Within The Stories We Grow

Three Indigenous stories are the touchstone for the creative energy of this year’s Moorambilla, which all come together under the theme Wii Gali – Fire and Water.

At the Moorambilla Voices camps and workshops, the stories interweave and underpin the artistic mediums that the children are working with – visual arts, dance, textile arts and music. “I loved these stories and the lessons they give to all children,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard. “I also wanted to allow the children the space to determine and drive the shape of the creative performance itself.”


Ghenoa Gela works with Moorambilla Voices girls on some Pelican moves

Ghenoa Gela works with Moorambilla Voices girls on some Pelican moves


Frank Wright paints Biggi Billa the Echnidna

Frank Wright paints Biggi Billa the Echidna

Frank Wright shows Moorambilla Voices boys some traditional dance moves for fishing stories

Frank Wright shows Moorambilla Voices boys some traditional dance moves for fishing stories

The children are being taught and mentored by several outstanding artists, who assist them to bring the stories to life. Walgett artist Frank Wright is painting a massive canvas backdrop. Textile artist and author Fiona Fagan is working alongside him, with Mary Kennedy and Barbara Stanley from Ngemba Wailwan artists, to create three dimensional woven nets and fish. Independent dance artist Ghenoa Gela creates movements that reflect the stories and composer Alice Chance helps the children write music to tell the stories.

Frank paints using traditional Indigenous techniques that expose the internal parts of an animal, also called X-ray style.  “I want to keep the traditional culture going, ” he says.

After one week, the painting is taking shape as extra panels are added. It needs to fill a massive space at the Coonamble Pavillion, where it will be hung as a powerful backdrop to the Moorambilla Festival Gala Concert on Saturday 21 September.

“I love that these stories have been handed down and told to children for many years,” says Fiona Fagan.  “They are told slightly differently from region to region but the moral or lesson learned is consistent throughout. The stories conjure a myriad of images, lending themselves very well to creating projects for the children to be involved in. They are a rich source of inspiration to create amazing artworks, sculptures and textiles, which will have a powerful visual impact to complement the innovative Australian music and movement performed at the Gala Concert.”


Barbara Stanley creates three-dimensional pieces, which the children also draw in crayon

Barbara Stanley and Mary Kennedy work on the three-dimensional pieces, which the children also draw in crayon

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Frank is keen to pass on the knowledge of his culture and the lessons of these stories. “I think the most important word you could ever teach a child is respect.

Respect everyone no matter what colour or race they are. Whether they are woman or man. If you want the respect you give it. That’s how I see it. That’s what I am trying to teach everyday.”

“Working with an artist of such a calibre as Frank Wright has been a wonderful experience for me,” says Fiona. “He has such an abundant and passionate knowledge of our native animals, stories and painting techniques.”

Fire: Biggi Billa the Echidna

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Biggi Billa the Echidna is one of the main characters in this year’s Moorambilla, and is the largest image on Frank Wright’s backdrop canvas. The story of how Biggi Billa became an Echidna – after stealing food and disobeying the elders – is about the importance sharing chores in a camp, and helping each other. Frank says it is important to tell this story to kids and show them the wrong and right way of sharing. “I was told these stories when I was growing up while I used to chop wood and make the fire for my great grandmother. All these stories are about how to become a good person. Don’t be greedy with things like food and water. Eat and drink only what you need.

“In my culture, all the animals were hunted at a certain time and we killed just enough to feed the tribe. You were aware of the breeding season when you wouldn’t kill the females. In the case of birds, you knew breeding season was a good time to collect eggs, but don’t take too many eggs – leave some behind in the nest.”

“In the backdrop painting, I’ve included the symbols of hunters surrounding Biggi Billa to stop him from running off – he’s not going to get away! Back in the days if you stole something you got speared, so that’s what happens to him. And because he wouldn’t help around feed time, now he has to eat well over 100 ants a day. That’s why I painted in the ants in the stomach.”

Eric Avery, Kubi Murrawuy, is the choreographer and dance facilitator with MAXed Out this year. Incredibly as a coincidence, for two years he has been learning songs and dancing associated with the same Echnida story from the Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan people – the Cobar and Ivanhoe area  – where Biggi Billa is called Thikarrpilla. “I didn’t know that Frank Wright was focusing on this story,” says Eric.  “My father teaches Ngiyampaa stories from my tribe so I have been learning this story from my father.”

“I like that this story sets up a relationship between different tribes as they all have different variations on how the Echidna came about. However, here I am working with the Gamilaroi story and I respect that.”

Water: Tiddalik the Frog

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Tiddalik is the story of a giant frog who drank up all the water and left none left for anyone else. He is only persuaded to release all the water by the antics of an eel. Benjamin Burton created a piece of music based on the Tiddalik story for Moorambilla Voices boys, with some of the text:

“Please don’t drink all our water,

go slow or a drought will come

but he drank and drank and drank and drank”.

Ghenoa Gela taught the boys frog movements. “I made a circle and asked the boys if someone could show me a move that a frog could do. One little fella made a deadly move dropping down to the ground with his hands splayed out. We used this for the boys in the front line of the choir. The boys at the back line were clapping the beat and slapping their legs and showing their hands spread out wide. In the middle line we had boys doing a turn movement which they got really excited about!”

Water: Gulayaali the Pelican

Gulayaali the Pelican is the story of the bird who shows the tribe how to make and fish with a net. Gulayaali means ‘one having a net’.

In the weaving workshops, the children make the giant nets that Gulayaali can use to catch fish, and Fiona Fagan and the Ngemba Wailwan Artists weave three-dimensional fish from wire and woven textile.

Working with Michelle Leonard and Alice Chance, the children create rhythmic poems that form the basis of percussion and music pieces. They also work with Ghenoa Gela to create movements that reflect the story – scooping down to the river with their bodies to go fishing, or using their hands outstretched to illustrate the movement of fish swimming in the river.


“The pelican’s beak can hold more than its belly can

That was after Gulayaali the Pelican

fishing with nets was his fame

Gulayaali was the wirinun’s name.”


“If you want fish,

If you want fish ask.”


“Yellow belly catfish, Gay Gay Murray Cod, Silver Bream.”


“He went down to the river

so he could eat his dinner.”


“There once was a Pelly who regurgitated nets

made from twigs and grasses that were wet

He had a big bill and his net was long

And that is the end of our Pelican’s song.”

Alice Chance and Michelle Leonard create the Pelican percussion piece for Moorambilla girls

Alice Chance and Michelle Leonard create the Pelican piece with Moorambilla girls

“All of this year’s artists have a very important role to play in the development of the festival theme Fire Water – Wii Gali,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard. “The mutual respect that all the art forms show to each other – and the incredible final results – are a true testament to the spirit of Moorambilla.”


Text and photography: Lliane Clarke








2 thoughts on “Within The Stories We Grow

  1. Thank you so much for this comprehensive overview of the fantastic Moorambilla Voices experiences. I’ve sent this link all around the world.

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