Feature Interview: Emily-Anyupa Napangarti Butcher

Feature Interview: Emily-Anyupa Napangarti Butcher

It’s been a special concoction of privilege and sheer delight for us all at the ILBIJERRI office to get to know Emily-Anyupa Napangarti Butcher, as she’s settled into her role as Associate Producer. Emily is a Warlpiri, Pitjantjatjara and Luritja woman from Papunya and Yuendumu in Central Australia, with family connections throughout many remote communities across the Northern Territory. Emily has a shy smile, but a quiet confidence, and when she speaks you listen, because you know what she has to say will be worth hearing. In between conversations about tour budgets and itineraries, she slips stories that start with ‘See, back home we…’ and everyone in the office is tuned in for the yarn.


The other day we headed up the road to the local coffee joint and I got to find out a little bit more about Emily-Anyupa.


We started off talking about how Emily came to be in the Associate Producer role at ILBIJERRI:

‘I’d only been in Melbourne about a week. A friend emailed me the job and said I should apply for it. I was really excited about the opportunity. I’ve always kinda wanted to work here [at ILBIJERRI].’


At the interview she met ILBIJERRI Artistic Director Rachael Maza, Executive Producer Lydia Fairhall and Caroline Martin:

‘Straight away I felt really safe. And I felt inspired to see three black women being in such high positions. When Lydia called me and said I got the job I was really excited.’


Emily, who comes from a family of painters and musicians, went on to say:

‘I’ve always wanted to work in the arts sector. I’m a creative person and I like working with or for creative people. In my interview I talked about the importance of storytelling, and how I identify as a storyteller, whether it’s through music or journalism, or even being a Producer working at ILBIJERRI.’


Emily is being mentored in her Associate Producer role by Fenn Gordon, Lydia Fairhall and Nina Bonacci. She says:

‘I really like the role of being a Producer and I feel very privileged to be mentored through these different productions. I really respect my “bosses”. But it’s also nice being able to work in a First Nations controlled company.


‘I’ve always really loved theatre. I was in a play when I was younger, as a lead. And my uncle is a playwright, so I helped with his productions when I was younger. So it’s familiar, but not from a formal workplace setting, so it’s nice to see it from this side. What I love about ILBIJERRI the most is its mission and vision statements. Cos I feel like it really resonates with me as a young black woman.


We also chatted about her previous role as Regional Reporter with the ABC, based in Alice Springs. Before she started with the ABC, Emily had been caring for her baby daughter full time for a couple of years and was feeling ‘kind of isolated from the world’. Joining the ABC changed that big time. She said:

‘[A]ll of a sudden I was just connected to everything. And I just knew what was going on in the world, and in the town…It was a really lovely way to be engaged with the community in Alice Springs. But also, it opened my eyes about storytelling. I learned skills like conducting interviews, writing news pieces, and how to discover news stories. It also helped me, as a young Indigenous woman, to realise my responsibilities in the world about what’s going on with Indigenous Affairs.


Before motherhood and some health challenges that lead her to head back to Country, Emily spent some time as a college student at University of Melbourne. ‘I didn’t finish my degree’, she explains, ‘but I want to go back’. She goes on:

‘I think my Grandfathers really expect me to do well in Western way of learning, so then I can help my communities. They have expressed the importance of education. And their idols are Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. They are all for changing the world through education, through learning, and through having the best of both worlds, which I think has been the biggest influence in my life.


I knew Emily’s father was a big name in Indigenous music – a founding member of the Warumpi band. But I didn’t know about her own music making. Her response to my question came back again to the theme of storytelling:

‘I’m a song writer, but I’m not really a performer, if that makes sense. I like writing songs. I can write songs. Using words and putting that to music makes more sense to me.’


And she went on to talk more about what it meant to her growing up as a kid in the Butcher family:

‘My Dads are very famous musicians. They’re part of Warumpi Band… They’re from a really remote part of the world, but they’d been overseas, and they’d been to the major cities, and they’d been to all these different places. That really influenced my life, growing up, watching them perform… And their songs and their music and their bodies of work have really empowered me as an Indigenous woman. I get a lot of strength from that – from their music.


We Shall Cry’, she says when I ask her what her favorite song of the Warumpi Band is. She says:

‘That really speaks to me. Because even though these songs were written in the 80s they’re still so relevant to today.


I was curious to know more about the painters in Emily’s family as well. And here was another thread of gold:

Papanya, to me, is home. My grandmother is buried there. My father is buried there. I love watching my family paint. My favorite part about being back at home is sitting down with a cup of tea and watching them transform a blank canvas into a really sacred piece of work…. listing to the stories of paintings, and the symbols and what they mean, and how they map out Country and map out Dreaming. And even though it’s a very traditional story, how artists make it their own sort of style, their own signature piece of work in the modern sort of Fine Art way…If I see a painting of my Grandmother’s, like online or something, it just makes me feel connected again.


I asked her about her decision to come back to Melbourne. She said:

‘I love Melbourne because it’s such an artsy city and I feel like it suits my personality living here. But I’ll always go home. I’ll always think of home every day. Sometimes I get really really sad. Or really homesick. But home is always there. I know I can go back anytime, if I want to.


Emily has now been at ILBIJERRI about three months and is currently working on Bagurrk, ILBIJERRI’s major Creative States Commission, as well as the 2019 Canada tour of Jacob Bohme’s Blood On The Dance Floor. There are several other exciting projects in the pipeline that she is looking forward to working on. Lucky us to have this strong, wise, storyteller, here with us at ILBIJERRI, enriching the story of First Nations theatre for present and future generations.


Emily is part of the ILBIJERRI Executive Mentorship Program supported by the Ian Potter Foundation, Creative Victoria and the City of Melbourne.


Article by Kendra Keller, Marketing Manager, ILBIJERRI Theatre Company