On Saturday 23rd November 2013, at the Woolamai Surf Life Saving Club, the second Shearwater Festival was held, bringing the community together to celebrate the return of the shearwater birds. The gathering included musicians, school children, sound artists, acoustic ecologists and members of the Aboriginal community, including linguists, Elders and Traditional Owners. The Shearwater Soundfest was auspiced by the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation of Languages and sponsored by the Bass Coast Shire in partnership with Phillip Island Nature Park.
The focus of this year’s Festival was ‘Sound’. It was underpinned by the concept of Deep Listening – a way of listening respectfully which builds community, deepens awareness and celebrates interconnectedness. The shearwater bird was celebrated as a symbol of global interconnection and the cycle of life.
Participants in the Shearwater Soundfest experienced a two-part concert which featured songs, soundscapes and stories as well as a participatory percussion ensemble, the Bass Coast Boogie Band. Local school children played an important role in the Boogie Band, leading the audience in chants translated into local Boon Wurrung language. The children also presented a collaborative sound sculpture of a shearwater rookery. Anne Davie, of Phillip Island, coordinated a capable and committed team of volunteers, many of whom came from local environmental groups in the community.
In the weeks leading up to the Shearwater Festival, a program of school visits took place in which children participated in creative, cultural and environmental activities, focussing on the shearwaters, Indigenous culture and the local environment. This year, Cowes Primary School and Newhaven College were involved in the School Visit Program. Planning is now underway to continue the Program into the future with an expanded number of schools in the Bass Coast region.
The Shearwater Soundfest opened with a traditional smoking ceremony conducted by Aunty Carolyn Briggs, a Traditional Boon Wurrung Elder. Aunty Carolyn welcomed everyone in Boon Wurrung language and spoke about the importance of children hearing and speaking traditional language. The Shearwater Soundfest included performances from members of the Deep Listening Band, a group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal musicians, artists and researchers who have been working and playing together for 10 years. The Deep Listening Band has expandable edges and welcomes in new musicians, artists and researchers interested in collaborating creatively.
At the Shearwater Soundfest, sound artists collaborated with Aboriginal musicians and story-tellers in commissioned pieces that were underpinned by the sounds of the shearwaters. Steve Sedergreen, a keyboard player from the Deep Listening Band performed movements from his Shearwater Suite. Mike Jordan, spoke about the importance of Deep Listening in improvisation, performed a tribute to the shearwaters with his piece, Cycle of Life.
Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, a Boon Wurrung Elder and linguist described what Deep Listening meant in the Aboriginal tradition, linking it to the heartbeat of the Earth. Susan Frykberg, presented what Deep Listening meant to acoustic ecologists, inviting the audience into a first-hand experience of listening deeply to the environment.
The Shearwater Soundfest has been filmed and recorded and a short film and a series of sound recordings will be uploaded onto the internet to enable global access to the event. The documentation and dissemination component of the Shearwater Project is designed to raise awareness about the birds as indicators of the health of the oceans and to facilitate community awareness about inter-related cultural and environmental issues along the shearwater flight path.
The Shearwater Soundfest included dusk and dawn walks to the shearwater rookeries at Cape Woolamai, led by Education Ranger Graeme Burgan from Phillip Island Nature Park. Even though the shearwaters have sustained heavy losses this year, it was encouraging to see during the walks that the number of birds in the rookeries was high. The eggs for the next cycle of life for the shearwaters are being laid this week.