Singing the land in

Mt Grenfell-01024 April 22, 2016_Yamakarra! (hello and welcome!) Ngiyampaa Traditional Owners and Elders Elaine Ohlsen and Phillip Sullivan have come to Baradine to hear MAXed OUT Company rehearse Andrew Howes’ Mount Grenfell Suite.

“Moorambilla highlights our culture and it’s an honour to those present and also past that they are doing that,” says Elaine. “Many people are still learning about Mount Grenfell. The more you talk about it, the more people realise it’s a special place and that’s our job as custodians and protectors of the site.”

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“Mount Grenfell is a powerful place, with ancient rock hieroglyphics, paintings and hand stencils in the overhanging shelters. When I go there I can almost hear the voices of our ancestors talking with one another and laughing around the fire.”

“We don’t know the traditional name of the site. But when we were first handed the joint management of Mount Grenfell from the government in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife, we were thinking of calling it Yapapunakirri – which means ‘let’s track back.’

Yapa means ‘track’, Puna is added to mean ‘back’, Kirri goes on the end to make the whole phrase ‘let’s track back’, or ‘gotta track back’, or ‘to track back’.

Clive Birch worked with Phillip and Elaine to write a spoken performance piece ‘Notes from the Landscape’ for the Moorambilla Gala Concert. “The cultural immersion at Mount Grenfell was made so much more profound by the guidance of Philip and Elaine,” says Clive. “Their experience and direct connection with the area gave me a very personal view.”

“Phil’s deep spirituality and knowledge coloured everything that I experienced and Elaine’s knowledge of the history of her family was essential in understanding the culture of the place.”

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Phil’s father was a Ngiyampaa man from the country around Mount Grenfell. “My identity is where I grew up in Brewarrina and Bourke but my belonging is from that area,” explains Phil. “There’s a bigger family here,”

An Indigenous Heritage Officer with the NSW Government, Phil shared his knowledge of the country and deepened the artists’ understanding of the sophisticated culture that had existed there for 40,000 years or more.

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Phil loves the power of music and celebration of song that is Moorambilla Voices. “Every person on the planet has the gift of singing,” he says. “Everyone has been given that. And most of us don’t use it enough. Just listen to the kookaburra – they don’t hold back!”

“When you sing you do yourself proud – no matter what skin you are zipped up in, we are all the same. We are one together. When we sing together we build power and strength. We are singing the land in with our own songlines.”

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Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.

See Yapapunakirri: Let’s track back, the Aboriginal World around Mount Grenfell, Office of the Registrar, NSW by Jeremy Beckett and Tamsin Donaldson with Bradley Steadman and Steve Meredith. Translations above as per Tamsin Donaldson’s translation of the Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan words.

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