Old Noongar-language songs in the J.S. Battye Library archives will come alive again during a lecture by a young Noongar academic, historian and musician.
Assistant Professor Clint Bracknell - from The University of Western Australia's School of Indigenous Studies - is the library's current J.S. Battye Research Fellow and is undertaking a PhD with the aim of investigating, consolidating and repatriating Noongar songs.
"There are love songs, devil songs, going to the races songs, songs about being in a boat, songs about sheep," he said. "Although many of these old songs have been in the public archives for decades, in researching my PhD, I try to talk to the descendants of the singers too. When I find another song it's like finding treasure and I feel very lucky to be able to do this. I get a bit of a chill sometimes because in some cases it's been a long time since anyone heard certain songs, or understood particular lyrics.
"Some archived songs haven't been easily accessible in the past, so I am careful about sharing them in public. I want relevant Noongar people to be able to have first crack at them. Many of the songs record an era of extreme change in the southwest and some include English-language phrases and terms. For example, ‘Captain on a rough sea...Glat-al mara wara tjinanginy' which means ‘glass (or telescope) in hand, cannot see'."
While a student at North Albany Senior High School, Assistant Professor Bracknell said he did not have much exposure to Noongar language. As an adult, and having taught in Japan where he picked up some Japanese, he appreciates Noongar which he said is an intellectual, sophisticated and poetic language that was undervalued by colonists.
When he is not working on his PhD, Assistant Professor Bracknell is busy with teaching. Enrolments in his 2014 first semester Aboriginal Encounters unit are more than 240 and over 160 students across the University are enrolled in Aboriginal Education. He also teaches, coordinates and develops curricula at degree and post-graduate levels.
"My cultural Elders use the term Wirlomin to refer to their clan. Connections to people and Country have been integral to my development and to my growing research interests," he said.
"My involvement in the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project is particularly important in this regard. This community-based project is repatriating, enhancing and sharing the stories, songs and language of Wirlomin Noongar people that were previously collected, recorded and stored away from the community in research archives. It's a powerful project that's having a positive impact on the communities of the southwest. The three threads of my work - music, education and language - are diverse but increasingly interlinked."
People attending the lecture will also be able to find out about the State Library's Storylines project, which is working to connect historical photographs from the J.S. Battye Library collections with the Aboriginal community.
WHAT: Free public lecture, Koora koorliny, maya dalanginy (Journeying back, chasing sound) by Assistant Professor Clint Bracknell
WHERE: State Library of WA, 25 Francis Street, Perth
WHEN: 2pm - 4pm Tuesday 29 April.
FOR FREE TICKETS AND TO RSVP: call Damien Webb, State Library WA Community Liaison Officer (Indigenous Engagement) on 9427 3237.