• NITV journalist Ella Archibald-Binge joined Dan Sultan's Flying Tour to Aurukun, Woorabinda and Palm Island. (NITV)
I’m wedged in the back seat of a taxi between Declan Kelly, drummer for Bernard Fanning, and acclaimed music producer Jan Skubiszewski. Dan Sultan is in the passenger seat making conversation with the cabbie, and I’m nursing my camera gear thinking this is probably the most surreal moment of my life.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

Source:
The Point
4 Aug 2017 - 7:20 PM  UPDATED 4 Aug 2017 - 7:24 PM

We're heading to a small airport hangar in Cairns. I’ve been given a tough assignment: tag along with Dan Sultan’s band to film his flying tour of three remote Indigenous communities across Queensland. What can I say? Sometimes work is hard.

Day One – Aurukun

We board our six-seater plane for the two-hour flight to Aurukun. We fly in just before sunset and our pilot treats us to a flight over the wetlands surrounding the Cape York community. As our plane descends, we can see crocodiles lurking in the clear green water below. 

From the airstrip, it's straight to our accommodation. Mayor Derek Walpo welcomes us to the community at a special dinner, before we head to bed to prepare for a hectic four days. 

Day Two - Aurukun

The day kicks off with a workshop with the local kids at the PCYC. Dan, Declan and Jan are joined by fellow musician Georgia Potter, who spent much of her childhood in Aurukun. 

Next door to the PCYC, the local footy field is being transformed into a makeshift concert arena. There's a stillness in the air, which Mayor Derek Walpo tells me is a sure sign that "everyone's vibing up". 

"It’s sending a good vibe, a positive vibe throughout the community," he says.

"I’m pretty sure there’s gonna be a lot of people putting on their dancing shoes tonight."

A visit to the local art gallery, a sound check and a short break later, it's time for the concert. Georgia Potter warms up the crowd, with the community welcoming the home-grown talent to the stage. 

The local spectators seem hesitant at first, setting up their fold-up chairs just outside the perimeter of the footy field. But as Dan Sultan takes the stage, launching into the 2014 hit 'Under Your Skin', the crowd starts slowly inching closer.

Georgia has told Dan there's one cover he must play to get the crowd fired up: Wipeout (a favourite at the local disco). The band drops it about mid-way through the set, and locals swap surprised and excited looks but seem too shy to hit the dance floor. 

Dan perseveres, and as the set draws to a close, the band plays Wipeout again. This time, the crowd is ready for it. In one sudden motion, about 100 people rush to the front of the stage to show their moves, as excited kids giggle and scream. 

As the show draws to a close, there's no time to bask in its success. We head straight back to the airstrip to fly to Cairns. 

Around midnight, we check in to our Cairns hotel, where we'll spend about 7 hours before getting back on the plane. I listen drowsily as reception staff tell me there's a gym located on level two. Somehow, I don't think I'll be using it. 

Day Three - Woorabinda

We arrive in Woorabinda in central Queensland around midday after a four-hour flight. The locals are shocked to hear that we flew in - the airstrip is only used rarely by the Royal Flying Doctor's Service. 

We head to the local youth centre run by the Red Cross, where the kids have been practising for weeks in the lead-up to Dan's visit. 

"Before he arrived, they just started screaming and ran out of the building, getting all nervous," youth worker Nickeema Williams tells me.

With the guidance of local youth workers, the band jams along to songs like 'Nothing I Would Rather Be' (a nod to Dan's acting role in Bran Nue Dae) and a couple of originals written by the kids. 

Before long, they're joined by 18-year-old Miiesha Young, whose voice quickly catches the attention of Dan and the band. 

"I want to be a singer," Miiesha tells me.

"I’ve always wanted to be one but I’ve never known how to become one, how to get there, so I just kinda linger."

As night time rolls around and the concert gets underway, Miiesha the chance to perform alongside Dan on-stage - a "pretty amazing" experience for someone living remotely with limited performance opportunities. 

Mayor Cheyne Wilkie says the concert is something they've "never had in the life of the town". 

"For our young people, it’s probably a big boost because this is how we move our kids out of the shy zone, into the no shame zone," he says. 

After a long day, we head back to our accommodation to rest up ahead of the final leg of the tour.

Day Four - Palm Island  

We fly out of Woorabinda at the leisurely hour of 9 am. After a four-hour flight, we descend into the visually-stunning Palm Island, just off the coast of Townsville around lunch time. 

We have some precious spare time this afternoon and take the opportunity to enjoy the island before tomorrow's concert. After a spectacular sunset, we're treated to some turtle stew (caught and prepared by the locals in our honour), before we turn in for the night. 

Day Five - Palm Island

We head down to check out the local NAIDOC celebrations around 10 am, in the lead-up to the concert. 

Local elder Aunty Elizabeth tells me positive events like this are much-needed on Palm. 

"Our young people see too many negative things, especially by the media, about Palm Island and our people," she says.

"So it’s really good, we need to get more of our own people coming here that [are] making a mark out there."

Mayor Alf Lacey agrees: "I think what it does, it instils a lot of pride, particularly in our young people, and shows our young people in our community that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and reach for the sky."

Again the concert is a hit. Around lunchtime, the community still buzzing, we board our plane for the final time. 

For Dan, the tour has been a reminder of the treasures that lie in remote Australia - something he wants more people to appreciate.

"I don’t like the idea that these places are any different to anywhere [else]," he says.

"People are people. People like to dance and people like to be entertained. And as an entertainer and a songwriter, if you want to get out and do it, then do it in as many places as possible. It can only be a positive thing." 

The plane touches down in Townsville, marking the end of a whirlwind week. Four nights, three communities and one very small aircraft.

As we taxi along the runway, Dan turns around in the passenger seat to sum up the experience: "I think it's probably the best thing I've ever done". 

NITV's Queensland correspondent, Ella Archibald-Binge, joined Dan Sultan's flying tour as a guest of the Queensland Music Festival