The introvert and the extrovert – a working combination for this talented man

Mark Bin Bakar, perhaps better known to you and me as Mary G, is something of a multi-cultural identity in Broome.

The son of a Catholic Aboriginal mother and a Malay Muslim father from Singapore, the young Mark became a welder and boilermaker before turning his hand to music as a drummer for bands around Perth.

It was certainly an eclectic upbringing.

He has worked as a sound recordist, composer, television and film writer, director and producer, but Mark became known to a wider Australian audience taking on the persona of the outspoken Aboriginal grandmother figure, Mary G, for the SBS TV show that ran in 2000 and 2001.

He has contributed to dozens of Indigenous organisations and causes and in 2007 was Indigenous Person of the Year and in 2008 Western Australian of the Year.

Mark is also the founder and festival director of the Stompem Ground Festival to be held in Broome on September 17 with Aussie rockers Midnight Oil headlining.

Among the other bands performing on the day will be The Pigram Brothers who performed at the last Stompem Ground in 2000 and is now re-forming for the 30th anniversary of the Indigenous music festival which also coincides with the 21st anniversary of the Kimberley Stolen Generation Aboriginal Corporation.

The concert will mix Aboriginal performers, nationally acclaimed artists and traditional dancers bringing to life the vibration and energy created between the feet and the earth on the dance ground, to celebrate the spirit of Aboriginal people across the Kimberley.

Speaking from his home in Broome, Mark says he definitely grew up in a muddled-up household.

“My father came to Australia from Singapore for pearling – and he was illiterate – but he climbed the ladder of status in the town in terms of his relationship with the pearling masters, and became highly respected and called upon,” Mark says.

“Mum was taken away from Halls Creek as a two-and-a-half-year-old and never reconnected, so we grew up very isolated. Mum always feared strangers and was aware of people around her, but Dad was more out there and didn’t take s*** from nobody, he was like the security for all of us, he protected us and was a bit of a hero.”

Mark spent three years at St Patrick’s College in Geraldton before going to Perth and doing an apprenticeship as a boilermaker and welder before getting involved in the band scene in Perth playing drums in several bands.

Later on, Mark set up a music school in Perth Ab Music to provide a place for Aboriginal musicians to meet and rehearse.

The Mary G character evolved on Mark’s Broome radio show in 1993 tackling issues including domestic violence, sexual health and reconciliation.

“It’s been an interesting journey for me because Mark Bin Baker is an introvert and Mary G is an extrovert. So you can imagine the butterflies in my brain to go from one to the other, but the moment I put the costume on and the makeup on, and my hair’s done up, I become the character.”

Mark says when he took the character away from radio he shaved off his beard and put on the costume, but he had no idea where the character was going to take him.

Mary G is based around stolen Aboriginal women he grew up around.

“They’re feisty, they have promiscuous undertones, but the challenge for me in that era was the phobia of homosexuality and the perception that I was gay because I was playing a woman.”

While it’s more than 20 years since Mary G appeared on Australian television screens Mark says he would love to bring the character back to TV, but so far his proposals to the networks have fallen on deaf ears.

He says the character still resonates with audiences and connects with everybody from children to teenagers, parents and mature people.

“People love the subtle sexual innuendos, the sarcasm. She’s like your grandma.”

Stompem Ground, a one-day event on Saturday, September 17 at the Father McMahon Oval, in Broome, returns after a bit of a hiatus.

It will combine contemporary and traditional Aboriginal music, dance and culture as well as being headlined by Midnight

The bill also features The Pigram Brothers, Blekbala Mujik and many more Kimberley artists including Yatangal, Mark’s own band Footprince, King of Hearts and Seaside Drifters along with a cast of Indigenous

Previous Stompem Grounds in 1992, 1998 and 2000 featured artists like Warumpi Band, Midnight Oil, Yothu Yindi, Kev
, Coloured Stone, Mixed Relations, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, Nokturnland and local favourites, The
Pigram Brothers

The event is alcohol free.

Tickets are in high demand for this year’s event and Mark expects people from all over Australia to head to Broome for Stompem Ground.

“While there are events and concerts all over the place, there is something about Broome, it has a strong energy, strong positive spirit about celebration in Broome which I think is connected to the Yawuru people of Broome, the traditional owners.”

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