Interview with Julia Mage’au Gray

Hi All, so I’m interviewing my special guest today which is the wonderfully talented Julia Mage ’au Gray of the cultural performing arts group ‘Sunameke Productions’. Sunameke has been punching above its weight for several years now delivering rich, diverse performances inspired by the Pacific Island countries that we all come from and so I wanted to find out a little more from her about what Sunameke is up to.

1.  Hi Julia, so tell us a little about yourself, Where are you from?

julia I dance, sing and make performance that reflects my cultural heritage, I live in Australia, I was brought up in Rabaul and Darwin and my bloodlines are Mekeo and Aussie.

2.  How did you get started in dance and what were the main influences in shaping your artistic development?

Dance begun as soon as i could move, I am thinking. The main influences were my Bubu’s on both sides of my family and of course my parents drive to ensure that their daughters would know about their rich backgrounds. The main influences are my cultural background, my study at Adelaide University, life experience and more life experience.

3.   How did Sunameke start, what does it mean and who is Sunameke?

Sunameke started in Adelaide in 1997 with two sets of sisters – The Grays and the Sonters. The name sunameke comes from our places of origin Manus and the maths and you will come up with Sunameke. We started as a response to the question ‘where are you from?’  What better way to educate people about our region than to Sing and Dance. Sunameke today are the same sets of sisters plus a couple more here and there from project to project.

4.  What projects have you been involved in over the years?

Many projects over the years…  go to this link

5.  You have a big performance coming up in Darwin this weekend,
this tell us a little about this ‘Dear Aunty’ Performance?

With Tattoo, Dogs teeth, Gowns, Coconut oil and Torch light Dear Aunty is not the expected Pacific Dance floor show that Sunameke has created in the past.  It debuts at this years Darwin Festival and is a performance that looks at those who are not from one culture but from many. How Hapakasi Afakasi Mixed Race Afa manage many worlds. These our tales of acceptance delivered with a soft punch and a smile.

Four dancers –

  • Julia Gray, (mekeo aussie), Director
  • Julia Quinn (Philippines Irish), Professional dancer and dance educator Quinn adds her sharp dynamic movement style enriched with filipino style to the mix .
  • Yola Gray(mekeo aussie), with passion and precision her Island styles run deep and in sunameke own circles has become known as the hard drive, and
  • Justine Maxwell (Papuan Philippines Spanish american), Like a river of heartfelt joy her dance brings a balancing lightness to a true mix of culture.

dancersWith original music from James Mangohig (Philippines Dutch). Mangohig makes music that incorp orates both his own personal musical journey and the love of Filipino culture.

Video Survey – Sosefina Fuamoli (Samoa aussie) Monique Moffat-Croft (Manus British) Ranu James ( Motu Aussie) Katrina Sonter ( Manus Aussie) Heta Crombie ( Maori British)

The written surveys come from as far as New York and as close as my own home.

The show has video surveys of people answering a set of questions such as Dear Aunty, you said i was…..(fill in the gap) and gathers its stories from the surveys sent out through facebook and YouTube and of course from the Dancers and musician’s own surveys.

Dear Aunty breaks down into scenarios that are intersected with survey footage.  The music lyrics were written by myself and the music created by James Mangohig. Mangohigs music is textured with deep layers that gets people moving from the core.  Dear Aunty is the voice from those nieces and nephews that never back chatted. Don’t you ever wonder what they were really thinking?

Finally we expose how we truly feel about the time you……(fill in the gap) hahaha!!

6.  What are some of your main hurdles in doing what you do?

The main hurdles are cultural ignorance on both sides of the fence, and lack of money.

7. What are your dreams for your art?

The truth is I dont have a dream about my art form. Its more of a fire that I can never put out. The work will be what it is and I hope that along the way people take something meaningful away with them after they see Sunameke’s work.

8. What is the most beautiful performance that you have ever seen in your life?

As a child it would most definitely be Geva (mekeo dance). It influenced me the most. Watching the preparation and the outcome… seeing how and why there are certain intricacies to bilas etc… it was the beginning of a love affair for all dance old, especially old cultural dance.
Today I think the most beautiful performance is to see youth take on the old and make it new. To see the passion and pride they have of their own culture and how they make it their own to reflect who they are today.

9.  If I gave you a million bucks, what would you do with it?

A million bucks… I would love to develop performance arts to have a stronger presence in PNG that reflects the PNG of today and maintaining the old. After that I reckon I would do what most people would do and help out the whanau!


‘Dear Aunty’ shows this weekend at Browns Mart Theatre, Darwin. See here for more details.