quarantine stop on the causeway between New South Wales and Victoria, where travellers were compelled to dump their fruit in an effort to stop the spread of the orchard-wrecking fruit flies.
Forty years on, the “Fruities”, as they quickly became known, have trained new generations of leading Australian circus performers while establishing a reputation as one of the world’s leading youth circuses.
Farrugia has recently stepped down as the company’s artistic director after five years in the role, but she continues to live in Albury.
“My interest has always been about how can we tell physical theatre stories that are interesting and conceptual but are accessible to a wide audience,” she says. “But the thing I always think about first is the child experiencing theatre or circus for the first time.
“I think it’s really empowering for children in an audience to see child performers on stage because then they see that they can be involved in a creative pursuit but also that their young minds and bodies can be trusted with what looks like physically dangerous things to do. That’s really thrilling for them. No one is saying get down from there! That’s too high! That’s dangerous!”