How Growing up in Dubbo Shaped This Ballerina


Ella Havelka, a dancer with The Australian Ballet, reflects on growing up in Dubbo and Wagga Wagga.

What are your fondest memories of Dubbo?

My best friend and I would walk the streets and be silly, build cubbies and have sleepovers. Another friend lived on a turf farm so we’d go out on the big stretches of turf and make up dances – all we ever thought about was our next routine.

Describe the community there.

It’s very supportive. I was dancing all the time – six days a week – and everyone helped out with carpooling. If my mum was struggling to pay off a tutu, my teachers would tell her not to worry.

What took you away?

I got to an age that if I didn’t start training full-time, I probably wouldn’t have made it. When I turned 14 and received an acceptance letter from The Australian Ballet School in Melbourne, Mum and I packed up our little home on Mary Street and left for the big smoke.

How often do you go back to Dubbo?

Not as often as I’d like. After I graduated, my mum moved to Wagga Wagga, NSW, so that feels more like home now. I’ve developed a connection with the elders there. Wagga Wagga is also Wiradjuri land, which is where I’m from, and there’s a lot going on in terms of cultural teaching and language renewal. The Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga has an online Wiradjuri course so I’ve been able to study language while being in the ballet.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Wagga Wagga?

Sit on the porch with my mum, having a cup of tea and watching the sun set. I also go along to a weaving group, Hands on Weavers; the elders share different types of weaving with me and I show them some that I learned when I was in Arnhem Land with Bangarra Dance Theatre.

What are three things every visitor should do in Wagga Wagga?

The Wiradjuri Walking Track is pretty amazing. I’ve done it with my family and we all felt a sense of belonging being immersed in nature while walking on the land of our ancestors. There’s also wine-tasting at Charles Sturt – the uni produces its own wine – and you can make freckles at the nearby Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory. 

What do you miss about Dubbo?

The space, the country landscape. And my friends.

Has it changed much?

It’s growing but it still feels like a country town; everything moves a bit slower and I like that.

Name something about Dubbo that you think would surprise outsiders.

Dubbo is a Wiradjuri word that means “red earth”. There are these splotches of red dirt throughout the town, like you see in the centre of Australia. Last time I was there I collected some for an artist who wanted to use the pigment because it’s so rich compared to the earth in neighbouring towns. No-one understands why it’s there – it’s like some spirits in the Dreaming picked up a handful from the Central Desert and plonked it right where Dubbo is.

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