• Bangarra's 'Macq' brings to life Governor Macquarie's picnic that ended in the massacre of the Aboriginal guests. (Andrea Booth)Source: Andrea Booth
Two hundreds years ago, NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie invited Indigenous people to a picnic - then massacred them.
Andrea Booth

16 Jun 2016 - 3:09 PM  UPDATED 16 Jun 2016 - 4:01 PM

Dancers thrown in colonial robes are contorting upon a large table jumbled with porcelain teapots and candelabras and cake stands upon a Sydney Opera House stage.

The surreal sequence, 'Macq', is one of the performances that form part of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s upcoming 'Our Land People Stories' trilogy.

Explainer: The Appin Massacre
The first documented government-ordered killings of Aboriginal people in Australia’s settlement records.

It's a recreation of one of the lesser known stories about Australia's colonial past – the picnic between NSW Governor Macquarie, his dignitaries and local Indigenous people that preceded the 1816 'March of Macquarie'.

The 'March of Macquarie' is the colloquial term to describe the NSW military's massacre of Aboriginal people in Appin area in Sydney's southwest under the command of Governor Macquarie.

'Macq' choreographer Jasmin Sheppard told NITV News the "weird" feast reminded her of the Mad Hatter tea party in Lewis Carroll’s classic literature Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

"[A picnic] seems like it's such a positive and amazing thing," Ms Sheppard says.

"We eat meals over a table, we share conversations over a table."

The dance draws on "a lot of those feelings of mixing those cultures, not understanding one another, [and] what does it mean to have a picnic with the people that are invading your country".

After the picnic, Governor Macquarie ordered three regiments to launch an offensive against the local Dharawal people and Gandangara people from Blue Mountains region after the Gandangara people came down to Appin in search of food and killed an unknown number of Europeans.

He instructs Captain Schaw of the 46th regiment: "On any occasion of seeing or falling in with the natives, either in bodies or singly, they are to be called on, by your friendly native guides, to surrender themselves to you as prisoners of war.

"If they refuse to do so, make the least show of resistance, or attempt to run away from you, you will fire upon and compel them to surrender, breaking and destroying the spears, clubs, and waddies of all those you take prisoners." 

According to Captain Wallis from another regiment, 14 Aboriginal people were killed from gunfire or "rushing in despair" over a cliff, although local historian Gavin Andrews says the death toll may be higher.

Ms Sheppard says she hopes her dance can enlighten both Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences.

"For my Indigenous audience members, I want them to feel empowered and to feel like the resilience of our people is highlighted, the fact that we're existing after everything that happened."

She says she would "really love" non-Indigenous people to question the history they have been taught.

"I definitely wasn't taught these things in school and I feel like everybody deserves to know a true account of history."

'Our Land Stories People' also features a piece by artistic director Stephen Page that aims to bring the artwork of elder Nyapanyapa Yunupingu from Northeast Arnhem Land to life.

Brothers Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley tie the trilogy together with a segment called 'Miyagan', which explores their discovery of their culture on Wiradjuri country in west NSW.

Daniel Riley told NITV News that he learned more about his culture's kinship system or family structure, which he says is matrilineal and multilayered, during the creation process.

"To put it on stage and share that is a beautiful thing," he says.

"I hope they [the audience] enjoy the whole experience, that they really get a sense of community."

'Our Land People Stories' has been dedicated to the memory of its musical director, David Page, who passed away in April.

The performance opens at the Sydney Opera House on Friday June 17, 2016, before touring the nation.