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This Is Northern New South Wales

People to know – Rhoda Roberts

Rhoda RobertsRhoda Roberts is one of the most inspirational women I am lucky enough to have met.

A creative powerhouse, Rhoda grew up in Lismore and attended Richmond River High and Lismore Heights Primary. With her family, as a teenager, she spent a few years in Sydney where she attended Canterbury Girls School. Her father was so homesick off country they returned back to their family home. Rhoda is a 2,000 generation Widjabul woman from the Bundjalung nation.

Along with her partner Steven Field,  she has three children Emily, Jack and Sarah. Rhoda was married for ten years to the late Bill Hunter who passed away with cancer.

Rhoda is one of four children; two brothers and a twin sister, although they were a household of children with Rhoda’s parents raising many cousin as an extended family.

Rhoda’s eldest child Emily is her twin sister’s biological daughter, although she has raised her from birth. Her sister was a hairdresser and had a massive car accident near Casino in the mid 70’s; she received severe brain damage when they were just 20 years old. When they were  40 she went missing. Her murder has not been solved as yet. Her body was discovered in the Whian Whian state forest close to their custodial lands of Nimbin six months after she went missing.

Rhoda graduated in the late 70’s as a registered Nurse and after being the resident nurse on Hayman Island she traveled to London to do another certificate in Accident and Emergency in the early 80’s at Westminster. She spent most of the 80’s travelling the world, volunteering and working in India on her way back. On returning she studied a diploma in the performing arts and was a co- founder of the successful Aboriginal National Theater Trust in the Late 80’s/early 90’s,  which also produced the First, Second and Third National Black Playwrights Conferences.

Claim to fame/day job/hobby/what are you known for?

I was the first Aboriginal to host a national prime time current affairs program back in the 80’s where I worked for news and current affairs at SBS.
I was the creative director for the Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony (Aboriginal segment, The Awakening).

Is it your passion or just something you do?

I am Aboriginal and we live in a time where we can speak our language, continue our ceremonies and celebrate. I work in the arts, it’s a luxury and I have an obligation to ensure protocols and also what I have been instructed in and learnt is exchanged and available to all. But I love great music, dance and books nothing should be censured.

I love my work and its challenging most of the time specifically now with current funding structures, but it’s a walk in the park compared to my father time.  When I was young and not allowed into cafes in Lismore where there were silent color bars and we were despised because our skin was brown my father told me it was fear as they did not really know us but if we waited patiently the time would come for change and it has, but, I never want any child to feel what I felt.

What is your greatest career achievement?

Creative Director Sydney New Years Eve

Current positions:

Head of Indigenous Programming, Sydney Opera House,
Creative Director, Rhoda Roberts Gallery & Events, Festival Director, Boomerang Festival

Current Consultancy Projects

The three Brothers, NORPA (Northern river performing arts) Theatre production researcher/director
JUTE Theatre, Cairns, Research and development new Theatre production July 2015
Opera Australia, director and writer (new work for production 2016)
Co Producer, Blood Sisters (film)
Radio Presenter / Producer, Deadly Voices from the House  2015-
Creative Director, Barangaroo Cultural Precinct Opening event 2015.

Previous Positions

Producer, Vibe Australia ,1992-2014
Broadcaster: Deadly Sounds National weekly radio Program  1992-2014
Guest Curator; Clancestry Festival (QPAC) 2012-2014
Creative Director, Sydney New Years Eve 2008-2011
Founder and Festival Director, The Dreaming 1994-2009
Programmer Woodford Folk Festival 2004-2009
Consultant Festival Director, Garma Festival 2010,
Artistic Director, Nukkan Ya Ruby (Series of Tribute Concerts),
Sydney Dreaming Festival 1999 -2004
Windsurf Instructor: 1979- 1982

How do you give back to your community?

Creating events and passing on the skills that reconnect the old gatherings into new festivals and events, and allowing for knowledge to be passed on to all.I was a candy striper and volunteered during my nursing with the homeless when I was young. My father, Frank ensured we always volunteered to give back.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Family laughing with me on the hammock, a cup of tea and a good book.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Poeme Perfume.

What is your favourite Travel detstination/why?

Anywhere in Australia, you just don’t appreciate what we have until you have seen the world.

Who is your favourite superhero?

None really … it would have to be a living person who ahs defied all the odds and there are so many.

Who are your heroes in real life?

My Children – I learn something almost everyday.

What do you value most in your friends?

Trust and loyalty and putting up with me.

What is your most treasured possession?

My nana’s piano stool.

If you could choose what to come back as what/who would it be?

A Writer with the humility of a Nelson Mandela and the style of Audrey Hepburn with the compassion of my nursing friends and the wit of Tina Fey along with  an incredible mind and the vocal qualities of Casey Donovan.

Which words phrases do you overuse?
I understand your frustration, let’s think proactively to find a solution.

Which living person do you most admire/why?

First and foremost Lydia Miller. As well as true Cultural Custodians who pass on knowledge to ensure there is wealth and richness of understanding the environment and country and they do it with such humility and spirit of generosity always astounds me.

If money was no object what would you do?

Establish a national Aboriginal cultural exchange center  then  buy a good car, build an indoor toilet, and then create the Boomerang Festival as a long-term viable event at Byron Bay and provide commissions for innovative mid-career artists across the creative industries.
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