From carpark to funpark at Bidwill

When artist Karen Therese returned to Bidwill in Mount Druitt in 2006, 26 years after leaving the suburb she grew up in, the shopping centre she remembered as "thriving" had closed.

 The petrol station had gone and the sports fields, once busy with teams such as the Bidwill Bears, were all but abandoned. 

The nearby fun parks, Mt Druitt Waterworks and Wonderland Sydney - once a magnet for fun-lovers - had shut down.

"I wondered what had happened to the place I knew," she says.

Four years later, while working as artist in residence at Chifley College Bidwill, Therese began imagining an arts project that brought back fun, engaged the community and highlighted the positive forces in an area mired in stigma.

Funpark, an epic performance, community and installation work that is part of the Sydney Festival, opened for two nights on the weekend.

"It's called Funpark because, ironically, this is probably the most un-fun place in Sydney," Therese says. 

"It's a complex place but also a very beautiful one because of all the different cultures."

Therese says the work investigates what Mt Druitt is about, what people's perceptions of Mt Druitt are and why communities such as Bidwill look as they do.

She gestures across the disused shopping centre's empty, neglected carpark.

Karpaz Kebabs, operating from the centre, provides some sense of a meeting spot for locals, along with a pub and bottle shop across the carpark. As there are no shops, the pub now stocks essentials such as milk and basic medical supplies.

"Which creates a problem when kids are going there to buy mum a carton of milk," Therese says.

Funpark was a collaboration between more than 20 artists, Bidwill residents - comprising Sydney's biggest indigenous population - and a steering committee of community groups and leaders.

Events included a four-hour hula-hoopathon, parkour workshops, trike rides, film installations and an arena rock opera titled Girls Light Up, inspired by sensationalised media stories about two girls having a fight in Bidwill in 1981.

Darug elders told stories under a canopy of fairy lights and seven teenagers known as the Social Revolutionaries will hold the Mt Druitt Press Conference, a performative media conference about their experiences living in the area.

"It's about how the media have been slandering [school children here] for the past 25 years and the effect of that," Therese says. "It features the Class We Failed newspaper defamation from 1997. That's very big for kids going to school here."

"The most important thing is that Funpark is a human rights project as much as an arts project," Therese says. "And if anywhere needs a funpark it is Bidwill."

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