Stirling Ranges dreamtime song is art from the heart

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Sheyan Walker leading a rendition of Kaawar during rehearsals ahead of the Joondalup Festival.
Camera IconSheyan Walker leading a rendition of Kaawar during rehearsals ahead of the Joondalup Festival. Credit: The West Australian, Tom Zaunmayr.

A Great Southern dreamtime story-turned choral performance received a warm welcome in front of thousands of people at a Perth festival last weekend.

The song is about the kaawar’s (red-capped parrot) attempt to escape a waalitj (eagle), during which it scraped it’s legs on one of the hills of the Stirling Ranges, leaving markings which can still be seen today.

A community choir rendition was born from Noongar elder Averil Dean’s retelling of the story and, led by two young Albany-based singers, was showcased at the Vancouver Arts Festival in 2018.

Last weekend it was played as part of an eight song set on stage at the Joondalup Festival.

Ms Dean said to be able to share the history of her people with audiences around WA was a great experience.

“It really warms my heart,” she said.

“I think our cultural history is so rich, and for people to want to share it with us is just beautiful.”

Mrs Dean said the song was a tribute to her brother Jack, who she described has a historian of Noongar culture.

Sheyan Walker and auntie Averil Dean having been sharing the story of Kaawar through song.
Camera IconSheyan Walker and auntie Averil Dean having been sharing the story of Kaawar through song. Credit: The West Australian, Tom Zaunmayr.

Albany’s Sheyan Walker was tasked with leading the performance at Joondalup Festival last weekend.

She said song was a powerful way for Aboriginal youth to express their feelings.

“I would really love to see more young people express themselves through music, especially Aboriginal children because we do suffer with sharing our feelings and emotions,” she said.

“I was talking with aunty Averil about getting younger girls to come out and sing with me or just teach them how to be confident enough.”

Vocal Performances Initiative creative director Matt Ward said bringing regional art to the city strengthened WA’s cultural scene.

The choir rehearsing Kaawar ahead of Joondalup Festival.
Camera IconThe choir rehearsing Kaawar ahead of Joondalup Festival. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr.

“I think there can generally be this idea of what happens in country and country arts, that the quality is not there,” he said,

“In my experience there are so many incredibly talented people who make a choice to live in country or it is where they are brought up.

“Art is something everyone knows how to access even if they don’t identify as an arty type of person.”

Mr Ward said he would love for the song to tour again, so long as it wasn’t at the expense of stories from other local Aboriginal groups.

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