The ABC Far North team visited Aurukun in June, an indigenous community just south of Weipa on western Cape York Peninsula. The town began life in 1904 as a church mission, and over the years it’s become home to about 1200 people from the five clans that have lived in the area for centuries – the Sara, Winchanam, Apalech, Putch and Wanam. Collectively, they’re known as the Wik and Kugu people.
Aurukun has the oldest established art centre on Cape York Peninsula. The Wik and Kugu Arts Centre has been giving artistic and commercial support to local artists for more than 50 years, and many of those artists have gained national, even international recognition. Artists work in many media – paintings and fibre art particularly, but Aurukun is best known for its sculptures. There’s a long history of works carved in soft timber for ceremonial use. When the ceremony was over, sculptures were discarded and left to break down in the bush. In the past decade, Aurukun artists have begun to seek a commercial market and Aurukun sculptures are highly sought after works of art. They often depict an artist’s plant or animal totem, and the most widely known are the much loved carvings of Aurukun camp dogs.
Dev Lengjel is the new manager of the Arts Centre. He says there’s no shortage of talented artists in Aurukun and on Cape York Peninsula — the challenge for him is to spread the word about the artists and their work.
LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear Dev show reporter Phil Staley through the Wik and Kugu Arts Centre at Aurukun
Today, a first listen to what I think will stand as one of the most memorable releases of 2013. Ngambala Wiji li-Wunungu [Together We Are Strong] is a magical mix of old and new Australian indigenous music by Shellie Morris and the Borroloola Songwomen.
This is the latest release from the Song Peoples Sessions project – a collaboration between traditional and contemporary Australian indigenous musicians that supports protection of cultural heritage and maintenance of indigenous languages & traditional song cycles. It’s looking to create new forms of musical cultural expression while maintaining ancient traditions.
Shellie Morris is best known for her work with Black Arm Band, but long before she sang rock and folk, Shellie sang opera. She’s a child of the stolen generations, raised by a white family in Sydney, where she learned opera singing. This new project sees her in the country of her grandmother, singing in Yanyuwa, the local language that now has only about ten speakers.
The result is a two-CD release of traditional songs and new compositions celebrating Yanyuwa stories, melodies and rhythms. It powerfully evokes the spirit and feel of its place, on the Northern Territory side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and you’ll hear the same sort of emotive power present in the work of the enigmatic NT singer Gurrumul.
LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear this week’s Tony Hillier’s World of Music
Jiwarrmanji – Shellie Morris & The Borroloola Songwomen
Rra-Wurlumandaya – The Borroloola Songwomen
Ngabujiyu Gurlia – Shellie Morris & The Borroloola Songwomen
all from the just released ABC/Universal album Ngambala Wui Li-Wunungu (Together We Are Strong)
A previous release in this project is Warren H Williams and the Warumungu Songmen: Winanjjara – Songman.
Tony Hillier is one of Australia’s leading music journalists and a musician of long standing here in far north Queensland. His informed and insightful coverage of music features in The Weekend Australian and Rhythms magazine http://rhythms.com.au/
Last Friday far north Queensland was under a solar eclipse for the second time in six months. This was an annular eclipse – where the moon moves directly in front of the sun, but doesn’t obscure it completely. What remains visible is a thin, fiery ring – the annulus. This eclipse was only visible inside an approximately 100 mile wide track from Western Australia, across the Northern Territory, the Gulf of Carpentaria, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands & Kiribati.
This eclipse didn’t attract the international attention the last one did – back in November 2012, when thousands of people came to FNQ to see the total eclipse. And not as many people were able to see this one due to some wet weather along the east coast. But viewing conditions were perfect on Sweers Island, in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria. Lyn and Tex Battle run a fishing resort on the island. Tex took the eclipse pictures you see here and Lyn was kind enough to interrupt a conversation with a friend in Alaska on ham radio to take our call and describe the eclipse. LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear Lyn describe last Friday’s solar eclipse.
FNQ bushfire – our fire season comes toward the end of the dry season
Our friends down south are often surprised to learn we have a bushfire season here in far north Queensland. It happens earlier than the southern Australian fire season, which is usually at the height of summer. That’s when our wet season is in full swing, so fire isn’t much of a problem then. But the wet helps a huge amount of vegetation to flourish, and when the wet ends, we get six months of mostly dry weather. By September or October, it’s tinder dry and is easily ignited – sometimes by lightning strike, or human activity. Major wild fires ensue – in more remote areas they can burn for weeks.
Burnt out country Etheridge Shire FNQ – fires late in 2012 caused major damage – pic by Charlie McKillop
The 2012 fire season was a shocker in the Gulf country, the area stretching inland from south-east and southern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria. About 20 pastoral stations and millions of hectares were burnt in out of control fires. Cattle properties lost stock and pasture, and regrowth without good rain will be less than required. This has re-ignited discussion about how we manage fire, reduce fire risk, and how & when we conduct hazard reduction burns.
Indigenous people in FNQ have long used fire as an environmental management tool, and there’s growing support for fire management strategies which draw on that traditional knowledge of country. A central part of that knowledge and practice is the ability to “read country” – to see the signs that indicate the right time to conduct hazard reduction burns. Cape York indigenous people generally advocate burning earlier, when the burn can be cooler – addressing the problem without causing undue damage.
A group of people from Cape York Peninsula is heading south tomorrow to share their knowledge with emergency responders and indigenous people in Victoria. This is part of a broader project to record and preserve indigenous knowledge that began in Cape York in 2004. It’s led to a national exchange of indigenous fire management knowledge – you can watch a video about the project here http://vimeo.com/60707802
LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear program manager Peta-Marie Standley & Joel Ngallametta, Sharon Ngallametta and Dawn Koondumbin talk about their trip to Victoria, and the importance of fire management as a land conservation and environmental protection measure. Joel begins by talking about how the country round Aurukun is now – at the end of the wet season
LEFT TO RIGHT DAWN, SHARON, PETA AND JOEL ON AIR AT ABC FAR NORTH
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AURUKUN MAYOR DEREK WALPO AND LINDA SIVYER WITH THE MEMORIAL PLAQUE
Anzac Day services and commemorations will be held across far north Queensland tomorrow. Regular Anzac services have been held at Aurukun, on western Cape York Peninsula, for some time now – but this year they’re unveiling a memorial to indigenous men from the community who served in Australia’s defence during World War Two.
On September 13 1943, eleven men from the remote inidgenous community enlisted and joined the Torres Strait Light Infantry. An Australian Water Transport Group vessel had visited Aurukun, Weipa and Mapoon, specifically to recruit Aboriginal men. Many of those men had worked in the pearling lugger fleets that plied Torres Strait in those days. The military placed a high value on their knowledge of the remote Cape country & the challenging seas around Cape York.
Exact details of their military service are not known, but the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion played a vital role in protecting the maritime borders of far north Queensland and supporting the effort against Japanese forces in Papua New Guinea. It’s not well known that after Darwin, Horn Island, in the Torres Strait, was the second most attacked piece of Australian territory during WW2. In all, 870 men from Cape York & Torres Strait served with the Light Infantry.
The plaque lists the 11 men from Aurukun who joined up. They were:
Charlie Bob Ngakyunkwokka
Billy Buttons Woolla
Johnnie Lac Lac Ampeybegan
Billy Panjee Peinkyekka
The threat posed by Japanese forces to northern Australia back then was very real. The Royal Australian Air Force established a radar station at Wutan, at the Archer River mouth, in 1943. There were many stories told about a Japanese submarine attempting to get into the Archer River from the Gulf of Carpentaria. The western Cape then, as now, is sparsely populated, and military historians say Japan had considered the area as a place to get into Australia.
LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear Linda Sivyer talk about the military service of the Aurukun men during World War 2.
Linda Sivyer works at Aurukun Shire Council and co-ordinates the Anzac Day ceremony at Aurukun. She’s lived there for 20 years and has extensively researched the history of the region.
Anzac Day 2013 at Aurukun – photos by Melanie Shaddock – teacher at Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy – Aurukun Campus
Just after four o’clock this afternoon, the students of Croydon State School heard their song on the radio for the first time. Croydon is in the Gulf Country, one of the last stops on the long road trip from Cairns to Karumba, on the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Students at the school have been working with the Muso Magic program this week to create and record a song that says something about their lives in one of Australia’s more remote communities. Muso Magic has made regular visits to far north Queensland in recent years, running workshops and music-making projects at local schools. They run programs for all ages, using the exercise of making a song to crate team spirit, and give people a chance to learn about themselves, about each other and how working together can be both challenging and immensely rewarding. Read more at http://www.musomagic.com/
Adam Thompson led the program at Croydon School this week. Adam is the lead singer of the Aussie Band Chocolate Starfish. The invitation to Croydon came from a chance meeting with the school principal a few months back. Adam says he’s enjoyed his week with the Croydon kids – who called their band The Chocolate Mob, a salute to Adam’s former band. He says they’ve done a great job on their song The Best Is Back. LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear Adam Thompson talk about Muso Magic and the project at Croydon State School.
The music industry is full of great stories about the first time a band hears its first song on the radio. I hope the kids at Croydon State School got an enormous kick out of hearing it on ABC Far North today. Hear it is – The Best Is Back. LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear the song.
I’m writing this on a wet and very windy Cairns evening. We’ve had 40 knot winds along our coast today, with a gale warning issued by the Bureau of Meteorology. It’s being driven by an unusual combination of weather – a wet north-westerly air flow higher up in the atmosphere. and a wet south-easterly at lower altitudes. And it’s very rare to have gale force winds in far north Queensland when there’s no cyclone in the neighbourhood.
Ooops. Sorry for using the “C” word! We’ve only had to use it once this wet season – when cyclone Oswald came out of the Gulf of Carpentaria in January and hit western Cape York Peninsula. Oswald was a “little fella” – a category one that did some damage around FNQ, but did its worst much further south as a rain depression. And Oswald was a traveller. He made it all the way to Sydney.
It’s been a below average wet season in FNQ, and the forecasters reckon we may have seen the last of the monsoon. It seems we’ve made it through the wet season without a major cyclone. If you’ve never been through one, count yourself lucky. Cyclones are about the worst thing nature can throw at you. We usually know they’re coming several days ahead, so there’s a long time in which to prepare and worry. The event itself is terrifying, with real risk to life and property lasting for hours. It’s the worst form of sensory overload, and when it’s over, the ordeal is really just beginning. It’s time to clean up, repair and rebuild, start again. That can take weeks, months, years, and in the early stages, you’ll be without so many of the things we take for granted – power, phone, ATMs, the Internet, shops, water, roads. It’s a challenging time, and poses real risk to your emotional well-being.
Thankfully, these days, there are people and agencies expert in helping us recover from natural disasters. And they tell us one of the best things you can do is to talk to each other – tell those cyclone stories. It might not be easy at first, but it gets easier and it does help make sense of the disaster you’ve just been through. And it helps others who’ve been there too, and can help people prepare for next time, especially people who have yet to experience a cyclone.
And let’s face it – cyclone stories can be amazing tales of the power of nature, of courage and the resilience of the human spirit. The Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville is about to put on an exhibition about cyclones in our part of the world – and they’d like your help.
If you’ve had first-hand experience with cyclones, tornados and other “big blows”, they’d like to hear from you. The exhibition will tell the story of how these fierce weather events have shaped the lives of North Queenslanders. The exhibition will look at cyclones that have affecyed North Queensland over the past 100 years with a focus on how the community has prepared for, lived through, cleaned up and counted the cost after each disaster. The Museum is keen to gather stories, photos and memorabilia about north Queensland cyclones since the early 1900s.
LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear exhibition curator Robert de Jong talk about the exhibition and how you can help make it an authentic telling of an important north Queensland story.
Can you help? If you’d like to contribute to the tropical cyclones exhibition contact Robert de Jong on (61 7) 4726 0652 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are some amazing cyclone stories in our radio documentary series Remembering Larry. Cyclone Larry hit FNQ in March 2006 – one year later, people took time to reflect on the region’s first severe cyclone in 20 years, and the lessons we learned.
You can listen to the series by clicking on the red arrow for each episode.
REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 1: TROUBLE BREWING OUT IN THE CORAL SEA
REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 2: WE’VE HAD A BIT OF A BLOW
REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 3: WHERE THE HELL DO YOU START
REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 4: AND IT WON’T BE LIKE THIS TOMORROW
REMBERING LARRY EPISODE 5: “REMEMBERING LARRY”
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