Griffith Wiradjuri woman Kerry Johnson's road to success has been one of perseverance and a deep sense of responsibility. From growing up in Three Ways Bridge Reserve in Griffith to establishing her own performing arts theatre in Sydney, Burrundi Theatre of the Performing Arts, Kerry Johnson has fought every step of the way to 'stay in the game' she says.
Ms Johnson was born a Wiradjuri woman, but growing up in Griffith during the 1970's and 80's she didn't really understand what that meant to her and her family.
"We were never really taught about our culture, we were living on the fringes and surviving," Ms Johnson explained.
"My great grandfather was not allowed to continue his culture, my grandmother was not allowed to learn our ways from her own father."
With limited exposure to the arts growing up Ms Johnson found herself at a crossroads in her adolescence. She felt the pull of wanting to explore and discover her identity as an aboriginal woman and felt that perhaps staying in Griffith was not able to offer her that opportunity.
"We were going through the education system at a time when our history was denied and we constantly felt we didn't have a place in society," Ms Johnson explained.
"That hurt a lot because as a young person you just want to fit in, make friends, but there was always that cultural barrier."
Making the decision to leave Griffith to study dance in Sydney was to form the foundation of Ms Johnson shaping her connection to culture and understanding of her own identity.
"Going to NAISDA and learning the practices, the customs, the traditions and experiencing the cultural aspects of dance all made sense to me in the end, and it all just fell into place for me," Ms Johnson explained.
"To a degree dance takes me somewhere else in a sense of expression and having an internal feeling of really connecting to something."
Over 30 years later, Ms Johnson has founded her own project Burrundi Theatre for Performing Arts in March 2020 and it is her connection to Griffith that has been the driving force of the school's success, even in a COVID year. During the Yarruwala festival in October, Burrundi performed at the opening ceremony of the Sunshine Supergirl premiere, hosted a number of workshops and performed in a theatre production about Warrangesda mission in Darlington Point.
"When I left Griffith I knew I wanted to make a difference for my community," Ms Johnson said.
"Going to Sydney was for the purpose of one day being able to bring something back. Griffith and the community there will always be home for me," Ms Johnson said.