Fitzroy Crossing Residency: Flowing sounds all the way to Mangkaja Arts Centre

This blog post is by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.

As part of the Flow theme, The Year 6 students and I created instrumental music where our creative goal was connect and flowed and moved with ease. We performed this for the river too. We used two sets of chime bars, a Tibetan singing bowl, and a rainstick, and performed it in a circle. We explored textural, melodic, and harmonic ideas, and combined them in a graphic score.

Following the performance at the Old Crossing of the Fitzroy River, we went to Mangkaja Arts Centre where the Pre-Primary students joined us, and we performed our song ‘Flow’ and our instrumental piece for the artists there, surrounded by the amazing art works on the walls (I gave a camera to the students for them to document the day, and it was moving to see how many photos they took of the artworks on the walls. After selfies and photos of each other pulling faces, the next most photographed subject was the artwork). We capped off the morning with a lovely morning tea of fresh fruit and juice, and then we all piled back into the bus and returned to school in time for lunch.

Year 6 Fitzroy Valley District High School students perform in a circle at Fitzroy River.

Fitzroy Valley District High School students performing at Mangkaja Arts Centre.


Fitzroy Crossing Residency: Singing for and to the Fitzroy River

This blog post is by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.

The theme for this residency is ‘flow’. This word came to the fore in last year’s project with Year 8 students, when they created a song about caring for country and keeping the river healthy and free from plastic and other rubbish and titled it “Don’t Stop the Flow”. The concept of ‘flow’ is multilayered in local Indigenous worldview, applied to aspects of health and wellbeing for people, the river, and their interdependence, and it seemed there was a lot more to explore creatively with that as a central theme or creative point of departure.

Working this time with Year 6 students, we brainstormed ideas about what flow means, and what they feel the Fitzroy River brings to their lives. The students’ responses were rich in their detail. Some of them drew pictures of their favourite river places, and described the environment and all the things they could do there in great detail. Two girls described the spring at Yirrmalai (a nearby location, a couple of hours drive away, they thought), sharing stories of its cold, clear water, the healing powers of the water, and of a rope swing over the main waterhole.

Another boy talked about how going to the river helped him relax and feel good. It calmed down his head, and he loved to go there for swim and fishing with his mum and other family members.

Then I visited the Pre-Primary students and asked them about their river experiences. They described long drives, catching fish – with a net you could catch ‘big mob – and looking out for crocodiles. As we talked, their teacher wrote down their answers and descriptions, taking care to use their exact words.

We organised all these different ideas into a song, with the Pre-Primary students’ words making up the first verse, and the Year 6 words making up the Chorus and the second and third verses.

We rehearsed the song over the next week, and then in the third week of the residency, the Year 6 students, their teachers and I went to sing it to the river. A few people came to hear us sing, but that wasn’t the main purpose – the main purpose was to sing it to the river, to offer it as a gift, to let the river know how important it is. The song became one of the ways for these children to enact their responsibilities of care for the river, embodying the Act – Belong – Commit message of Healthway, sponsors of the Fitzroy Crossing residency.

I’ve never heard them sing as proudly and beautifully as they did when they sang to the river. During the singing, a flock of cockatoos flew over and perched in the tree branches closest to where we were singing. They squawked and chattered throughout the song. This seemed like an endorsement – or at least an impact!

As we walked back to the bus, one of the students said that she thought the river would be proud of them for their song and their singing, and their commitment to country.

Year 6 Fitzroy Valley District High School students singing to the river.

Fitzroy Crossing Residency: Songwriting at Bayulu Remote Community School

This blog post is by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.

Last time I was up in the Fitzroy Valley I spent a morning out at Bayulu Remote Community School, a primary school that is situated on Gogo Station, just a short drive off the Great Northern Highway. I ran some introductory music workshops with each of the classes and met the teachers, planting seeds for a more extensive engagement on my next visit.

One of the first requests made during that reconnaissance visit was from the Indigenous Language Teachers. “We’d love to do some songwriting in language,” they told me. As a result, on this residency (my fourth with Tura in the ‘Music in Community’ twice-yearly, 3-year residency) I’ve been spending each Friday in Bayulu School, and songwriting with the Language Teachers has been a real highlight.

I’ve been working with Irene, the Walmajarri teacher. Irene is wonderful to collaborate with. She comes in with ideas, she suggests words and melodic shapes, and thinks in song shapes. Our track record is a song a week. The first song is very quiet and contemplative. It tells the story of the Ngurrara people (her people) coming out of the desert and going to work on the stations. It explains why the Walmajarri-speaking mob spread out so far from each other, and how their shared language kept them connected over the distance. So far we have two verses, in English with some key words in Walmajarri. Hopefully this week – our third – we will create a third verse that tells the story of the Ngurrara people returning to their homelands.

Ngurrara people coming out of the desert

Climbing over jilji, passing by jilas and jumus.

Travelling northway, onto the station

Working for kartiya but carrying the traditional ways.

            They never knew they’d be gone so long

            But they never forgot the way back home.

            They knew the track

            To take them back

            To their homeland Ngurrara country.

            To their homeland Ngurrara country.

Another song is in the Walmajarri language entirely. It is a song about hunting and fishing. I learned some of the words in the process of writing it (reinforced by participating in one of Irene’s language classes with Year 2 students, where we played ‘Bingo’ with pictures and matching words. I did not win).

We will record the songs together before this residency ends, and we hope that students in the school can also learn to sing them.

Gillian Howell and Irene at Bayulu Remote Community School


Fitzroy Crossing Residency #3 Week 3

This blog post of week 3 is written by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.

Week 3: Songwriting as voice

For this second 2018 residency in Fitzroy Crossing I’ve had an underpinning theme of ‘voice’. I wanted to explore the idea of voice both literally (developing students’ singing voices, encouraging them to explore, enjoy, and celebrate the sound of their voices) and metaphorically, where finding one’s voice, raising it, using it to claim rights, tell truths, or express something meaningful is a source of power. The theme was occasionally a prompt for discussions, but more often it was an underpinning principle.

Voice also supports the Act-Belong-Commit message embedded throughout this residency. Songwriting – whether undertaken individually, in small groups, or as a class – is a creative experience and journey. It embraces personal motivation and impetus (‘act’), focus for collaboration (‘belong’) and is a powerful vehicle for expressing your ideas or concerns and raising your voice about something that matters to you and therefore is meaningful (‘commit’).

Given this theme and associated messages, it was particularly satisfying to witness an increasing interest in songwriting among the students over the course of the residency. Pairs of students began to approach me, asking for my help with songs they had started to write. We would meet at recess or after school. I helped them organise their ideas into verse and chorus structures, to think about syllable counts in order to make their words and messages fit within the established phrase lengths, and to improvise melodic shapes. Some of the songwriters had very clear ideas, with lyrics mostly written and a strong sense of the musical phrasing and likely accompaniment. Others were still figuring some of this out but knew what they wanted their song to be about.

One Grade 3 girl wrote a song encouraging an unnamed other to acknowledge her/his strengths and ability to shine:

In the night you’re very bright

In the daylight you’re quite shy

I think you should face your fear

And we’ll give out a great big cheer.

You shine too, you shine too, you shine too.

Shine with me and I will shine with you.

Another Grade 3 girl came to me with a desire to write about clouds and their journeys and ‘graceful dancing in the sky’. She confided that when she is very stressed, she likes to lie on her back and watch the clouds. This song was more dreamy in feel, and switched between talking to the clouds and talking about clouds and her life.

Two Year 7 girls approached me with a song they had started to write as part of a ‘personal project’. (FVDHS is a Big Picture Learning school, and students spend time each day on nominated personal projects, which can be research- or creative-based, or both). The song was angry and direct, called “Stop That” and directed towards adults in their community that they were telling to stop drinking, smoking, and fighting. The first day we met, I gave them some ideas about how they could organise all their different ideas for lyrics into themes or topics, with each one becoming a possible verse.

The next day, they came to me with four printed copies of their lyrics (“one for each of us, one for you, and a spare” – they are very organised). We worked on developing some musical accompaniment for it and tightening some of the musical phrasing (reducing the syllable count in some lines, and finding more economic ways to give the same message). These students hadn’t yet heard of my ‘voice’ theme because I hadn’t been working directly with their classes, but nevertheless included lines like this:

You should hear my voice, I changed everything.

If you can hear my voice, you can make the right choice.

When combined with the songs that have been written in previous residencies, we are fast developing a ‘Fitzroy Valley Songbook’ as one of the outcomes of this three-year residency.

Week 3: Don’t stop the flow

During this second residency for 2018, I spent a lot of time with the Year 8 class. Initially, I thought we might create a song-and-soundscape project about the power of collective voices, using the 1946 Pilbara Walk-Off and Strike as a thematic starting point. However, conversations with the class shifted the focus to their concerns about the environment, and issues concerning plastic waste and rubbish disposal more specifically.

Don’t Stop the Flow brainstorm board

We brainstormed lyrics on the whiteboard, and individuals then used these ideas to write verses and a chorus. As the song emerged, it was clear that the verses were going to be a rap, but the chorus would be sung. One girl wrote a set of lines that were a perfect sung chorus:

Don’t stop the flow

Pick up your rubbish

Don’t stop the flow

Chuck it in the bin

Don’t stop the flow

It’s bad for the environment

Don’t stop the flow

Stop the rubbish.

According to researchers I met with from the Australian Rivers Institute, currently undertaking a cultural value study of the Fitzroy River, the concept of ‘flow’ is particularly salient. Flow can refer to the movement of water through the river system, where it is an indicator of the river’s health. But it is also a concept relating to human wellbeing and health. In the local languages, the word that translates into ‘flow’ with regard to the river is the same word that is used to describe particular states of wellbeing. Because of this, the researchers were excited that ‘flow’ had been such a central theme in our songwriting. It captured a concept of high local cultural value that communicates concern for more than the river itself.

I set up a backing track using GarageBand, and the students and I spent a couple of days recording all the vocals. The young songwriters selected which lines they wanted to sing/rap, sometimes changing the lyrics to words that suited them better, a sign of the collective ownership that they felt over the song.

Fitzroy Crossing Residency #3 Week 2

This blog post of week 2 is written by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.

Week 2: Songs that stick

Sometimes, a song is written in a residency and it is loved and enjoyed, but ephemeral, casting a bright light just within the project boundaries. Other times, the song lives on… and on. During my previous residency (May-June 2018) the two Year 4-5-6 classes and I composed a song about Jandamarra, a Bunuba hero-warrior who led a resistance against the white pastoralists and their appropriation of the country from the traditional owners. On this return visit it has been gratifying to see how strongly that song continues to resonate. The songwriters themselves are clearly very proud of it. They were excited to perform it with Tura’s Narli Ensemble at Mangkaja Art Gallery back in June.

Several of the songwriters joined me on the Music Mat at the FASD Awareness Community Day on 9 September, and were eager to sing it over and again, sharing their song with younger children and their carers. The Jandamarra song also attracted attention from community members who hadn’t yet interacted with my residency. They were intrigued to hear this new original song about one of the local heroes, and – I hope – to see these often very shy children singing it with such freedom and enjoyment and pride.

Celebrating FASD Day in Fitzroy Crossing

Posted by Marra Worra Worra on Monday, 17 September 2018


The Jandamarra song is clearly going to be a song that sticks, eclipsing the song I wrote with senior class students in my 2017 FX residency (‘My Mobile Heart’ – or, as some of the students call it, “that Telstra song”). My Mobile Heart is still popular, with students continuing to request it in song workshops, but I have a feeling our Jandamarra song is the one with real staying power.

Given this success with songs-that-stick, a next focus is to work with the culture and language teachers here and in some of the feeder primary schools in surrounding small communities, to co-create some songs and other musical material with local language embedded throughout. Increasing kids’ language knowledge and keeping culture alive through using local languages in daily learning is a priority.

On the Music Mat at the FASD Awareness Community Day on 9 September 2018

Fitzroy Crossing Residency #3 Week 1

This blog post of week 1 is written by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.

Week 1: On moustaches and magic

Magic Man Made a Moustache

With the Marulu class at Fitzroy Valley District School, where kids with particular learning and developmental needs work together, creativity is pretty unfettered. I only needed to suggest we might write a song together and the boys had begun to suggest lines (they are all boys in this class at the moment). ‘Magic Man made a moustache’ is the first one. It’s quite a catchy opener (not something you might immediately expect from the word ‘moustache’). In our first two sessions we had two songs written, in the third, we added a second verse to the first one, and set up some fine accompanying percussion grooves that the boys were performing very solidly.

In Week 3, we taught the song to the whole of the primary school. The boys were excited to share it – lots of cheeky, conspiratorial, and delighted grins between them. Their teacher later told me that they were a little critical of their peers’ efforts to sing their song in one short, five-minute session: “They didn’t sing all the words!”

Marulu class also wrote a second song in Week 1, about stars. They experimented with sounds on a range of metal instruments and with making bird calls with their voices, and then recorded a soundscape to go with their Stars song.

Stars Song

Week 1: Raising the voices of Fitzroy Valley kids

Throughout this second 2018 residency I’ve been exploring ideas around ‘voice’: raising voices, claiming space for new or quieter voices, helping individuals to find their voice, and developing individual voices’ creative expression.

One of the strategies has been to help encourage some whole-school singing to happen on a regular basis. The primary school children have a 20-minute morning routine each day from 8am that includes physical activity (usually a chasing game, lots of laughter and unpredictability) and a short sequence of breath-based activities designed to clear air passages and reduce incidence of ear infections that can arise from build-up of mucous in the passageways between the nose and the ears (known as Breathe-Blow-Cough, or BBC, and used in schools throughout the Kimberley). During my residency we’ve added a daily song to this routine. Each day I’ve taught a short song to the group, encouraging them to breathe deeply and exercise their voices, but also to have the experience of social connection, cooperation, and togetherness that singing together can bring.

Learning a new song each day is no small task. I included songs in a range of languages (from South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana, Israel as well as the USA, Torres Strait Islands, and Australia). One of the songs had been written by the Marulu group the previous week, and it was so catchy and appealing we knew we wanted to give every primary school child the chance to learn it. The singing took place in a large undercover area, and I encouraged the children to tilt their heads slightly towards the metal roof, in order to experience their voices within its amplifying effects.

The Wild Violins at Warmun’s Ngalangangpum School

Hollis Taylor with Jon Rose are Tura’s Musicians in Residence at Warmun, East Kimberley as part of Tura’s ongoing Regional and Remote residency Program. Hollis Taylor writes of their third week there.

Strange as this may sound, The Wild Violins of Warmun is actually a product of the rise of China. Jon has been to the factory on the outskirts of Beijing where these instruments are mass-produced. It used to be that cheap Chinese violins from the time of Mao were a bit of a joke, but these days they are quite playable. So, by way of total contradiction, this project is actually only possible now, because for $40 you can get a violin, a bow, a case, spare strings, rosin—including postage from China, when typically, you could not buy any one of those (except rosin) for $40 in the West. This has allowed Tura, through its funders and donors, to bring 22 violins to a remote Aboriginal town for an investment of less than $1,000.

Our focus in Week 3 was two performances we took part in. The first was an all-school event in the Music/Drama Room. The youngest in the audience sat on carpets in the front, while family and community members as well as older students were seated in the back. It was a full house. Eight students from years 1 – 6 joined five high school students to make a full resonant sound that demanded to be heard—and the audience agreed that these students had really made remarkable progress in such a short time.

Ngalangangpum class photo | Image by Mark Jones

The following day, Tura’s 2018 Narli Tour, performed in the outdoor amphitheatre. Guitarist, singer/songwriter, and didgeridoo legend Mark Atkins was joined by cellist Judith Hamann, percussionist Joe Talia, and flautist Tos Mahoney in a school concert. A number of students joined the percussion section of the band. The band’s musical celebration continued at the Warmun Arts Centre that night. It began indoors, featuring The Wild Violins of Warmun joined by Mark and Judith (as well as Jon Rose, Jean-Michel Maujean, and me on violins). We concluded by winding our way through the gallery in a long line. Students from the school who had only participated in the first two workshops joined us for this final number. It seems playing violin is contagious!

Tura’s 2018 Narli Tour | Image by Mark Jones

The celebration at Warmun Arts Centre was concluded with a Wanga by the Gija Dancers, an uplifting and fitting end to our Residency at Warmun.

The 2018 Regional Residency Program is supported by Healthway promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, The Ian Potter Foundation and the Rowley Foundation.

The Wild Violins at Warmun’s Ngalangangpum School

Hollis Taylor with Jon Rose are Tura’s Musicians in Residence at Warmun, East Kimberley as part of Tura’s ongoing Regional and Remote residency Program. Hollis Taylor writes of their second week there.

Jean-Michel Maujean, a PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University in Perth, joined us for our second week here. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and DJ who builds his own instruments, including 3D printed flutes, a 16-tone piano, and his self-titled Hydrowoofer. Never having played the violin is not holding him back—he’s racing along and a welcome addition to the team. He’s also arrived with projects of his own: a laser-cut book of local songbirds, 360° astrophotography, and video editing training.

This week with the violin students, I’ve continued to emphasise the rhythms, melodies, and timbres of Australian birds, insects, and frogs. The bow is the secret to much of what happens on the violin: the whisper of bird wings (lateral bowing), the trilling of frogs (a quick tremolo at the tip of the bow), col legno (stick rhythms on the string), bouncing bows, etc. Other violin colours they have learned include slap sounds and strumming pizzicato sounds. At all ages, the students are skilled at clapping and then playing a wide variety of rhythmic patterns. They are fast learners and particularly receptive to learning by doing, so I try to speak as little as possible.

Teaching in a group setting is particularly demanding for string players, but fortunately I have not just Jon Rose and Jean-Michel making the rounds—demonstrating, correcting, encouraging, and clowning as the moment requires. I also have a teacher or teacher’s assistant that accompanies each group, and they are learning with their students. One day this week, the principal, Deborah Finn, popped in and gave it a go.

The enthusiasm of the younger students for circling a small table near the end of each class whilst playing rolling chords on their instruments is, if anything, increasing—as is the speed with which they roll the chords and the pace at which they race around. They make a big sound.

Meanwhile, the high school students have mastered a number of complex hip-hop rhythms and have begun to share their own rhythmic ideas for us to learn.

On my “off” time, I’ve recorded some early-morning dawn choruses nearby, at both Turkey Creek and Mistake Creek. I also transcribed a recording of pied butcherbirds that Jon made here last year and performed it for the students with the recording: first the birds, then me imitating them. It made an impression, and they followed along with the music notation.

The 2018 Regional Residency Program is supported by Healthway promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, The Ian Potter Foundation and the Rowley Foundation.

A Note from Hollis in Warmun

Hollis Taylor with Jon Rose are Tura’s Musicians in Residence at Warmun, East Kimberley as part of Tura’s ongoing Regional and Remote residency Program. Hollis Taylor writes of their first week there.

Jon Rose and I are in residence at Ngalangangpum School in Warmun, halfway between Halls Creek and Kununurra. The local population is about 400+, with school enrolment at about 100. The school grounds are well set into the land—it’s one of the most enchanting schools I’ve visited.

Our residency began with an all-school outdoor concert with me on violin accompanied by Jon on his homemade ‘monochord.’ We started with bluegrass and Texas-style fiddle tunes. Then, Jon shifted to his tenor violin for a hip-hop jam session.

For the first two days, all students (from pre-primary through high school) were given a hands-on experience exploring the rainbow of sounds a violin can make. A key part of this residency is learning hip-hop licks and the sounds and rhythms of Australian birds, insects, and frogs.

The project benefits from 22 violins (full size, 3/4 size, and half size) that were recently donated to the school by Tura, and from the warmth and enthusiasm of the teachers, teaching assistants, and students. Many of the teachers/assistants tried their hand at the violin in the first week, and much like the Suzuki program of Japan, students really benefit when beginning adults give it a go.

At the end of each class, Jon and I looked out at a sea of violins, cases, and bows (we colour-coded each so that we could keep track of them). Then we would quickly make the rounds before the next class, tuning, rosining, re-attaching shoulder rests, loosening or tightening bows, and making quick repairs, as well as reuniting yellow violins with yellow bows and yellow cases.

The younger students are fond of posing for their photo at lesson’s end, even marching round a small table at the end of each class whilst playing rolling chords on their instruments.

Stay tuned for Week 2, when we have a plan for a rap in language (Gija). Jean-Michel Maujean arrives from Perth with some surprises as well.

Songs, whispers, and camping trips – Week 2 in Fitzroy Crossing

This article, blog post two, is written by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.

I had several creative projects running in tandem this week. Monday morning kicked off with the Senior class: one very skilled guitarist, a beginner guitarist and a beginner bassist (and me on clarinet). The previous week I’d shared Steve Reich’s ‘Electric Counterpoint’ with the main guitarist and on Monday we decided to create an original piece made up of layers of melodic fragments, following (roughly) the chord structure in Reich’s 3rd movement. It was an intensive 3 hours of careful listening, mimicking, and then evolving our own ideas and exploring ways of layering them.

Next I worked with the two Year 4-5-6 classes (about 23 students in all). We spent an hour and forty minutes composing a song about Jandamarra, leader of the Bunuba people’s resistance against the invading pastoralists in the late 1890s. I’d imagined we might only write 2 verses and a chorus (partly because the students are investigating the Jandamarra story across the whole of this term, and I thought the song we wrote together might accrue additional verses over the course of the term). However, we completed five verses and a chorus! The creative forces are strong in this group.

The Jandamarra project was my main focus this week. I worked with one class to develop an energetic and rhythmic drum piece to represent an ambush and shoot-out at Windjana Gorge, and with the second class to create a very atmospheric instrumental soundscape of Jandamarra’s retreat into a secret cave, where his ancestors “sang away his pain”, healed his wounds, and bestowed magical powers upon him, so that he could “appear and disappear like a ghost” and “fly like a bird”.

I also continued working with each of the classes in the primary school, working alongside the school’s Performing Arts teacher. On Tuesday I worked with the children in the Special Needs group, and we explored the different ways we could create melodies by dividing the chime bars and wah-wah tubes among everyone in the group.

Another concurrent project/relationship in development this residency was with the Baya Gawiy Early Learning Centre (part of Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre). I’d spent several mornings last week hanging out with the oldest group (known as Jambila, or baby barramundi group), observing their creative play and interactions with environment and with each other, and participating in music sessions led by a local musician and one of their teachers. Through these observations I developed an idea for what I call a ‘journey’ project, where the children go on a journey through the music, but also enact the journey with their bodies and through using different parts of the available space (e.g. indoors, outdoors, sand, trees, shade, etc).  On Wednesday morning I took the group on a ‘camping journey’. I’d composed some simple call-and-response songs for us to sing together—complete with actions—and a number of ‘events’ (such as creeping past a sleeping snake and jumping one by one over a sleeping crocodile) to help create the feeling of an exciting and adventurous journey. We also played instruments (frog guiros and wah-wah-tubes), ‘slept’ on a mat under the stars, and got chased by a crocodile as we walked back ‘home’.

Gillian Howell with the Jambila group

‘Sleeping under the stars’ – Gillian Howell with the Jambila group

I’m hoping that this journey workshop model might provide additional inspiration for the music activities already happening in the kindergarten with the local musician and teacher. Next time I’m back we can hopefully develop some more material together.

On Thursday morning I worked with the Senior students again. One of the group has been doing an internship at the Nindilingarri Studio; another has a part-time job at the local radio station. The latter asked if we could help create some ‘atmospheric’ music that could be used to enhance locally-produced radio programs and interviews, so the Senior students and I decided we could record some ideas in the studio and give their classmate (the one doing the internship at the studio) a chance to apply his emerging recording engineer skills to task of recording some more unconventional percussion sounds. It was a very creative morning, where we recreated some of the experimental and unorthodox sounds we’d put into our ‘Wet Season’ composition during my residency in 2017.

In the evenings this week I created an accompanying soundscape that could represent the cool, dark, echoing dampness of the cave in which Jandamarra hid, and where he heard the voices of his ancestors urging him on. To make this, I asked the children to thing about what the ancestors might have said to Jandamarra at that time. What might he have wanted them to say, after all his efforts, courage, and suffering? The children had many suggestions:

We’re gonna calm you down.

Mulla I can see your paining.

We will heal you. We gonna fix your shoulder.

Never give up.

And my favourites: We’re proud of you for having a go. (So stoic. So understated). And: You’re still alive! You’re still alive!

I recorded the children whispering these lines one by one, and also whispering Jandamarra’s name. We learned how to do a ‘stage whisper’ and experimented with different ways of saying the words – slowly and spookily, more urgently and dramatically, and so on.

The residency ended on Friday with a sharing and filming of the 4-5-6 students’ ‘Jandamarra’ project. This also contibruted to National Reconciliation Week and its theme for 2018, Don’t keep history a mystery.

We presented their music in the school’s performing arts studio, adding fresh coloured gels to the lighting rig, and transforming what had been a fairly unadorned ‘black box’ into a far more theatrical and atmospheric performance space. I was so proud of the students. We’d worked incredibly hard to bring three distinctive and highly original pieces of music into existence, in the space of just five days and four teaching occasions.

I was also delighted to hear the students sing the song they’d composed with so much energy. I sensed a strong sense of ownership of the song, pride in their words and melody, and pride in the story they were telling. Plus, it’s a catchy song, and fun to sing. Nothing more satisfying than hearing children sing a song they like in big, strong voices!

I’m en route back to Melbourne now, but already looking forward to my next residency in Fitzroy Crossing in just a couple of months time.

4 June 2018 | Gillian Howell – Fitzroy Crossing Artist in Residence


The story of Jandamarra, as composed by students in Years 4,5 and 6, Fitzroy Valley Distric High School

[Chorus] Jandamarra, Bunuba warrior

Hero of the Kimberley

He fought for the rights of the Bunaba people

Leading them to victory.

[Verse 1] He learned to shoot from a galloping horse

Boss Lukin called him Pigeon.

But the stations’s fences stopped his people hunting, fishing, living.


[Verse 2] He charmed police with his cheeky grin

And helped them catch his uncle.

But Ellemarra fixed his eye on him:

“Remember who you are.”


[Verse 3] Pigeon planned a mighty ambush

At Windjana Gorge

His flesh came off with a ricochet

And into the cave he crawled away…


[Verse 4] He came out of the cave with his bullet wounds healed

As a man of magic power.

He could fly through the air and disappear

Like a shadow or a ghost. And he had no fear.


[Verse 5] That mapurn* man from the Pilbara

Helped the police to catch him.

He was crying as he took aim.

Jandamarra died in his own creation place.


[Verse 6] Right throughout the warrior’s life

Women were always there.

Mother, sisters, daughters, wives,

Helping him fight so the country could be theirs… AGAIN.


*mapurn = magic man