Sam COOKs KISSmyBLAKartsCOLUMN – February 2006
IT’S ALL HAPPENING IN THE WEST.
Using our isolation as an advantage to define our identity on OUR terms and as the impetus to effect social change, the Indigenous communities of Western Australia are taking a proactive stand toward redefining our process as a hand up approach, not a hand out. And it should come as no surprise that the arts are front and centre.
The Indigenous viewpoint on the arts is a holistic one. Family, community, living cultures, tradition, arts and identity are all meshed up and entwined on so many levels that it makes the Rubik’s cube look like a toy from a McDonalds happy meal. So when we found an excuse to tackle the notion of community unification through the arts by way of a Cultural Partnership with our local international Arts festival, we took a brave step forward, a challenging step forward, a leap of faith and a crash course in peacekeeping. OH and art was in there somewhere!
The culmination of this was the historic 2006 WELCOME TO COUNTRY and presentation of the NGALLAK KOORT BOODJA [our heart land] artwork, a massive 10x8metre canvas and permanent statement of Noongar unity. This artwork also forever connects the North and South of Western Australia with the Kimberley communities having a critical role in this project development when they danced alongside the Noongar nation on their painting country – NGURARRA CANVAS.
The NGALLAK KOORT BOODJA canvas was the result of three years of community work led by Noongar Elders. Painted by acclaimed Noongar artists, it represents the six Aboriginal seasons and the 14 Aboriginal Nations of the South-West of Western Australia. It’s unveiling mid way through a night of cultural performance brought tears to many in the audience who were in awe of its magnitude and magnificence.
The WELCOME TO COUNTRY was led by Noongar Elders standing alongside one another with strong cultural pride. Many Elders said they would never have thought they could see such empowerment, recognition and respect in their lifetime and the resurrection of strong generational sharing and learning drove home the value of our National treasures. This significant ceremony laid a foundation for the safe passage for the whole community and visiting artists participating in the UWA Perth International Arts Festival.
All in attendance were also treated to a Noongar language lesson, which had our head of State, His Excellency, the Governor Dr Ken Michael speaking Noongar in his response to the Noongar Nations. This was a direct approach to infiltrate the English language with a new set of Aboriginal words so that surely but slowly we will evolve our own Australian lingo that doesn’t have to be reliant on AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE Oi Oi Oi.
But this was no overnight success, YIRRA YAAKIN and the Aboriginal Community alongside the festival have poured five years into fostering, nurturing, empowering and eventually making a Community cultural statement unparalleled in the history of Australia.
And we made history. For the first time since white settlement 14 clans of the Noongar Nation stood as one. With over five thousand people attending, emotions during the evening for both Noongars and the wider community were overwhelming.
Affirmations have continued to flow from all who attended and the anecdotal stories are the ones that lift our spirit and let us know that we shook the ground and dove forward in a phenomenal reclamation of Cultural identity and pride.
“I looked out on that sea of Noongar faces and realised I had never seen that many Noongars and Wadjellas together in one place…we must ensure this event happens again for future generations.”
“It was one of the most awesome and inspiring experiences I have had for a long time. I felt very proud to be a Nyoongah on that night. I was engaged from start to finish and it took several days for the tingle to leave the back of my neck. It was powerful and strong.”
“My granddaughter was one of the smallest dancers and she love it very much she's only 4 years old. She didn't won't to leave that night and that's when everything was well and truly over… She talked about it all night and the next day. I had my mother, sister, cousin and granddaughter dancing so it was very special to me watching them perform was just magic. If anything it was a healing process for all of us and to witness it and be part of it was just something else I can't explain.”
“You united everyone not only black people but white people too so many people talked about the show and how fantastic it was. I over heard the kids talking and telling each other how boss it was and the look on their faces was unreal they all stood proud. How can I forget the Elders too they shined like the brightest star with pride on their faces.”
“A truly sensational event that will resonate for a long time. Massive effort and jaw-dropping result.”
“extraordinary, it filled up the spiritual vacuum that’s been missing; the language and dances resonated in our souls and we were able to share this with the wider community.”
Most importantly, this event is viewed as a starting point for bigger outcomes for the community. So expect a stronger affirmation coming from the Indigenous inhabitants of the most isolated city in the world and the biggest State in the Southern Hemisphere - cause we’re weighing in.
It’s all happening in the WEST.