The Shearwaters are celebrated as symbols of local and global interconnectedness. This year, the Shearwater Festival focussed on ‘Connecting to Country’ providing opportunities to learn about Aboriginal culture and the environment and to develop a deeper understanding of place. The festival took place on 25, 26 and 27 of November in various locations across Phillip Island.
There was motion on the ocean Friday night but for those who braved the cold wind and swell it was an inspiring excursion as the festival began with a boat trip around Cape Woolamai to see thousands of Shearwaters at sunset getting ready to fly back to their rookeries with the days the catch.
A packed program of non-stop quality musicians took to the stage for Saturday’s concert on Churchill Island, including the award winning Kutcha Edwards who recently received the Melbourne Prize for Music which is awarded to a Victorian musician whose work has made an outstanding contribution to Australian music and has enriched cultural and public life. Kutcha also took time to share stories and speak with local community in the yarning circle.
Sunday saw the introduction of new events to this year’s festival including the Cape Woolamai Fun Run which aims to get the community out and see the habitat of the Shearwaters and to encourage healthy life styles and learning about nature. The street parade, workshops, smoking ceremony, presentations and a twilight walk also took place on Sunday.
Preceding the Festival was the Shearwater Education Program which is facilitated in local schools and includes visits from artists, musicians, environmentalists and Community Elders and Respected Peoples. Linked to the Festival and the Education Program is the Cross-Cultural Message Exchange, in which artworks and messages are shared between artists, children and Indigenous Elders around the world.
Scroll down to see an image gallery from this years festival
Four talented musicians have come together for Singing from Country, a project that aims to create music that connects people to place. Neil Murray, Kavisha Mazzella, Carl Pannuzzo and Eva Popov are the songwriters that will participate in the program where they will learn about the role of the Dja Dja Wurrung language in connecting to place, people and seasons. VACL has been involved in the Singing from Country project through linking participants to local community to provide knowledge to songwriters and through giving cultural guidance. VACL’s Executive Officer Paul Paton spoke about the importance of this project that connects language and song, “Victoria’s Aboriginal Languages reflect a deep connection to the land, providing us wisdom about how to care for it.” VACL’s Community Linguist, Kris Eira and Dja Dja Wurrung woman Rebecca Philips facilitated workshops about aspects of knowledge and language.
This is the first stage of the project, which will eventually expand across Victoria. “Music is a universal language. It tells stories. It helps communicate love for land, deepen knowledge of country and strengthen community. People singing together about country is a powerful force for uniting and galvanizing action” said Terry White, the project’s creator. This October a community gathering will provide the opportunity to share the wisdom of key knowledge holders and hear from the community where all interested community members, both from within the region and outside, are welcome to attend. The gathering will include a showcase concert where the four songwriters will unveil their songs. Local choir-leaders will then arrange and rehearse the new songs with their singing groups, culminating in a performance of the songs by choirs in a celebratory event as part of Castlemaine State Festival in March 2017.
Singing from Country launches with a Workshop and Concert as part of the 2016 Maldon Folk Festival, October 29th 2016
With the knowledge that language is the key tool to understanding and celebrating culture, it is natural that language provides the keystone to informing and inspiring creative projects and artistic expression. Our model for the creative revival of Aboriginal languages is a living example of Community Cultural Development practice, strengthening communities as well as language and culture. Our work in the field of creative language revival and cultural revitalisation through the Arts is leading edge and meets a growing need in the community. Creative Language Revival Projects contribute to cultural strengthening, health and well-being, educational opportunities and reconciliation.
VACL makes a significant contribution to the creative and cultural identity of Victoria by increasing the body of Aboriginal language and enhancing the cultural profile of Victoria. We achieve this through close partnerships with creative and cultural organisations such as Banmirra Arts Inc, Ilbijerri Theatre Company, The Wheeler Centre, Museum Victoria, Bunjilaka, Koorie Heritage Trust, Immigration Museum, Aboriginal Community Cooperatives, Melbourne Festival, Kiwa Digital, Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre, Footscray Community Arts Centre , Sistagirl Productions, Reconciliation Victoria and State Library of Victoria drawing attention to the uniqueness of South-eastern Australian Aboriginal culture. Through these collaborations, we have participated in high profile creative events, festivals and programs such as The Light in Winter, Shearwater Festival, White Night, Next Wave, Blak and Bright and Festival of Pacific Arts.
Below are some highlights and examples of the many ways in which language underpins creative expression:
Gunditjmara/Gunai man Corey Theatre is a singer songwriter whose use of language extends him as a musician to be able to sing in traditional language. Corey has attended VACL workshops and is a strong believer in the power of language and its use in music. Corey continues to strengthen his knowledge through a collaborative journey of language revival and musical expression.
To hear some of Corey's music, visit Corey Theatre Music.
The Shearwater Short Tales program featured many musical collaborations including a song-writing and language revival project with self-selected Grades 5 and 6 students from Wonthaggi North Primary School, Kutcha Edwards and Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, which lead to a ten-minute performance at the Shearwater Festival at Philip Island.
Learn more about the Shearwater Short Tales Creative Development Workshops held in 2015.
In addition to the promotion and publication of books in Victorian Aboriginal languages, VACL plays an ongoing role in Victoria's literary programs including holding seminars, workshops, presentations, readings and discussions. These have included a panel discussion at the Wheeler Centre, readings of digital storybook apps as part of the Blak and Bright: The Victorian Indigenous Literary Festival, translation work and reading for National Simultaneous Storytime and presentations on language revival at State Library Victoria.
The upcoming book 'Living Connections' by Lisa Kennedy is a visual narrative with Boonwurrung translations resulting from a partnership with VACL language worker and Boonwurrung Elder Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir. The book features Lisa's exquisite watercolour paintings alongside text in both English and Boonwurrung which details the journey of the Shearwater birds and connection to country.
The award-winning ‘Biyadin: The Shearwater Festival’ is held annually on Phillip Island. The Festival is auspiced by VACL in partnership with Bass Coast Shire Council and the Phillip Island Nature Park and has a strong focus on Aboriginal language revival and cultural regeneration. The Festival is preceded by an Education and Community Engagement Program in which Aboriginal Elders, linguists, artists and environmentalists work with children, teachers and community members to teach language and culture. A range of creative resources are developed from this work that are incorporated into the Festival and, where appropriate, are subsequently used for educational purposes.
VACL also works with leading contemporary arts festivals such as Next Wave Festival where we not only feature in the program of events hosting workshops in collaboration with artists on topics such as traditional cloak making, identity, returning to place and connecting to country through language, but have assisted the festival team in imbedding language in their guides, maps and programs through incorporating Aboriginal place names and locations.
VACL’s creative collaborations include public events such as ‘Tanderrum’, a ceremony performed at the Opening of the Melbourne Festival in Federation Square and the Official Opening of White Night in Melbourne at the Exhibition Building. These projects entailed extensive work with musicians, dancers, Elders and children from Aboriginal communities from the Kulin Nation facilitated by the Ilbijerri Theatre Company and with linguistic and creative leadership provided by VACL staff.
Watch a video of Tanderrum.
The Djirri Djirri Dance Group create dances which are contemporary interpretations of Wurundjeri culture with the essence of traditional dance/ceremony. Djirri Djirri is the Woi wurrung name for the Willy Wagtail. The group have many children who are encouraged to take on leadership roles through the use of language and knowledge exchange in dance creation. The group is led by VACL language worker Mandy Nicholson who has written many songs and chants in language which accompany these dances.
Watch the Djirri Djirri Dance Group perform Heartbeat of the Earth at the Shearwater Festival 2015.
VACL has played a leading role in creating digital language resources to support language learning in both communities and schools. Eighteen apps are now available on the VACL iTunes Store, all of which feature unique artwork created by local Aboriginal artists and in creative workshops with Primary and Secondary students across Victoria. These apps have generated a large interest in Victorian Aboriginal languages on a global platform, receiving wide coverage in the print media and radio and international recognition for Dulaiwurrung Mungka-nj-bulanj (How the Platypus Was Made) which won an award for excellence at the 2015 Digital Children’s Book Fair in Japan. This award led to an invitation to be part of a World Exhibition "Digital Ehon de Hirogaru Sekai Exhibition" at Children's Discovery Center Hachirabo (Tokyo, Shibuya).
To download VACL apps visit our iTunes Store.
Language worker, teacher, craftsman and visual artist and VACL Board Member Brendan Kennedy holds language as a central key to culture and creativity. With support from VACL, Brendan has published a collection of his songs and stories in Tati Tati, Mutti Mutti and Wadi Wadi languages. The publication titled Wangilatha Wangu Kiyawatha is a beautiful collection of Language songs and stories about the land, water, and animals of the Murray River people and Mallee people (Brendan's mother's people). The book is brimming with colour, illustrated with Brendan's digital artworks.
Watch a video of Brendan reading one of the stories from Wangilatha Wangu Kiyawatha.
Ngangu biik: Hear, Understand Country, produced by Wurundjeri visual artist Mandy Nicholson and Elder Aunty Diane Kerr, was displayed on the Signal screens in Northbank, Melbourne from August 14 to 22, 2015. This multi-media experience showcased Wurundjeri's living culture through Elder Aunty Diane Kerr. This journey is depicted through projection imagery and audio of her Mother Tongue, Woiwurrung. This event also celebrated the unveiling of her ceremonial walert-walert (possum skin cloak).
Watch a video documentation of this artwork here.
For thousands of years people from all around the world have looked to the night sky to connect with their creation stories, seasonal changes and navigation through land and the seas. Storytelling and the exchange of traditional cultural stories is a vehicle for cross-cultural understanding and celebration. Uncle Larry Walsh along with Koorie Community, Pacific Island Nations and members from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre put together a collection of galactic journeys which are part of an interactive sculpture 'Living Under the Stars' created by artist Keg De Souza. Imbedded in language, a selection of these stories are narrated by VACL staff Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, Paul Paton and Mandy Nicholson.
Watch a video interpretation of 'Living Under the Stars'.
The 2015 film 'Wawi', Directed by Michael Portway is in Dja Dja Wurrung language with English subtitles. Language worker and previous VACL Board Member Harley Dunolly-Lee worked as a language consultant on the film and assisted with translations in collaboration with Emeritus Professor Barry Blake.
Watch a short extract of Wawi.
Nathan Maynard, a Trawlwoolway Aboriginal playwright and dancer from Tasmania, participated in the Shearwater Short Tales project at the Biyadin Shearwater Festival 2015. He incorporated language into his presentation and showed short films about mutton-birding on Big Dog Island, a practice in which his family had been engaged for many generations. Nathan also facilitated a theatre-making workshop at the Festival based on his play ‘The Season’ which he had presented at ‘Yellamundie’ the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Playwrighting Festival in Sydney. Nathan’s great-grandfather was Mannalaganna, chief of the Troowolway clan and of the whole of the North East Tasmanian indigenous peoples. Nathan was the recipient of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Artist of the Year Award in 2006 and 2013.
Corey Theatre source Corey Theatre Music
Living Connections Lisa Kennedy
Shearwater Festival Terry Melvin
Tanderrum Emma Hutchinson
Djirri Djirri Dance Group Rachel Ramberg
Dulaiwurrung Mungka-nj-bulanj Thornbury Primary School students
Bilgiri Gadini (Flood Waters) Brendan Kennedy
Living Under the Stars installation at Bunjilaka Emma Hutchinson
Wawi film still source Melbourne International Film Festival
Mutton Birding source Nathan Maynard
Traditionally, Aboriginal languages were not written down. They have always been communicated through the cultural practices of dance, song, storytelling, ceremony, artistic expression and cultural knowledge. VACL's Creative Language Revival Projects draw on this rich tradition of embedded creativity in communication, education and learning. Creative language revival activities are framed within a model of Community Cultural Development (CCD), ensuring that knowledge is passed on in engaging ways which lead to cultural revitalisation and community strengthening.
VACL has developed a model for its process of facilitating community engagement and collaboration in the creative language revival process. Drawing on the expertise of artists, Aboriginal Elders and linguists, VACL uses creative approaches to facilitate Aboriginal language revival. VACL staff work collaboratively with artists, providing linguistic and cultural support. They provide advice and resources to develop, record and disseminate language through creative processes which integrate songs, stories, music, poetic text, visual arts and sounds of Country to which the languages belong.
VACL’s model of Creative Language Revival draws on an extensive network of Aboriginal linguists and community leaders as an Advisory Group which is accountable to the VACL Board. The Board’s membership comprises Aboriginal Elders, linguists and community representatives from across the State. Members of the Advisory Group develop the project briefs for special events and programs and seek Expressions of Interest through community networks. Creative works are selected and commissioned from artists and members of different communities work together in collaboration.
Projects are allocated Lead Artists, Linguists and Cultural Mentors from the Advisory Group and on-going support is provided to the Project Teams. The creative works are performed at special events and the outcomes of the projects’ language reclamation processes are documented in writing, audio-recordings, photographs, visual art and film. Where appropriate, the project outcomes from the developmental process become learning resources which support language revival work and cultural learning in the broader community. An on-going cycle of feedback and evaluation is facilitated throughout the process.
Last week VACL hosted a language networking event Dhumba-djerring (talk together, from the Boonwurrung language) in Fitzroy. Language workers from across Victoria gathered over two days to participate in workshops and discussions and to share their experiences of awakening language in their communities and schools. It was positive to see young people and some new faces at this event as more and more people gain confidence and interest in our languages. Among the presentations were Brendan Kennedy's lesson on morphology, Aunty Doris Paton speaking about policies and strategies which have shaped the teaching of language in schools, Harley-Dunolly-Lee sharing his experiences of working with the Dja Dja Wurrung on sounds and spellings, Kris Eira on the issues and considerations when creating community dictionaries and Jenny Gibson who introduced the group to VACL's presence on Victorian Collections online. On the Thursday evening Paul Paton, Mandy Nicholson and Joel Wright took part in a panel discussion with Gregory Phillips to a packed audience at the Wheeler Centre.
Scroll down to see a video and images from Dhumba-djerring
For information on upcoming VACL presentations Reawakenings: the revival of Victorian Aboriginal languages click here
VACL was in Lakes Entrance on the weekend to support the first ever Ngarigo Monero Language Workshop with the Ninde Ngujarn Ngarigo Monero Aboriginal Corporation.
There were 16 participants who came from as far as Melbourne, Sydney and the south coast of New South Wales to attend the workshop.
The workshop was facilitated by Doris Paton under the guidance of Aunty Rachel Mullett, a Ngarigo Monero Elder who is still very strong in her language. The group learnt words and pronounciation that they were able to use on a daily basis, focusing on people, food and animals. The group are looking forward to having more workshops to continue practising their language skills and work towards creating learning resources in the future.
To learn more about Ngingal Training Workshops offered by VACL click here
Scroll down to see more images from the workhsop.
Last week on Wednesday September 2nd, Indigenous Literacy Day, Fitzroy Library visitors were treated to an Aboriginal Language Awareness Workshop presented by Wurundjeri woman and VACL Project Officer Mandy Nicholson. On a wet cold evening, more than 40 attendees enjoyed over an hour of learning more about Aboriginal Language in Victoria.
Mandy spoke about her own language journey, about links to culture and language, current language renewal projects and the state of language revival in Victoria, activities relevant to language training, the success of the Woi wurrung Language Program at Thornbury Primary School and the importance of multi-lingual education. The audience was then treated to a Woi wurrung language activity called 'aliens', followed by an extensive Q & A.
"Language was forcibly stopped and lucky we've got enough records that we can bring back our languages". - Mandy Nicholson
To read more about the Language Awareness Workshops offered by VACL click here
You can hear the full audio of the workshop here
VACL is proud to announce that the Shearwater Festival has been awarded the Community HART Award for 2015 in the Community Organisation category! The Awards celebrate projects in which local governments and community organisations are Helping Achieve Reconciliation Together.
The projects featured in the 2015 Community HART Awards bring people together through the Arts, through raising awareness and through deep listening. All of the projects contribute to creating new stories of cultural regeneration and healing.
Deep and respectful listening is central to the Shearwater Festival and the Education Program. The Festival, in its fourth year, is a creative, cultural and environmental event which brings communities together to celebrate the return of the shearwaters from their 15,000 kilometre migration. The Shearwater Festival includes a Street Parade, workshops, performances, guided walks and talks to the shearwater rookeries. It involves environmental educators, creative artists, musicians, Indigenous Elders, community members and school children.
The Festival is preceded by a Shearwater Education Program in local schools which includes excursions and visits from artists, musicians, environmentalists and Aboriginal Elders. During the Education Program, students, teachers and community members are supported to create puppets, songs and dances with environmental themes which are featured in the Street Parade.
The theme of the fourth Shearwater Festival in 2015 is ‘Caring for Country’. It will take place on November 21 and 22 on Phillip Island. In 2015, the Festival will feature Shearwater Short Tales, a series of creative collaborations between artists, performers and environmental educators across Gippsland.
Community members will be supported to develop short productions of ten minutes or less in theatre, song, music, dance, poetry, film or mixed media. Shearwater Short Tales will be performed at the Cowes Cultural Centre over the course of the Shearwater Festival weekend.
The Shearwater Festival is auspiced by the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation of Languages and sponsored by the Bass Coast Shire in partnership with Phillip Island Nature Park and ABC Gippsland.
To find out more and to become more actively involved, go to
You can see short films about previous Festivals …
Shearwater Festival 2014 https://vimeo.com/116616171
Shearwater Festival 2013 https://vimeo.com/82049856
Shearwater Festival 2012 https://vimeo.com/58521654
During Reconciliation Week 2014, Year 7 students from Heywood & District Secondary College ran Aboriginal Language workshops with 170 Grade 5 & 6 students form all around the district. This was part of the Aboriginal Language & Culture component of the Year 7 integrated program 'Literacy, Literature and Life'. The primary students were split into two large groups, with one group participating in traditional games, led by Jason Saunders of Winda-Mara, and the other engaging in Gunditjmara Languages workshops. After that, the two groups swapped. The Year 7's worked in groups of 3 to prepare a language activity. Each group of Year 7's taught 5 words to each group of around 10 primary students, with a rotation every 5 minutes. By the end of the two sessions each group had presented their workshop 16 times! It was a very busy and productive day with lots of positive comments about students and their activities from primary students and teachers alike.
Workshop topics included: Greetings; Locations; Colours; Family; People; The Body; Actions and Animals.
For more information about the Gunditjmara Languages Program at Heywood & District Secondary College and to see more photos click here.
Thank you to Steph Tashkoff for this story and image
There are many elements to starting a Language Program. We have written a guide for planning a successful program called Peetyawan Weeyn. We can visit your community to assist in the implementation and training of this guide.
We also have limited funds available to partner with communities to undertake a language project. Below are the guidelines and application form for working with us on a language project.
The current round of Community Language Partnership Program are open from 1st July 2016 to 30th June 2017