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Multiculturalism shines at Helpmann awards

By AAP Newswire

The tale of Sri Lankan-Australian family has taken centre stage at the 19th annual Helpmann Awards, alongside the works of an Indigenous singer-songwriter.

The event celebrates Australia's live entertainment and performing arts industry with the awards presented at Melbourne's Art Centre on Monday.

Belvoir and Co-Curious' Counting and Cracking won seven gongs at the awards including best production of a play, best new Australia work and best direction of a play.

The multilingual play follows a family from Colombo in the 1950s, through the Sri Lankan civil war, until they arrive in western Sydney in the 21st century.

Play writer Shakthi Shakthidharan said the industry wasn't set-up for shows like his.

"This industry is not set-up to make these kinds of shows happen. If we want to be an Australia that asks people to limit themselves to fit in then we diminish our collective imagination," he said, accepting a gong.

"If we want to be an Australia that asks us to expand and present our full selves and we can help fulfil the potential this country can be, and I hope Counting and Cracking is beginning with that."

Indigenous singer-songwriter Kev Carmody, whose works are ingrained in Australian culture, won the JC Williamson Award for his outstanding contribution to the live performance industry.

"Thank you to the Helpmann organisation for the recognition of our ancient oral tradition. I accept this award on behalf of that recognition as well as all Indigenous people," Carmody said.

Australian music legend Paul Kelly presented his "old friend" the gong.

"I believe his body of work to be one of Australia's enduring cultural treasures, combining oral history, politics, poetry and prayer," Kelly said.

The pair co-wrote the famous 1992 hit, From Little Things Big Things Grow.

Awards were handed out in the categories of comedy, cabaret, contemporary music, musicals, opera, classical music, theatre and ballet, dance and physical theatre.

The play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child's Neil Austin won best lighting design.

Ali McGregor won her first best cabaret performer gong while Tara Jade Samaya won the title of best female dancer on the night among the accolades.

Comedian Susie Youssef and SA State Theatre's Mitchell Butel hosted the awards with performances from the cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the Victorian Opera, the Australian Ballet and the Bangarra dance group.

It follows a separate industry-only ceremony on Sunday which recognised the work of those behind the scenes, including creatives, designers and technicians.