Yesterday Fremantle lost a State Living Treasure. For more than thirty five years, Noriko lived, worked and breathed Fremantle. She was a quiet achiever that left a great legacy.
Noriko first came to work in Fremantle in 1981 for Spare Part Puppet Theatre’s first production for the Festival of Perth (Faust). She stayed. Just like every other business, the fortunes of not-for-profit organisations cycle up and down. When Noriko took over as Artistic Director 16 years later, up was the only way to go and she made it happen.
She refocused back to the family market, prioritised the development of West Australian artists to build a repertoire of productions some of which are still today providing a return on investment. Drawing on traditional practice, Noriko was a collaborator that gave Australian stories life and young artists opportunity and a voice. Signature works included Tim Winton’s The Bugalugs Bum Thief and The Deep, to Paul Morgan’s Cat Balloon, to Jenny Wagner’s The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek. I am going out on a limb here and making the call that the production of The Bugalugs Bum Thief was the most successful theatre production to be created in Fremantle.
These titles may sound slight silly to serious adults but through them Noriko made an unwitting but significant contribution to the Fremantle economy. Each year, many tens of thousands from all over the metropolitan area come to Fremantle to experience the wonder in that strange building in the middle of Pioneer Park. They come to Spare Parts and stayed in Fremantle for the day. They still spend money here. Beyond the Fremantle seasons, national and international touring greatly increased work for artists and the profile of Fremantle. After four years at the helm, Noriko passed the baton to Philip Mitchell.
Last year Spare Parts Puppet Theatre won the Business of the Year and the Cultural Enterprise of the Year Awards at the 2015 Fremantle Business Awards. It had been 15 years since her retirement but Noriko was still very much part of the fabric that made those achievements possible.
Noriko was a great Fremantle person and I was lucky to have worked and conspired with her. The night lights around Pioneer Park have never really been than bright but they are certainly a whole lot dimmer now.